“New Coaches Power Rovers & Crusaders”

With many teams wrestling 15, 17, even 19 dual meets, there was no shortage of fiercely competitive dual meets every week during the 1977-78 season.  A lot of talent from the past two years’ tremendous success had graduated, but the cupboard was far from bare.

The ’77-’78 season saw Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Freedom, Liberty and Phillipsburg continue to battle for the top spots in the East Penn League.  Nazareth’s and Saucon Valley’s rivalry dated back to the beginning of the Lehigh-Northampton League in 1965 and was no less intense in the 3rd year of the Colonial League.  Notre Dame & Stroudsburg had stepped up to challenge Northwestern for league supremacy in the Centennial League, and the current season would find these three teams again fighting for the top spot with a surprising team.  Easton and Notre Dame both had new coaches as Bob Zarbatany had retired and Dave Crowell moved into the top spot for the Rovers while Dennis Fenton took over from Jim Angeline for the Crusaders.

Dennis Fenton
Notre Dame Coach Dennis Fenton (Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame HS Yearbook)
Dave Crowell
Easton Coaches Dave Crowell & Steve Powell (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)








The season kicked off on December 1st as Bethlehem Catholic topped Saucon Valley 26-14.  Becahi had many returning starters in the first half of their lineup and jumped out to a 17-8 lead.  Two days later Saucon rebounded to beat Freedom 24-23 on Jim LaPorta decision at heavyweight.

A dual with early EPL ramifications saw Becahi battle to a 23-20 victory over Liberty.  The Hawks opened up an 18-6 lead.  Liberty won three of the next four bouts to close to 21-18 but Mike Balik and Chuck Hinkel fought to a 1-1 draw at heavyweight, and Becahi had the win.  Gene Waas’ 2-1 win at 119 over defending regional champ and Parkland transfer, Steve Busits, was a key bout in the match.  The same evening in a match that only featured one bonus point win, Notre Dame nipped Stroudsburg 23-19 in a key Centennial League match.

On December 15th, two key EPL duals were on the schedule.  Easton strung together four wins in a row from 138-167 (Mark Noto, Bob Clause, Steve Stone and Gary Vinson) to stage a comeback and top Liberty 26-21.  Gary Carty (126) and Stone (155) both scored falls.  Phiilipsburg had falls from Kevin Happel (98) and John Margeson (145) along with key wins by John Rutledge (9-7 over Gene Waas at 119) and Tim Osborn (3-2 over Tony Wittic at 132) to defeat Bethlehem Catholic 25-20.  The same night, Saucon Valley with pins from John Rodriguez (145) and Jim LaPorta (Hwt) defeated Wilson 30-18.

John Margeson
John Margeson’s Fall Helped Lead P-Burg to a Win over Becahi (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg HS Yearbook)

On December 17th, Easton defeated Nazareth 26-19 in a non-league match.  On December 22nd, East Stroudsburg announced itself as the “surprise team” in the Centennial League by stunning Northwestern 30-19.  Rich Jacobs (119) and Lue Nase (Hwt) both scored falls.

East Stroudsburg Emerged as a Contender in the Centennial League (Photo Courtesy of East Stroudsburg HS Yearbook)

In the Christmas City Tournament, the Banach Brothers (Ed and Lou) led Port Jervis to the team title as they tallied five champions.  Nazareth with three champs (Jeff Tripp at 112, Keith Fairman at 119 and Robbie Albert at 145) edged Bethlehem Catholic with three champs (Rich Santoro at 105, Tom Bold at 132 and Bernie Brown at 155) for 2nd place.  East Stroudsburg finished 2nd in the Wallenpaupack Tourney with three champions.  Easton won their own tournament as Mark Noto (132), Rick Scarpantonio (145) and Tim DeLong (167) won titles.  Phillipsburg won the Manheim Central Tournament with three champs (Frank Losagio at 98, John Rutledge at 112 and Jim Clauss at 138).

Jeff Tripp
Jeff Tripp Was 1 of 3 Nazareth Christmas City Champs (Photo Courtesy of Nazareth HS Yearbook)

The post-holiday dual action saw Bethlehem Catholic defeat Freedom 26-21 leaving Easton and P-Burg as the only undefeated teams in the EPL.  Nazareth crushed Wilson 44-8 to again set up their match with Saucon Valley as the Colonial League championship battle.  In the Centennial League, Northwestern trailed Notre Dame 19-15 with three bouts to go, but Mark Blose, Frank Metzger and Doug Rothrock won decisions to give the Tigers a 24-19 victory.

On January 12th, Nazareth won 7 of 12 bouts including falls by Jeff Tripp (112), Todd Lahr (167) and Al Haberle (185) to defeat Saucon Valley 30-15 and all but lock up the Colonial League title.  The same evening, Freedom knocked off Phillipsburg 25-20 won several close bouts in the middleweights and got a fall from Dennis Young at 185.  In a back and forth match, Bethlehem Catholic led Easton 21-16 before Tim DeLong and Dan Kasperkoski won decisions to give the Rovers a 22-21 win to stand as the only unbeaten EPL team.  Mark Noto’s fall at 132 over Tony Wittic provided key bonus points.

Dan Kasperkoski
Dan Kasperkoski’s Fall Kept the Rovers Unbeaten (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)

Stroudsburg on the strength of falls from Randy Garis (138) and John Tomanio (145) defeated Northwestern 29-19.   Notre Dame took over the Centennial League lead by beating East Stroudsburg 26-18; the Crusaders won 7 of 8 bouts from 112 to 167.  Then on January 31st, Stroudsburg nipped East Stroudsburg 23-21.

On February 2nd, after trailing Freedom 20-11, roared back with falls from Gary Vinson and Dan Kasperkoski and a major decision by Tim DeLong to extend their unbeaten streak in the EPC to 39 with a 27-20 victory.  Nazareth won the Colonial League title by beating Bangor 51-2.  Stroudsburg clinched a share of the Centennial League title by winning the final four bouts to defeat Pocono Mountain 30-20.

One week later, Easton led early, but saw rival Phillipsburg battle back to lead 20-16 with two bouts to go.  Tim DeLong and Dan Kasperkoski again delivered wins, and the Rovers extended their unbeaten streak in the EPC to 41.  The Rovers won the match and the EPL title 22-20.  Freedom built a huge lead and held off Liberty 26-25.

Mark Noto
Mark Noto Won the Brad Weaver Memorial Award (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)
Al Snellman
Freedom Coaches Al Snellman & Jake Llewellyn (Photo Courtesy of Freedom HS Yearbook)

Phillipsburg’s middleweights led the way as they topped Liberty 24-21.  Notre Dame defeated Lehighton 46-14 to claim their share of the Centennial League title.

The regular season ended with the following league champions:

  • East Penn League – Easton 11-0 (17-0 Overall)

  • Colonial League – Nazareth 8-0 (13-2 Overall)

  • Centennial League – Notre Dame & Stroudsburg – tied at 7-1 (14-1 & 12-3 Overall, respectively)

Final Standings were as follows;

Compiled Standings 1977-78PlaceW-L-D
East Penn
Bethlehem Catholic2T9-2
William Allen6T6-5
Allentown Central Catholic111-10
Saucon Valley27-1
Southern Lehigh45-3
Pen Argyl53-4 (*)
Salisbury72-5 (*)
Notre Dame1T7-1
East Stroudsburg3T6-2
Pocono Mountain63-5
Pleasant Valley90-8
(*) Note - Salisbury-Pen Argyl match may not have been wrestled.

Easton High School Wrestling
Undefeated Easton Wrestling Squad (Photo Courtesy of Easton HS Yearbook)
Nazareth Wrestling
Nazareth – Colonial League Champions (Photo Courtesy of Nazareth HS Yearbook)

Other teams finishing with strong dual records included Liberty 13-4, Phillipsburg 15-2, Bethlehem Catholic 15-4, Freedom 11-6 and Saucon Valley 13-4.

Nazareth crowned five champs to easily win the Colonial League Tournament.  Notre Dame won a close battle with Northwestern, Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg to win the Centennial League Tournament.

Notre Dame Wrestling
Notre Dame Tied for the Regular Season Title & then Won the Centennial League Tourney (Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame HS Yearbook)

The District Tourney was still held over two weekends with the AAA teams all competing together and AA teams split between Pen Argyl (AA East) and Panther Valley (AA West).  After the first weekend, Bethlehem Catholic, Liberty and Easton were locked in a tight team race.  In AA, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Palmerton and Panther Valley qualified eight wrestlers each for the 2nd weekend of competition.

The AAA team title came down to the heavyweight both with three, yes three teams, still having a chance to win.  Bethlehem Catholic led Liberty and Easton by 4 and 4.5 points, respectively, as the final bout began.  The Hawks had three champions (Rich Santoro, Gene Waas and repeat winner Tom Bold) with Santoro and Bold picking up bonus points for falls.  Easton’s Dan Kasperkoski defeated Liberty’s Chuck Hinkle 5-0, and the Hawks won the team title by ½ point over the Rovers.  Bold and Saucon Valley’s John Rodrgiuez (138) also repeated as champions while Dieruff’s Abe Atiyeh followed in brother George’s footsteps to win Districts as a junior.  Eight of twelve champions were underclassmen.

Abe Atiyeh
Abe Atiyeh Joined Brother George as a District Champion (Photo Courtesy of Dieruff HS Yearbook)

In AA, Northwestern won the team title with four finalists and two champions (Vince Stravino and Rick Mohr).  Notre Dame had the most champions with three – Dennis Andrews (112), Frank DeFelice (138) and Dave Holva (145).  Palmerton’s Phil McGarry (155) and Salisbury’s Craig Ziegler (167) repeated as champions.

Northwestern Wrestling
Northwestern – AA Team Champs (Photo Courtesy of Northwestern HS Yearbook)

With five finalists, Phillipsburg won the NJ District 16 title for the 12th year in a row.

Jan Dutt
Jan Dutt Donning the Styling Attire of the 70’s to Lead P-Burg to their 12th Straight District Title (Photo Courtesy of P-Burg HS Yearbook)

In the AAA Northeast Regionals, a change in the PIAA’s classification shifted four District 4 teams from AA to AAA.  District 11 was able to qualify 17 wrestlers for the state champonships with Becahi leading the way with five.  Champions included Bethlehem Catholic’s Rich Santoro (98) and Tom Bold (132).  Santoro avenged a dual meet defeat against Wyoming Valley West’s defending state champion, John Brennan 5-3 while Bold defeated Easton’s Mark Noto for the 2nd week in a row 8-5.  Parkland’s Rich Shoemaker (105) and Dieruff’s Abe Atiyeh (185) also won titles while John Rodriguez of Saucon Valley lost the battle of unbeatens by a 3-0 score to Wilkes-Barre Meyers’ Frank Catrignano.

1978 AAA Northeast Regional Champions
1978 AAA Northeast Regional Champions (Photo Courtesy of Tim Kuhn)

For the 2nd year in a row, District XI qualified 22 wrestlers in the AA Southeast Regional Tourney.  Six of the final bouts were rematches of the District XI tourney with the same results.  District XI had nine champions with Notre Dame leading the way with three.

In the AAA state tournaments, District XI had four finalists but was only able to manage one champion, Becahi’s Rich Santoro at 98.  Santoro defeated future Iowa State star, Kevin Darkus, 4-3.  Nazareth’s Jeff Tripp (112), Easton’s Mark Noto (132) and Dieruff’s Abe Atiyeh (185) finished as runner-ups.

Jeff Tripp
Jeff Tripp Was a State Runner-Up for the Blue Eagles (Photo Courtesy of Freedom HS Yearbook)

In its best showing ever, District XI moved 14 wrestlers into the AA quarterfinals.  Success was more limited in the quarters round as four of the 14 wrestlers moved into the semi-finals.  Northwestern freshman, Vince Stravino, lost 1-0 to finish as a runner-up at 98, and Lehighton’s Mark Kunkle was 2nd at 119.  Northwestern’s Rick Mohr took a 3rd at 126 while Salisbury’s defending runner-up, Craig Ziegler, settled for 4th at 167.

Mark Kunkle
Mark Kunkle AA State Runner-Up (Photo Courtesy of Lehighton HS Yearbook)

Phillipsburg had three NJ Region 4 champs, Kevin Happel, Frank Losagio and Jim Clauss, and John Margerson was a runner-up.