Richard A. “Dick” King was born in Allentown on September 10, 1937, son of Richard J. and Anne King. He and his father shared a love of sports – playing football, baseball, ping pong, boxing and just about any other sport you could imagine. He first wrestled in gym class and then in an informal junior high tournament in 9th grade.
He began wrestling at Allentown High School in 10th grade during legendary Coach Glenn Smith’s first year of coaching at the school. Allentown struggled during those early years. By the time he was a senior, he was named co-captain of the wrestling team along with his best friend, John Dreisbach. He had a fine record during his senior year, but lost to state champ, Ed Keglovits from Northampton, in the District semi-finals. Allentown won their last two dual meets that year starting a 41-match unbeaten streak.
After high school, Dick attended Muhlenberg College and wrestled with a number of other Lehigh Valley High School grapplers including Frank Gutierrez (who also was his fraternity “Big Brother”), Pierce Knauss, Paul Billy, John Dreisbach and others. The Mules were very competitive in the Middle Atlantic Conference in those days. Dick started three years compiling a 32-6-2 record wrestling in the 157 and 167 pound weight classes. He placed twice in the MAC’s (4th and 2nd) and served as team captain his senior year. Dick graduated from Muhlenberg Cum Laude in 1959.
With Dieruff High School opening its doors in the fall of 1959, King began his teaching and coaching career during the school’s first year. Larry Fornicola became the Huskies’ first head coach. Initially he was assisted by Tom Persing and Dick King. During this time, Dick’s abilities as a wrestler and coach grew as he learned from Coach Fornicola, who was a national champion at Penn State University. He also was instrumental in helping to establish the Allentown School District Junior High Wrestling Program before moving up to be Fornicola’s primary Assistant Coach after two years.
During those early years at Dieruff, he met a young athletic secretary, Rita Yost, who would become his wife of 50 years.
The Huskies had two ten win campaigns during that time and won their only District XI team title in 1964. They also crowned two state champions – Dave Halulko in 1964 and Charles Houser in 1965.
In 1965, when Larry moved on to coach Keystone Junior College, Dick moved to the top spot. During six years as head coach, he led the Huskies to a 46-28 record. He coached eight district champs and eight runners-up, four regional and two state champions (Dan Newhard and Dan Howard). I believe he still has the best winning percentage of any coach in Dieruff history at .622.Although he only served as head coach for six years, he spoke often about the strong rivalries and relationships built with fellow coaches during that time. He coached against some of the greatest coaches in the history of Lehigh Valley High School wrestling – Frank Bissell (Hill School) Frank Guiterrez (Liberty), Tony Iasiello (Bethlehem Catholic), John Maitland (Easton), Ray Nunamaker (Nazareth), Russ Riegel (Hunterdon Central), Harry Wall (Northampton), Bob Zarbatany (Easton) and many others.
After retiring from coaching to spend more time with his family, Dick stayed involved with wrestling and continued to wrestle with Dieruff grapplers, his son (yours truly) and friends and pretty much anyone who wanted to “roll around on the mat” at the Allentown YMCA. He continued to unofficially scout and coach for years to come attending hundreds of high school and college matches. He had enduring friendships with many of his wrestlers and former coaches.
Always one to stay physically fit and active, he was always up for a challenge with one of his “gadgets”.
Dick was named to both the District XI Wrestling and Dieruff High School Halls of Fame. He retired after teaching 33 years at Dieruff in 1992.
When he could no longer attend matches in person, Dick watched bouts on TV and would provide pre-bout predictions and post-bout analysis. He also accumulated quite a collection of wrestling t-shirts over the years which he proudly wore to the Allentown YMCA during his daily workouts. He was so excited about the resurgence of Dieruff wrestling before he passed away in December 2013. Shortly after his death, a memorial scholarship was established. This annual award is presented to a Dieruff High School senior who has excelled both in the classroom and on the wrestling mats.
A Few Personal Thoughts
In life Dad was a son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, coach, neighbor, friend and much more. As a result, he touched many lives and left behind many friends. Wrestling has always been a huge part of our family. My Mom, sister, brother-in-law, cousin and I all continue to enjoy the sport and have many friendships from the wrestling community.
I began this project simply trying to learn more about Dad’s wrestling and coaching career. Along the way, I became curious and interested in learning about how high school wrestling began and grew to the great sport it is in the Lehigh Valley today. As he had done in life, Dad inspired me to go farther then I first thought possible. And for that, I’m eternally grateful!