In Easton Wrestling History, Coach ‘Zarb’ Has a Special Place
By: Jack Logic
Originally Written & Published: January 26, 1992
Presented on Lehigh Valley Wrestling History: Courtesy of Jack Logic
The Easton High School wrestling team should win its 500th match this week, and Easton’s Wrestling Booster Club Saturday night will honor all the head coaches and state, district and regional champions in the team’s 40-plus year history.
No one has been more responsible for that history of success than Bob Zarbatany.
“Zarb” coached for 10 seasons, from 1967-68 through 1976-77. He led Easton to four East Penn League championships and four District 11 team titles. His 1969 and 1974 teams would have been state champions if team points had counted in those days.
Zarbatany holds the Rovers’ record for wins, 117. His overall mark was 117-14-3 — an incredible .873 winning percentage. He also holds the record for postseason champs (63: 31 District 11, 24 Northeast Regional and eight state champs).
Zarb grew up in Easton and attended public schools here. He graduated from Easton in 1953 –but, oddly enough, never wrestled in high school. Instead, he played football.
That was because his brother Al (who is Wilson’s superintendent of schools) wrestled. “My father was very strict,” Zarb says, “and he insisted that one of the brothers had to man the family store at all times.” The elder Zarbatany owned John’s Market at 11th and Washington streets.
Following graduation, Zarb worked with his father for three years. “I had to,” he says, “because Al was going to Lafayette, and my parents could only afford one tuition a year.”
After Al graduated, Bob enrolled at East Stroudsburg State College, where he played football only as a freshman. Then he decided to give wrestling a try. “I was never on the mat before,” he says, “and I learned everything first-hand.”
He eventually became a good wrestler and finished 8-3 his senior year, placing second in the Pennsylvania State College Tournament. He captained the Warriors as a junior and, along with former Freedom coach Bill Deibler, was a co-captain as a senior. In that final season, Zarb was named ESSC’s first-ever wrestling MVP.
Zarbatany began teaching and coaching at North Hunterdon in New Jersey, and he was an assistant to head wrestling coach Harold Vandermark. During his second year at North Hunterdon, referee Mike Schibanoff, who was from Bound Brook, asked if he was interested in the head coaching job there.
Zarbatany took the job and stayed in Bound Brook for five years.
“I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive about taking the job with just two years experience,” he says, “because I was more mature than most at my age. Working in Dad’s store after high school helped me mature faster.”
Zarb’s record at Bound Brook was 45-11, and his teams won four Somerset County League titles plus three district championships. Bound Brook won the Montclair Invitational in 1965 and placed second behind host Easton in the inaugural James B. “Pat” Reilly Tournament in 1966. With Bound Brook, he coached 40 champions (22 district and four regional).
When Ben Everitt retired as Easton’s athletic director in 1967, wrestling coach John Maitland was elevated to succeed him.
From a lengthy list of applicants to replace Maitland as wrestling coach, four finalists were selected: Charles Bartolet Jr., head coach at Hellertown and a son of Charles Bartolet Sr., Easton’s second mat coach; Lehigh’s NCAA champion Mike Caruso; Maitland’s assistant, Joe Piscitello, and Bob Zarbatany.
“I wasn’t at all happy with the way the school board and the newspapers handled it,” Zarbatany says. “They had headlines in the paper about who the four finalists were, and Bartolet and myself already had teaching and coaching jobs at other high schools.”
But even though he had an asthma attack during his interview with the late Dr. Edward Tracy, Easton’s schools superintendent, it must have gone well, because he was chosen to lead his alma mater.
Three unbeaten teams — 1972-73, 1973-74 and 1976-77 — highlighted his tenure, and four others — 1967-68, 1968-69, 1971-72 and 1974-75 — lost just once. During both the 1968-69 and 1973-74 post-seasons, the Red and White had five District 11 and five Northeast Regional champions.
“Every one of my 10 seasons was rewarding,” he says, “but the 1973-74 team was the most talented. That senior group had been together for three varsity seasons, and they put everything together for a tremendous season.”
That group was 14-0-0 their senior year, and they were 40-1-1 over three years. Between 1972-73 and 1973-74, they produced a total of 10 District 11 champs and eight Northeast Regional titlists — and Curt Stanley and Darwin Brodt (below from Easton HS yearbook) both captured state crowns in ’74.
“My first two teams were tremendous,” he says. “They laid the groundwork for Easton’s future successes.”
Those two teams produced state champions Craig Fox and Chico Lutes; Barry Snyder and Bob Pratt were both two-time regional champs, and Mike Capobianco and Ed Gigliotti would win regionals in 1969. Combined, the two teams went 26-2 in dual meets.
“The 1974-75 and 1976-77 teams were a little less talented,” Zarb says, “but they worked hard to achieve their success.” The 1974-75 edition went 13-1 and won the District 11 team title. That year, Liberty snapped the Rovers’ 41-match unbeaten streak, defeating the Red Rovers 21-15. But Easton came back in the District 11 Tournament, and, in the final bout, heavyweight Jim Palmer decisioned the Hurricanes’ Jim Schneider 4-3 in overtime to give Easton the team championship over Liberty by half a point.
Zarbatany’s last Easton team (1976-77) gave him his third unbeaten season. The Rovers had two-time state champion Bob Weaver in their lineup, but, as the season began, a bunch of unknowns.
But Weaver and those unknowns went on to post a 15-0-1 record — and Weaver would go on to capture his third state championship. In addition, Dave Smith won district and regional crowns.
“Numbers and records are great,” Zarb is quick to point out, “but the greatest satisfaction a coach can get is to see a young man he coached succeed in life.”
Asked to single out some of his special moments at Easton, Zarb says, “Palmer’s win over Schneider was the most exciting, and Weaver winning his third state championship my proudest. I have memories of all my wrestlers, especially the state champions — and I was just as proud when Barry Snyder and Greg Shoemaker went on to win titles on the collegiate level.
When asked about Bob Zarbatany, Bobby Weaver says, “Zarb was like a father to me. My father pased away when I was 9, and my brother when I was 11. Zarb was always there for me.”
The two men are still very close today.
“Zarb was great in the area of mental preparation,” Weaver says. “He always made you believe that would succeed. He knew how to take the pressure off a wrestler, and how to let him take the mat relaxed.
Weaver, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, says, “Zarb had good balance. He was a great tactician upstairs, and a good teacher in the wrestling room. He always surrounded himself with good assistants — like Bob Winters, Malcolm Purdy, Charley Peck, Vic Lesky, John Cox, Dan Coon, Dave Crowell and Steve Powell — to help him in the wrestling room.”
Powell, the Red Rovers’ current head coach, spent just one season as a Zarbatany assistant — but, in that season, he gained great respect for the head coach.
“He was a great organizer,” Powell says, “a stickler for detail on and off the mat. The midget programs were at their peak, and Zarb made the most of them. He instilled a lot of pride in his wrestlers — and that’s visible, because many of his former wrestlers came back to work out after they graduated, and others have gone on to become coaches themselves.”
Easton has a proud wrestling history, and Bob Zarbatany was — and is — a big part of it.
Rich’s Notes: Special thanks to Jack Logic for allowing us to reprint this article and add some photos of Coach Zarbatany.
Legend of Easton Wrestling Documentary (Easton HS Sports Videos)
In an interview with Tom Heilman, Co-Captain of the 1971-72 Easton wrestling team, he shared some of his memories of Coach Zarbatany and what contributed to his success. After Easton had lost nine matches in row to archrival Phillipsburg, Zarb played the “Impossible Dream” at practices leading up to the big match. It worked, and the Rovers broke the streak 31-19. Overall, Coach Zarbatany was more of a motivator of individuals versus motivating the team as a whole. He brought college wrestlers into practices at Christmas time and leveraged his New Jersey connections to scrimmage some of New Jersey’s toughest teams. He broadened his and the team’s horizons beyond their own league.
Jack Logic shared that a conversation at a wrestling coaches’ summer clinic between Bob and Tom Elling led to the #1 vs. #2 match of Easton at Lock Haven in 1974. The Rovers won 25-17.
In early 2017, I had the pleasure to sit down and interview the Zarbatany brothers – Al, Bob and John. Both Al and Bob had much praise for Thad Turner, former Phillipsburg Coach, and the man probably most responsible for fueling the wrestling rivalry between Easton and Phillipsburg. Both described Turner as a “great man” who was excited when coaching and whistled loudly to get his wrestlers attention.
Before 1971, the District XI seeding meetings were a battle royale as coaches debated over who deserved the higher seeds. After two defending District Champs, Wilson’s Mike O’Brein and Easton’s Ed Gigliotti, met in the quarterfinals, Zarb decided something had to change. So before the 1971 Districts, Bob devised a comprehensive points system which took into account dual meet results, caliber of completion and prestige points (i.e. post-season results from the prior year).
It is readily apparent that a deep amount of thought and detail went into the system. Part of the system featured awarding 8 points to a wrestler losing to a defending state champion. Why? As Bob explained, he did not want to penalize a wrestler who faced better competition so he awarded 5 points for the win they would have had over a lesser wrestler and 3 points to compensate for the points they would lose for losing a dual meet.
A similar system to the original one designed by Bob almost 50 years ago is still used to this day!
It’s clear that Bob Zarbatany has a philosophy about the role of coaches and parents when it comes to supporting and nurturing a young person with the ultimate goal of developing well rounded, health and happy person as opposed to simply focusing on building an athlete. Bob wrote the following and was kind enough to share it:
Every person in a position of leadership should have a philosophy. As a parent, teacher or coach, you have formed certain beliefs, concepts and attitudes. This is your foundation for the road ahead. Your personality will express your philosopy in parenting, teaching or coaching. Those with a sound philosophy will enjoy the process more and be effective in the total development of the youngsters.
If there are two parents involved and they agree on how to parent the athlete, this presents the best case scenario. If you’re a single parent, it’s more difficult, but if you budget your time and develop a support group with a few close friends or other team parents, you can be very effective. You are engaging your child in youth sports. This is probably the best opportunity for the physical, mental, emotional and social development of the youngster. The most important part of this decision is to chose the best activity for the youngster based on his or her readiness factors for that activity. It is very important to trust the people involved in the program. Do your checking first, so the choice is based upon the right reasons. The activity will create a big responsibility for everyone and it could be challenging, profound and complex. If handled appropriately, it will provide your youngster with the greatest opportunity for enjoyment and development.
A parent should take this opportunity to help set the framework to develop a well-rounded student athlete. Sports are considered extra-curricular activities. What this implies is that academics and family chores come first. A parent has a wonderful opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility in the youngster, fueled by the discipline being formed from the sport’s activity itself. Don’t live vicariously through your child. He or she is not your trophy! Be concerned about three things: 1. Is the youngster in a safe environment? 2. Is the youngster enjoying the activity? 3. Is the child improving? Are you monitoring the process?
The younger the child, the less concern about winning! Teach children when they engage in an activity that they have a one season commitment, with no quitting unless you as a parent find a serious problem. Remember, we are developing character and sometimes life is difficult, and we should communicate and ask the child the correct questions, so we can help them work through these challenges!
I stated that this activity is complex and profound but the upside is enormous, and you cannot get this experience from books alone! Athletic participation welcomes a youngster to the real world and instills lifetime values. Parents, as part of your philosophy, include the aim to have your child become a well-rounded, healthy and happy person. Never make them feel that they let you down. Emphasize the things you expect from them when they are involved in a sport’s activity: honesty, effort and improvement. Teach them that in sports as well as in life, you can’t get more out then you’re willing to put in. Effort and hard work will pay off. If your child is a couch potato hooked on electronic gadgets, it might take some urging to form physically active habits in him or her. Please, as a parent, don’t surrender to sedentary lifestyle. Good habits are easier to form at an earlier age.