“Memorable Matches – January 30, 1969:  P’Burg 21 Easton 18”

Lehigh Valley Wrestling History
Don Jessamine vs. Robert Holmes in P’Burg vs. Easton Epic 1969 Match.

By:          Dave Leone

From:    “Welcome to the Pit:  Philipsburg Wrestling – A Timeless Tradition”

Presented on Lehigh Valley Wrestling History:  Courtesy of Dave Leone

© 2015 by Dave Leone

The January 30, 1969 match between P’burg and Easton was one of the most highly-anticipated matches in Lehigh Valley history.  P’burg’s 33 match winning streak had just been stopped the previous week when Freedom held the Liners to a 20-20 tie.  Bob Zarbatany’s unbeaten Red Rovers (8-0) invaded the PIT intent on coming away with a victory over the Stateliners for the first time since 1962, a victory that would have put them in the driver’s seat for the East Penn League championship.  For the Stateliners (8-0-1), a win over their archrival would leave only Bethlehem Catholic standing in the way of a third straight East Penn League title, and would also keep their unbeaten streak intact at 35 straight.  Both P’burg and Easton had outstanding lineups brimming with talented wrestlers. Roughly 1,800 fans packed the Liner gym, and more than 500 more were crammed into the school auditorium to watch the match on closed circuit television.  The match was also carried on tape delay on Channel 2 courtesy of Clear Pic Cable TV.  Mike Bateman got the Liners off to a great start when he knocked off Easton’s unbeaten Ed Ferraro 8-4 at 98 pounds.  Then Easton’s Ed Gigliotti, who grew up in the Pursel Hill section of P’burg beat state champion Bob Jiorle 6-4 to tie it up.  Easton won two of the next three bouts before P’burg’s Jack Thompson, who would lose by referee’s decision in the state final at Asbury Park, came through with a clutch 8-5 win at 135 over Bob Pratt, who would finish as a state runner-up, to tie it at 9-9.  Sam Farina, who finished third in the state, took unbeaten Barry Snyder, another state runner-up, to the wire, dropping a close 2-1 decision at 141.  Then Turner, a master strategist, inserted talented senior Bob Pruznick at 148, moving Don Jessamine, Henry Kels and Bob Zaro up a weight.  Pruznick knocked off Rover state qualifier Mike Capobianco 5-4, knotting it up at 12-12, but the Rovers got revenge when P’Burg’s Don Jessamine, who would win a state title in March, was upset 2-1 by Robert Holmes at 157.  With Easton up 15-12, the Liners’ Kels then delivered a narrow 5-4 win over Dennis Billman at 167 to tie it all up at 15-15.  Zaro, a defending state champion and one of P’burg’s  most dominant wrestlers ever, then came through with a dramatic first period pin of Dave Iobst in just :36, the only bout resulting in bonus points, giving the Liners an insurmountable 21-15 lead.  Joe Parsons’ 2-1 decision over Brian Shields on riding time at Heavyweight was thus rendered insignificant, handing the Liners their seventh straight win over Easton while propelling them to their third straight East Penn League championship.  This intense bout ended with a 6-6 bout split, was deadlocked five times, featured six bouts decided by one point, and two more decided by two points.  In the end, Zaro’s first period fall proved to be the difference.  Throughout P’burg’s long and storied history on the mat, few matches at the PIT have succeeded in matching the enthusiasm, intensity, and drama which this match generated.


98 Mike Bateman P dec Ed Ferraro E 8-4

105 Ed Gigliotti E dec Bob Jiorle P 6-4

114 Chico Lutes E dec Gary Dealmo P 9-2

122 Jim Mangino P dec Kurt Weaver E 6-4

129 Larry Davis E dec Charlie Frinzi P 4-3

135 Jack Thompson P dec Bob Pratt E 8-5

140 Barry Snyder E dec Sam Farina P 2-1

147 Bob Pruznick P dec Mike Capobianco E 5-4

156 Robert Holmes E dec Don Jessamine P 2-1

167 Henry Kels P dec Dennis Billman E 5-4

182 Bob Zaro P pinned Dave Iobst E :36

Hwt Joe Parsons E dec Brian Shields P 2-1

Rich’s Notes:

Phillipsburg Wrestling, Thad Turner
Coach Thad Turner’s Key Lineup Moves from 145-180 Helped Key the P-Burg Win (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg H.S. Yearbook)

In a battle for East Penn League title, Phillipsburg edged Easton before 2,300 fans in the Rovers’ home gym on January 17, 1968.  Phillipsburg finished the year 14-0, and the Rovers lost to no one else during that season.  The 1968-69 season so both teams returning star-studded line-ups.  Phillipsburg had survived several close matches edging Dieruff 23-17, nipping Allen 20-18, and then having their winning streak broken in a 20-20 tie with Freedom.  The Rovers had already beaten Freedom 21-15 and Dieruff 31-15 when they visited The PIT for the epic match which is so keenly described above.   The lineup featured eleven 1969 District Champions (six for Phillipsburg and five for Easton) and no fewer than five wrestlers who won state titles during their careers (and two runner-ups).

Many thanks to Dave Leone for allowing us to reprint the article from his fine book, “Welcome to the Pit.”  For more information on this book, please read Brad Wilson’s review or to Order the Book.

For more information on our summary of the 1968-69 Season