This is the first in a special series of feature articles on Lehigh Valley College Wrestling Programs and the connections with wrestlers from local high schools.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is nestled in Allentown’s West End. In 1924 and 1925, Muhlenberg fielded a team which wrestled five matches over two years. The next year, Andy Leh graduated from Muhlenberg College. Andy Leh would go on to be a Teacher, Coach and Athletic Director at Nazareth High School and would hire Ray Nunamaker as wrestling coach in 1963.
On January 30, 1939, “the Cardinal and Grey grapplers” made their debut in Allentown High School’s Little Palestra before 1,200 fans against Montclair State. Lehigh University’s legendary coach, Billy Sheridan, was on hand to promote the sport and explain the rules of the sport to the crowd. Lehigh NCAA champ, Ben Bishop, was the referee while Howell Scobey, also a Lehigh NCAA Champ, was the Muhlenberg Coach. Franklin “Footer” Wolfe, a 1934 Allentown High School graduate, was one of two winners for Coach Scobey in that very first match. Muhlenberg lost their first match by a 26-12 score and finished their first season with a 1-6 record.
Graduating in 1941, Wolfe, who was also a very successful football player, was inducted into the Muhlenberg Hall of Fame. Another 1941 graduate and Hall of Fame member, Perry Scott, counted wrestling amongst his four sports and would go on to coach the Allentown High School football team.
The Mules would have a long history of having Lehigh Valley-based wrestlers in their squads. Muhlenberg competed in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) from 1939 to 1992 when they moved to the Centennial Conference. In their first winning season in 1943, Muhlenberg would go 6-1 and win the MAC tournament title with one champion (Warren Nafis, 128) and six runner-ups.
A number of local wrestlers won Middle Atlantic Conference titles during those early years:
- Rudy Amelio, Bethlehem Technical School, 128, 1949
- George Schmauch, Tamaqua H.S., 167, 1951
- Albert Billy, Northampton H.S., 147, 1953 and 1954.
In their first 18 years, the Muhlenberg wrestlers had four winning seasons. What followed was a three year period, 1957-1959, when the Mules were anchored by a number of Lehigh Valley wrestlers and had a combined dual meet record of 22-8 under Coach Carl Frankett. In addition, they won numerous MAC individual titles. The 1957 team featured no fewer than seven wrestlers from Lehigh Valley high schools:
- Allentown H.S. – Don Simpson (147 – 1st Place), Dick King (157 – 4th Place) and John Dreisbach (167)
- Bethlehem H.S. – Frank Gutierrez (167 – 1st Place & 4-Time MAC Champ), Pierce Knauss (123)
- Northampton H.S. – Paul Billy (177 – 1st Place & 2-Time MAC Champ)
- Palmerton H.S. – Jerry Rehrig
In 1958, Jerry Rehrig (Hwt) would win an MAC title, and in 1959 Dick King (157) was an MAC runner-up. A close group, the Lehigh Valley wrestlers were all members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity along with many other members of the wrestling team. Gutierrez was King’s “big brother.”
The 1957 team would also produce no fewer than three future wrestling coaches:
- Paul Billy (44-9-1 Career Record) – Muhlenberg College (1961-62) and University of Delaware (1963-1991, 180-123-7 Career Record), University of Delaware and Muhlenberg College HOF’s.
- Frank Gutierrez (36-4 Career Record, 26 Consecutive Wins) – Liberty High School Head Coach (1964-1993, 327-124-6, 6 state champs), Liberty H.S., District XI and PA Wrestling Coaches HOF’s.
- Dick King (32-6-2 Career Record) – Dieruff High School – Assistant Coach (1959-1965) and Head Coach (1965-1971, 46-28, 2 state champs), Dieruff H.S. and District XI HOF’s.
To Be Continued…
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Shaun Lally, Muhlenberg College’s current Head Wrestling Coach for his help in providing information and photos for this article. Shaun, a 2001 Parkland High School graduate, became Muhlenberg’s coach during the 2014-15 season at a time when the program was a need of a revival. Shaun has brought enthusiasm and success back to Muhlenberg wrestling. The program is growing in numbers, attracting larger recruiting classes and just finished a very respectable 10-11 season in 2016-17.