This is the story of the first dozen years of Dieruff High School wrestling. A time when the Huskies established themselves as a very competitive and successful team with some outstanding individuals. Tough, strong and well-conditioned, the Huskies competed against some legendary teams and coaches as they established a tradition of Husky Pride!
As Allentown grew in the late 1950’s, the need for a second public high school in Allentown became apparent, and in September 1959, Louis E. Dieruff High School officially opened. The Huskies were fortunate in many ways when it came to establishing their wrestling program. Legendary Allentown coach, Glenn Smith, had convinced one of his former Bellafonte wrestlers, Larry Fornicola to come to Allentown as an assistant wrestling coach. With a new school opening the opportunity was there for Fornicola to take the lead with the Dieruff wrestling program. As a senior in college, he had won a national title for Penn State in 1955.
Larry Fornicola was joined by Tom Persing and Dick King, a local product of Allentown High School and Muhlenberg who had just graduated from college several months earlier. In addition, Dieruff was very lucky that defending state champion, Dick Rushatz, along with his younger brother, Jon, were among the wrestlers moving from the Canary to Husky wrestling room. King helped to work to establish the junior high wrestling program coaching at Central and Harrison Morton and would be officially added to the Dieruff staff the following year.
Dieruff wrestling debuted on December 3, 1959 by facing the Emmaus Hornets and lost a 30-26 decision. In their 2nd match, the Huskies won their first dual meet be beating fellow newcomer, Notre Dame, 38-8. The Huskies finished a respectable 5-5-1 their first season. While Dick Rushatz was unable to repeat as a state champ, he won the Huskies first individual District title and Jon Rushatz finished 2nd, and the Huskies finished 5th as a team.
Dieruff would not have their first winning season until year 4, but the Huskies were establishing a hard-nosed, physical style of wrestling. Coach Fornicola ran tough, physically demanding practices and taught the young Huskies the fundamentals. In a 1962 Morning Call article by John Kunda, Larry described the program as one designed to “teach self-confidence and self-discipline.” The Dieruff wrestling room was maintained at a cozy “110 degrees” and also noted that “working out at 110 degrees loosens the muscles and takes off weight.”
Fornicola wrestled the lower and middle weights while Assistant Coach Dick King handled the middle and upper weights. Jon Rushatz gave the Huskies their 2nd District champ in 1962. This was the same year that a 21 year old Lehigh grad, Thad Turner, took the helm at Phillipsburg and led the Stateliners to being the dominate team of the 60’s.
Things were coming together for Dieruff for the 1962-63 season and the beginning of a solid run that would go through the 1969-70 season. During this time, the Huskies would compile a 69-30-2 dual meet record (.693 winning pct.), and crown 14 District Champs along with 10 runner-ups, 8 regional champs, 4 state champs and 1 runner-up. Dieruff would finish 1st in Districts once, 2nd twice and have 3 other top 5 finishes during this time with their lowest finish being 7th.
The ’62-’63 team saw the Huskies, led by Jon Rushatz, John Piper, John Halasovski, Dave Halulko, Ron Decker, Woody Marcks and Doug Keiper, finish 10-2-1 and 2nd in the LNL Western Division. The Huskies beat defending division champ Northampton with Woody Marcks scoring the clinching decision at heavyweight. They lost matches to Easton and Allen (by 10 points each) and tied Phillipsburg. Over 1,000 fans watched Dieruff and Allen (who were both undefeated in the division) battle in the Little Palestra in a late season match. Dieruff led after the Western division sectional with 5 wrestlers advancing to the Districts. Jon Rushatz pinned his 17th straight opponent to win the district title while Halasovski and Piper were runner-ups. Allen won what was Glenn Smith’s last district title and Dieruff finished 2nd. Rushatz would win the regional title but had his pin streak broken in the finals. He entered the state tourney as the closest thing to a lock. In the semi’s he led Sugar Valley’s Jack Breon 4-0 after the first period but was wing-rolled and pinned in the upset heard ‘round the world.
During this time Coach Fornicola was involved with wrestling clinics and refereeing while both he and Coach King wrestled in All-Star meets of former college stars. They also began organizing local tournaments in the summer of 1963.
1963-64 saw Dieruff return 10 wrestlers who started or saw significant time + there were some newcomers to the starting lineup – Charlie Houser, Lester Miller and Jim Davis. Dieruff would finish in a 3 way tie for 2nd in the first year of the East Penn League. Dieruff dropped bouts to Phillipsburg and Liberty but beat Easton and Allen for the first time ever in back-to-back matches. In his final battle against his former Coach Glenn Smith, Larry Fornicola would get a hard fought “W”. Allen led 11-0. Dieruff narrowed the led to 11-9 after Mike Young’s decision and Dave Halulko’s fall. Upsets followed in the next two bouts as Bob Raines dumped John Halasovski 4-3, and then Charlie Houser upset district champ Chick Miller 3-2. George Jenkins and Jim Moser won consecutive decisions, and Coach Glenn Smith’s squad led 20-12. But Dieruff was not done yet. Ron Decker pinned Curt Bahler, and Les Miller pulled another upset by pinning John Ziegler. Jim Davis won by default over Osman at heavyweight, and the Huskies had won 27-20. The Huskies would again finish 10-2-1.
In the 1964 Districts, Dieruff led all teams by advancing 8 of 12 wrestlers through the sectionals into the District semi-finals. The Huskies would advance 4 wrestlers to the finals. It likely should have been five but Jim Davis lost on an illegal slam. In the finals Easton and Dieruff would battle for the title. Dave Halulko & John Halasovski both won titles to put the Huskies in the lead. Easton led 58-51 after Chuck Amato’s decision at 165. Husky sophomore Lester Miller took the mat and won 6-0 to give Dieruff its first and only District Title ever 61-58.
In the Northeast Regionals, Dieruff’s dynamic duo of Dave Halulko and John Halasovski both won titles with Halasovski winning both his bouts in overtime. At States, Dave Halulko and John Halasovski both advanced into the finals. Halulko continued winning relatively easily (10-2) while Halasovski continued winning nail biters (1-0). Coach Larry Fornicola had his first two finalists. The results in the finals would be a split. Halulko finished a 21-0 unbeaten season downing Jeff Paxton of Chartiers-Houston 9-0. Halasovski lost by a 4-0 score to Bedford’s unbeaten Ron Hamilton. Dieruff won the mythical state title outpointing Chartiers-Houston. It clearly was The Year of the Husky!
Schools were rapidly adding wrestling during the early and mid-60’s. The ‘64-‘65 season saw legends Glenn Smith of Allen and Jim Harkins of Liberty pass the torch to Dick Baker and Frank Gutierrez, respectively. This would be Larry Fornicola’s final season, and the Huskies finished 7-6. While Dieruff only advanced three wrestlers through sectionals, all three won in the semi’s and finals. Dick Kruk, Charlie Houser and Jim Davis all won District titles as the Huskies finished 3rd in the team race.
Charlie Houser and Jim Davis both won regional titles with Davis winning both his bouts by fall. At states, Charlie Houser won a 2-0 decision in the semi’s while Jim Davis was pinned by defending state champ Bob Funk of Manheim Township. In the finals, Houser defeated Manheim’s Bob Van Asselt 4-1 to give Coach Larry Fornicola his 2nd champ in as many years. Houser finished 18-1 while Davis was 15-1-1.
Late in the summer of 1965, Larry Fornicola accepted the head wrestling coach job at Keystone Junior College, a post he would hold for 25 years. Fornicola’s final record at Dieruff was 40-33-3. Superintendent Dr. Paul Fink said he was “happy to recommend a person of Dick King’s caliber for the wrestling coaching job at Dieruff.”
With three primary leagues – East Penn, Lehigh-Northampton and Lehigh Valley – there were 24 local teams competing in wrestling for the 1965-66 season. In his first year as head coach, King was assisted by Tom Persing. The Huskies finished 8-6 but pulled off a huge upset. Allen and Phillipsburg were the co-favorites to win the EPL. Talent-laden Allen was expected to handle the Huskies, but Ricky Scholl had other ideas as he pinned returning district runner-up, Glenn Zoski, to give the Huskies a 5-0 lead. After two Allen decisions, the Huskies again pulled a major upset. Abe Youwakim, making his first start of the year, pinned Larry Clymer at 120. Dick Cisar, Mike Quier, Ron Trexler and Joe El Kahl all followed with decisions, and the Huskies had a huge 22-6 lead. Coach Dick Baker’s squad was not done yet. Bill Bushner won by decision at 154 and then Danny Layton and Geoff Baum both scored falls over tough Husky opponents to close the gap to 22-19. Carl Smith downed Ken Cressman 7-2 in the deciding bout, and Coach Dick King’s squad pulled off the unlikely upset to go 3-0 in the EPL. The key to the win – Dieruff wrestlers knocked off four eventual district finalists for the Canaries!
Rick Scholl would lose to Zoski in the rematch in the District finals 5-2 to finish as a runner-up while Mike Quier and Ron Trexler won back-to-back titles for the Huskies at 133 and 138 as Dieruff finished 5th in the team race. In the regional finals, Ron Trexler scored a come from behind 5-3 win by scoring a near fall late in the third period to upend Jerry Gold. In the state semi-finals, Ron Trexler lost a heartbreaking 3-2 decision to eventual state champion, Steve Paxson.
The Huskies had a strong dual squad for the ’66-’67 season with Gary Fye, Ricky Scholl, Roger Washburn, Rick Lentz, Abe Youwakim, Jan Kling, Jim Rizzotto, Dan Newhard, Ed Merkel and Carl Smith leading the way. Dieruff started the season 7-0 by beating Hellertown, Easton, Neshaminy, Becahi, Emmaus, Pennsbury and Hill School in succession. On January 21st, 1,500 fans packed the East Side gym to watch P-Burg hand Dieruff their first loss of the year 26-14. On January 26th, Dieruff bounced back from their first loss of the year rallying to down Allen in front of 1,500 fans in the Little Palestra. After an opening bout draw, Glenn Zoski and Rick Scholl each won decisions and the score was tied a 5-5. Roger Washburn’s quick pin at 127 gave the Huskies an 11-5 lead, but Allen would rally by winning the next four bouts and the Canaries led 17-11. Coach Dick Baker had done some lineup maneuvering by dropping Bill Stephens to 154 and Bob Wipple to 165, but Jan Kling and Jim Rizzotto had other ideas winning 6-1 and 12-7 to tie the match. Geoff Baum put Allen back up by 3 by defeating Dan Newhard 6-2. If things weren’t interesting enough already, the conversation behind the Husky bench was even more intriguing. Coach Dick King huddled with undefeated Ed Merkel and the hero from last year’s win over Allen, Carl Smith. Wanting to go for the win and not the tie, Coach King asked Merkel if he thought he could pin Allen’s 240 pound Rich Harakal. While confident he could win, Merkel said he couldn’t get a fall. King then turned to Carl Smith who said he’d either pin or get pinned. With the bout “deadlocked at 2-2”, Smith “caught Harakal with a half nelson and arm bar” for the fall per The Morning Call, and the Huskies had beaten Allen again 22-20.
The Huskies dropped their final 3 bouts in close matches to finish 3rd in the EPL with a respectable 8-4 overall record. Gary Fye and Jan Kling both finished as District runner-ups as the Huskies were 7th in the team race.
1967-68 and 1968-69 would be Coach Dick King’s best seasons as the Huskies would go 9-3 each year. They would finish 3rd in the EPL both years. The lineup was manned by the likes of Dan Newhard, Dan Howard, Gary Ward, Willie Brickhouse, Doug Young, Spencer Bauer and John Leitgeb among others. The Huskies would have 7 District finalists, 4 District champs and 2 state champs in these two years. Dan Newhard would put together a 42 match unbeaten streak. Newhard and Ward closed out many upper weight Husky comebacks during these two years. Bill Gaugler served as assistant coach in ’67-’68 and Ron Hanna took over in ’68-’69.
In 1968, Dieruff beat Allen again. After seven bouts, Allen held a 16-9 lead. According to The Morning Call, Allen was favored in each of the next two bouts and both Huskies were trailing, but Barry Trexler pinned Wayne Hoffman and Bill Gilly defeated John Bartges 4-2. Dieruff led 18-16, but Allen’s Rhiel won a decision to give Allen the lead again. Dieruff hammers, Dan Newhard and Gary Ward, were waiting in the wings. Newhard scored a fall and Ward shut out Chris Nagle as the Huskies won 25-19.
In the 1968 Districts, Dan Newhard won a district title at 180 while Dan Howard and John Leitgeb finished 2nd. Dieruff again finished 5th in the team race. Newhard cruised through the regionals and won 13-1 in the state semi-finals. His state finals’ opponent was Erie Prep’s Fletcher Cox who had dropped a close decision to Geoff Baum last year and had not lost since going 23-0 with 17 first period pins. Cox started quickly against Newhard scoring an early takedown to lead 2-0. By the end of the second period, Newhard had tied the match and pulled away in the third to win 7-2 and give Coach Dick King his 1st state champ. Principal Henry Weidner then predicted Dieruff’s next state champ in The Prophesy.
In 1969, the Huskies came all so close to upsetting P-Burg – losing 23-17 and dropped a 31-15 bout against Easton while undermanned with Gary Ward out of the lineup. Favored to beat Allen for the 4th year in a row, Allen won all the close bouts (four by two points or less) to upset Dieruff 20-17 in both teams’ final bouts of the season. Allen went 3-1-1 in the first five bouts to lead 11-5. Dan Howard and Willie Brickhouse scored decisions to tie the match at 11-11. Allen won decisions in the next three bouts to retake the lead at 20-11. Segatti nipped Jon Corazza 3-2 which meant Dieruff would need at least one pin from Dan Newhard or Gary Ward to tie or win the match. While Newhard and Ward outscored their opponents by a combined 26-7 count, neither could gain the fall needed.
Dieruff moved four wrestlers into the finals with Dan Howard claiming a title at 133 and Willie Brickhouse losing to Easton’s Barry Snyder to finish 2nd. Dan Newhard (180) and Gary Ward (Hwt) won the final two bouts convincingly to pull Coach Dick King’s Huskies into a tie for 2nd place with Ray Nunamaker’s Blue Eagles. Newhard extended his unbeaten streak to 42 with a 12-0 win over Allen’s John Bartges while Ward pinned Freedom’s Mark Andrejco (who had pinned Ward in the dual meet about a month earlier). Dan Howard would go on to win both the NE Regional and State title – getting stronger with each match. Dan Newhard was upset by Scott Moyer in the regional semi-finals and Gary Ward lost 7-6. In the finals, Wade Schalles, in what some have called the greatest match ever at States, was trailing defending state champ John Chatman 5-0 by “elevating him completely over his own head and decking him with a half nelson and body press.”
As the ’69-’70 season started, Dieruff had graduated three District Champs and faced off against archrival Allen in their opening match. In a match that featured four draws, a default and a disqualification, Allen held a 20-11 advantage after seven bouts. Willie Brickhouse edged Bob Alpha 5-4 at 145 and Jim Gaycheck and Scott Barker battled to a draw at 180. Dieruff held a slim 25-22 lead when Guy Gillette scored a fall to give the Huskies a 31-22 win. The Huskies would finish 8-4. In the Districts, Willie Brickhouse and Jon Corazza advanced to the finals with Brickhouse winning a district title. Doug Young and Jim Gaycheck also had strong records for the Huskies that year while heavyweight Guy Gillette scored falls in 6 of his 7 wins and helped pull out a number of victories. The Huskies finished 6th in the team race in Districts. Brickhouse would handily win his regional bouts to advance to the states but drew defending state champ Kevin Love and was pinned in the semi-finals.
1971 would see the Huskies add their 17th District champion in Jim Doster and 12th District Runner-up in Jim Gaycheck. In their first dozen years, the Huskies crowned nine regional and four state champions. After the 1970-71 season, King passed the baton to Art Schaeffer who had a number of competitive teams and outstanding individuals in the early and mid ‘70’s. In six seasons at the helm, King would finish with a 46-28 dual meet record, a .622 winning percentage which is believed to be the highest of any Dieruff coach.
Under Coaches Fornicola and King, the Huskies were never an easy out. Well-conditioned, strong and tough, Dieruff wrestlers were capable of pulling big upsets (66-67 team against Allen, Spencer Bauer dumping state champ Chico Lutes 6-5 after losing 14-2 11 days earlier). The Huskies drew crowds of 1,000-1,500 fans for big matches in their home gym and always had several strong individual performers on their team. They had 15 district champs during the 60’s – 4th most in the District after only Easton, Liberty and Allen. Fornicola and King provided a great foundation and tradition for the Dieruff wrestlers who followed in the 70’s, 80’s and beyond. They were the original “East Side Tough Guys.”