The Streak Busters – How Liberty Broke Three Incredible Streaks

The Streak Busters – Part I

On December 15, 1966 in East Penn League action, Liberty was locked in a struggle with Phillipsburg.  Randy Biggs and John Filipos scored decisions as the Hurricanes led 6-0, but Maury Mascari got a huge fall over defending regional champ, Nick Kalingeras.  Liberty countered with four straight wins including falls by Joe Benson at 127 and Tom Detsch at 138 to lead 22-5.  The Stateliners immediately responded with Bob Duckworth’s pin at 145 and three more decisions to cut the lead to 22-20.  The Hurricanes had John Strohl waiting in the wings, and Strohl delivered by pinning Jack Smith to give the Liberty a huge 27-20 win.

With their very next match, Coach Thad Turner’s squad would embark on a legendary 58 match unbeaten streak.  Fast forward to the Fall of 1970…after winning four EPL championships in a row with a combined record of 51-1-1 and sporting an active 51 match unbeaten streak, Thad Turner left Phillipsburg to become the head coach at his alma mater, Lehigh University.  Jan Dutt was his very capable replacement.  Although not as dominant as the 1969-70 squad, the 1970-71 P-Burg team won their first seven bouts to extend their streak to 58 winning by no less than nine points.

On January 21, 1971, the Stateliners invaded Memorial Gymnasium to face Coach Frank Gutierrez’s Hurricanes.  The Morning Call reported “a turnaway crowd of almost 3,600 – the largest ever to watch a scholastic dual in the Lehigh Valley” witnessed the big match.   Rick Thompson and Greg Filipos opened the meet by battling to a 2-2 draw.  The team traded decisions at the next two weights with Bob Pretopapa winning 7-2 for the Liners at 103 over unbeaten Jeff McCandless, and Dave Hammer upending former state champ, Bob Jiorle, 11-6.  Gary DeAlmo “got a takedown and predicament in the last 20 seconds and edged Ernie Gonzalez 9-7” per the Call.  Leading 8-5, Coach Dutt inserted Bruce Lear in the line-up to face state runner-up John Fritz with Fritz easily winning 16-4.  State runner-up Bill Cavanaugh moved to 133 to face Jim Ritchie and was upset 4-0.  At 138, Joe Piro scored got a late takedown and back points to nip Petch Gibbons 8-6.

After seven bouts, the score was tied again at 11-11.  The teams traded decisions over the next four weights with George Nemchik pulling Liberty into a 17-17 tie with a 4-2 win over Jeff Curzi.  Matt Syzmakowski took the mat in front of his home crowd and delivered by scoring a dominant 15-1 win over Blair Miers.  The Hurricanes had won 20-17 ending Phillipsburg’s 58 match unbeaten streak.

Liberty Wrestling
Heavyweight Matt Szmakowski Won the Clinching Match Against Phillipsburg (Photo Courtesy of Liberty H.S. Yearbook)

The Streak Busters – Part II

On December 14, 1968, in a non-league bout, Hellertown’s Tom Lechner won by fall to open a 6-0 lead over Liberty.  The Hurricanes won three in a row including John Filipos’ fall to lead 11-6.  Hellertown won four of the next five bouts, including Rich Sesulka’s unbelievable 23-0 win to retake the lead 18-14.  The Hurricanes were not to be denied as they won the final three bouts punctuated by Bob McKusky’s fall to win 25-18.

Hellertown would win their final 11 bouts of the 1968-69 season on their way to winning the Lehigh-Northampton League title outright.  In 1969-70, the Panthers would go 14-0 outscoring opponents 562-102.  With a 25 meet winning streak intact, Hellertown had a very successful post-season by winning the District XI team title and crowning their first state champ ever in Don Rohn.

With a name change to Saucon Valley, the 1970-71 team was heavily favored to win another LNL title and were again loaded with talent.  After surviving an opening match scare and defeating Freedom 23-21, Coach Charlie Bartolet’s team would win their next 11 matches, including downing arch-rival Nazareth 24-12 and winning their third straight LNL title.

After ending Phillipsburg’s unbeaten streak 20-17, Liberty upended three more very tough opponents – Easton 26-19, Hill School 20-18 and Bethlehem Catholic 23-15.  They then easily defeated Neshaminy 45-15.  Sporting a 10-0 record, Liberty had faced a difficult schedule and had conquered all challengers to date.  The Hurricanes would face another test on February 13, 1971, traveling to Hellertown to face a powerful Saucon Valley team with a 37 match winning streak intact.

Under Coaches Charlie Bartolet and Frank Gutierrez, the teams had split the previous six meetings with only one dual being decided by more than 10 points.

Frank Gutierrez Liberty Wrestling
Coach Gutierrez Had Plenty to Be Excited About During a Tough But Successful Season (Photo Courtesy of Liberty H.S. Yearbook)

With a standing room only crowd of 1,800 on hand, Greg Filipos staked the Hurricanes to a 3-0 lead before Rocky Chunko had a late second period takedown stand up for a 3-1 win over Jeff McCandless.  The score was tied at 3-3, but it would be the only time all night the Panthers would be tied.  Dave Hammer scored a fall at 112.  Don Rohn took the mat against Ernie Gonzalez and scored a takedown and had Gonzalez on his back for the rest of the first period.  With Gonzalez in a high bridge, Rohn was unable to score the fall.  He led 6-0 after two periods, but Gonzalez rallied for a 6-6 draw.  John Fritz decisioned Dan Santoro 7-3, and Jim Richie scored a third period takedown over Dennis Underkoffler 4-2.  The Hurricanes led 16-5 in a match that was expected to be much closer at the halfway mark.

Petch Gibbons would stretch the lead to 19-5 with a 4-0 win at 138, but Saucon Valley was able to rally.  Bill Danyluk, Bob Nagy and Fred Kugler scored shut out decisions to cut the lead to 19-14.  At 180, Rick Israel led 5-3, and Saucon Valley appeared to have hope, but “Bryan Green wiped it out when he scored four points in the final 24 seconds” per The Morning Call.  Green scored a 7-5 win ending the Panthers comeback attempt.  Liberty heavyweight, Matt Szymakowski won 7-0, and Liberty won 25-13 to break the Saucon Valley’s 37 match winning streak.

Coach Frank Gutierrez’s team would go on to defeat Freedom 29-11 to finish the season undefeated at 12-0, winning the East Penn League title and breaking two of the longest streaks in Lehigh Valley wrestling history!

Liberty Wrestling
Liberty Hurricanes – East Penn League & District XI Champions – 1971 (Photo Courtesy of Liberty H.S. Yearbook)

The Hurricanes would go on to win their first District XI title in 10 years with seven finalists including 4 champions.  Saucon Valley placed 2nd.  Both Liberty and Saucon Valley would have two regional champions and two state finalists.  Don Rohn became the first District XI wrestler to repeat as a state champion while Dave Hammer, John Fritz and Bill Danyluk were runner-ups.

True to form, the next season the Panthers would gain revenge with a 39-6 win the following season to tie up the rivalry of the teams under Coaches Bartolet & Gutierrez at 4-4, as follows: 1965 – Hellertown 22-18; 1966 – Liberty 32-12; 1967 -Liberty 25-16; 1968 – Hellertown 21-19; 1969 – Liberty 25-18; 1970 – Hellertown 27-17; 1971 – Liberty 25-13; 1972 – Saucon Valley 39-6.

The Streak Busters – Part III

Under Coach Bob Zarbatany, Easton had a three year unbeaten streak that stood at 41 duals as they hosted Coach Frank Gutierrez and his Liberty Hurricanes on January 16, 1975. Liberty had busted several other streaks over the past few years and was looking to do the same to the Rovers who had beaten them 7 of the last 9 times the teams wrestled. In a tightly contested dual, no fewer than half of the bouts were decided by two points or less.

Wrestlers from Liberty and Easton Battle (Photo Courtesy of Liberty HS Yearbook)

The first three weights would feature battles of undefeated wrestlers for both teams! Bobby Weaver edged Doug Heimbch 11-9 at 98 pounds; Liberty’s Ron Cope took down Henry Callie with six seconds to go to win 6-5; and Greg Shoemaker upended Jose Martinez 10-6. Brian Lutz and Guy Weaver both won 4-3 decisions over Jim Werner and Bernie Fritz, respectively. Easton led 12-3. 

Liberty countered as John Unangst scored a 5-2 decision over Fred Stoelzl, and Jon Bittenbender, triumphed on a takedown with five seconds to go, over George Santos. After Tim DeVietro’s 12-5 decision over Curt Hoyak at 145, the team score stood Easton 15 Liberty 9, but the Rovers would not win another bout the rest of the way.

At 155, in another battle of unbeaten wrestlers, Brian Statum downed Steve Jordan 6-1. Mike Vincovitch and Gary Martinez followed with 7-1 and 6-0 wins over John Donnelly and Jon Fetterman, respectively, and Liberty led 18-15. Easton still had a chance to save the streak and tie or win the dual, but Scott Schneider nipped Jim Palmer 2-1 at heavyweight, and the Streak Busters had done it again as Liberty won 21-15.

Liberty finished the year unbeaten in the East Penn League, but they did lose one meet to Saucon Valley 21-20 while the Rovers did not lose again during the ’74-’75 season. This was the beginning of series of great duals between the two teams over the next 5 years:
• ’74-’75 – Liberty 21 Easton 15
• ’75-’76 – Liberty 22 Easton 18
• ’76-’77 – Easton 24 Liberty 19
• ’77-’78 – Easton 26 Liberty 21
• ’78-’79 – Easton 26 Liberty 18