LVL League Champion:Bethlehem Liberty (9-0-1)
District Champion:Bethlehem Liberty (4 Champions, 2 Runners-up)

The two dominant teams over the past half dozen years matched up in Week 1 of the 1951-52 season.   Easton returned four district champs (Jack Uhler, Dick Finelli, Gas Basso and Sam DiVietro) along with one runner-up (Al Zarbatany) and was considered the favorite to continue their dominance, but the Hurricanes had other ideas…

Regular Season Highlights

On December 14, 1951, Bethlehem and Easton kicked off the season.  The Hurricanes downed the Rovers 32-11 breaking Easton’s 19 match win streak.  The Hurricanes’ Jerry Symons and Terry Iasiello both won decisions for a 6-0 lead.  Dick Finelli’s first period pin tied the match, but Bethlehem took the lead again as Bill Deibler downed Andy Cuvo 2-0 at 120.  Gus Basso scored another fall to move the Rovers into the lead for the first and only time on the night, 11-9.  Bud Smith nipped Al Zarbatany 7-6 to start the Hurricanes’ rally.  Behlehem would win all the remaining matches including Ron Flemming’s 4-1 win over district champ, Sam DiVietro.  The same night, Allentown would rally from a 22-0 deficit after four bouts to win the remaining seven bouts including three by one point to win their opener 29-22.

During the 2nd match of the year, the Nazareth Blue Eagles also flexed their muscles by upsetting Easton 29-19 on December 20th.  Harold Wilson and John Alich both scored falls to give the Blue Eagles a 10-0 lead.  Easton would rally by winning the next five contested bouts including two bout two points or less, but a costly forfeit at 120 allowed Nazareth to stay within three points at 19-16.  Rich Hopper picked up a big fall over Piscatello .  With Dean Rismiller bumping up to 185, Tobias won a key 5-4 bout over Walters.  Rismiller then followed by pinning Shafer to ice the “W” for Nazareth.

Northampton returned eight starters and were looking to make some noise.  After defeating Nazareth 31-11 in their opener, the Kids hammered Allen 43-7 only allowing the Canaries to win one match.

Meanwhile, in their second league bout, the Hurricanes downed Phillipsburg with a balanced attack.  This set up a battle of unbeaten in Week 3 – a high-scoring affair which featured 8 bouts ending by fall, the Hurricane defeated Northampton 33-19.   Jerry Symons gave Bethlehem a great start pinning Buskirk.  After the Lawrence twins both scored falls, Bethlehem won five bouts in a row including falls by Thompson (127), Villani (133) and Klein (138).  At 145, Ron Flemming had a huge win over Paul Billy 5-3.  Robert Zimmerman decked Frank Gutierrez at 154, but Dave Green countered with a fall of his own at 165.

Easton bounced back from two straight defeats to upend Phillipsburg 26-16.  Dick Finelli upset NJ state champ Sid Fowler 6-5 at 112.  Easton middleweights Gus Basso, Paul Smith, Al Zarbatany and Sam DiVietro picked up key wins.  The same night Nazareth hammered Allentown, under new coach Ken Wildonger, 38-10 winning nine of eleven bouts.

In a back and forth bout, Northampton and Easton battled to a 22-22 tie.  The Kids’ Buskirk got a fall at 95 and Jim Lawrence won by forfeit at 103 to establish an 11-0 lead.  In a series of competitive bouts, the Rovers got wins from  Finelli, Basso, Cuvo and Fleck. Sam DiVitro pinned Strohl at 138, and the Rovers had battled back to lead 17-11.  Paul Billy nipped Piscatello 2-1 at 145 and Robert Zimmerman followed with a 4-0 win at 154 to tie the match at 17 all.  Dave Laury pinned Walters in only 27 seconds, and the Kids led 22-17, but Bill Schaeffer pinned Fields in 1:37 and the bout ended in a tie.  Nazareth traveled to Phillipsburg and found themselves tied at 14 after eight bouts.  The Blue Eagles won the final three bouts to win 24-14.

The only blemish on the Hurricanes’ record was a 19-19 tie before a capacity crowd in Nazareth to end the league’s first half schedule.  Easton downed Allentown 26-11.  Dick Finelli had the only pin of the night at 112 for the Rovers, and Al Zarbatany dealt Tom Haring his first loss of the year 4-1.

As the first half ended, Bethlehem led the way at 4-0-1, Nazareth 3-1-1, Easton and Northampton each 2-2-1, Allentown 1-4 and Phillipsburg 0-5.

Bethlehem opened the second half of the schedule by again dominating Easton – this time by a 30-16 score.  Jerry Symons and Terry Iasiello picked up falls to help Bethlehem out to a lead that they would never relinquish.   Easton star, Dick Finelli, earned a fall at 112.  Bud Smith and Gus Basso battled to a 1-1 draw,  Al Zarbatany’s fall at 138 tied the match at 16, but Coach Jim Harkins’ squad won the next four bouts including a fall by future coach Frank Gutierrez at 154 to down Easton 30-16.  Ron Flemming, Dick Green and Jim Plactoris each gained decisions.  Flemming defeated defending district champ Sam DiVietro 10-4 while Plactoris downed Bill Schaeffer 11-6.

The same night Nazareth avenged an earlier loss to Northampton.  Harry Wilson and John Alich won decisions in the first two bouts followed by John Wilson and James Hankee battling to a draw.  Sherman and Novesel both defeated tough opponents in Gene Laury and Robert Zimmerman to stretch the lead to 14-8.  The Kids battled back on wins by Paul Billy and Robert Zimmerman to tie the match again at 14.  Dean Rismiller picked up a fall at 165, and Rich Hooper was able to avoid a fall, losing to Dave Laury 8-0.  The Blue Eagles won 19-17.

Bethlehem continued rolling by routing Phillipsburg 40-11 and Allentown 39-9.

Easton would counter with a 29-15 win over Nazareth on January 30th.  The Rovers and Blue Eagles would end up tieing for 2nd place in LVL at 6-3-1.  A week later, Easton would defeat P-Burg 26-16 in a night with Easton star, Dick Finelli, upending New Jersey state champ, Sid Fowler, 6-5.  Fowler had defeated Finelli twice in the prior year’s dual meets.

On February 13th, two incredibly close bouts took place.  Easton looked to avoid another draw with Northampton.  Rover stars Dick Finelli and Gus Basso remained unbeaten by defeating very tough opponents in John Lawrence 6-3 at 112 and Jim Hankee 11-6 at 120, respectively.  In another marque match up, Sam DiVietro shut out Robert Zimmerman 8-0.  The Kids managed enough wins to tie the bout at 14 after the 154 bout.  Ray Walters was the hero pinning Fields at 165 to lead the Rovers to a 19-17 win.

The Blue Eagles continued their winning ways by outlasting a stubborn Phillipsburg team 20-19.  After John Alich started the match with a fall.  Eck and Fowler won decisions giving P-Burg a 6-5 lead.  The Liners held leads of 11-10 and 16-15, but  Dean Rismiller clinched the win for the Blue Eagles by pinning Jones.

Bethlehem avenged their tie with Nazareth by defeating the Blue Eagles 27-13 at home.  Nazareth led 11-8 after six bouts, including key wins by John Alich over Jerry Symons 10-1 at 95 and John Wilson over Bill Deibler 9-4 at 120.  Once again Bethlehem’s middle and upper weights rallied by winning four of the last five bouts and tieing the other to rally and remain unbeaten.

Easton easily beat Allentown 27-12 to move into a tie for 2nd place with Nazareth.

The Konkrete Kids could have easily been called the “Hard Luck Kids”.  While finishing 3-6-1, they tied Easton and lost three of their bouts by a total of eight points.  The Kids’ performance would foreshadow the success Coach Harry Wall’s grapplers would have the next season.

Compiled LVL Standings 1951-52W-L-D

District XI Tournament

The District meet would again kick off with a one match per weight quarterfinal round on Friday night at Easton High School followed by the semi-finals and finals on Saturday, March 1st.  Half the semi-final bouts would end by fall.  Bethlehem, Nazareth and Northampton each advanced six contestants to the finals while Easton advanced 4 and Allentown was again shut out.  A key match in the semi-finals at 120 saw Bethlehem’s Bill Deibler defeating Nazareth’s John Wilson 4-2.  Roughly a week earlier, Wilson had downed Deibler 9-4 in the final dual of the season.  In other very competitive semi-final bouts, Nazareth’s Bill Daney downed Terry Iasiello from Bethlehem 6-2; the Kids’ Paul Billy decisioned Piscitello of Easton 6-3; and Nazareth’s Rich Hooper edged Bethlehem’s Frank Gutierrez 3-2.

In the finals, Bethlehem and Easton would each crown 4 champions.  The finals started with a bang as John Alich edged Jerry Symons 8-6.  Bill Daney made it two in a row for the Blue Eagles by shutting out Jim Lawrence 6-0.  At 112, Dick Finelli would become the first three time District champ defeating Northampton’s John Lawrence 16-3.  Gus Basso repeated at 120 by shutting out Bill Deibler 9-0.  Bud Smith and Al Zarbatany moved to the top step by pinning Northampton’s Paul Kulp and decisioning Nazareth’s Sherman 7-0, respectively.  The Bethlehem upper weights rallied once again and won three of the final four bouts by close decisions.   At 145, Ron Flemming topped Albert Billy from Northampton 4-2.  At 154, they received an assist from the Kids’ Robert Zimmerman who knocked off Rich Hooper 4-2.

Easton 1952 District Champs (Photo Courtesy of Easton H.S. Yearbook)
Easton 1952 District Champs (Photo Courtesy of Easton H.S. Yearbook)

At 165, 1950 District Champ Dick Green faced off against 1951 Champ Dean Rismiller and gained the decision 8-6 icing the win for the Hurricanes.   At 185, Jim Plactoris edged Northampton’s Dave Laury 3-0.

Photo Courtesy of Nazareth H.S. Yearbook
Photo Courtesy of Nazareth H.S. Yearbook
1952 District XI Wrestling Champs
1952 District XI Wrestling Champs (Photo Courtesy of Easton Express Via Bob Hower)
1952 District XI Wrestling Champs
1952 District XI Wrestling Champs (Photo Courtesy of Easton Express Via Bob Hower)
Team Scores:

Northeast Regionals

A week later the Northeast Regionals were held in Wilkes-Barre.  District XI was able to advance 7 of 11 entrants into the finals, but only two were victorious.  According to The Morning Call, the regionals included many exciting bouts.  Easton’s Dick Finelli (112) trailed throughout the first two periods, but rallied with less than a minute to go to defeat previously undefeated Yoder of Muncy 5-4.  In the process, Finelli earned his second Regional title and his third trip to states.  Per The Morning Call, Bethlehem’s Frank Smith (127) won 12-9 in a “wild match” and Jim Placatoris (185) won 5-4 in a “hectic match”.  Finishing second in the regionals were John Alich (Nazareth, 98), Al Zarbatany (Easton, 133), Bob Zimmerman (Northampton, 154) and Dick Green (Bethlehem, 165).  Green was “considered one of the strongest District XI entries” by The Morning Call, lost a 9-2 decision.

District 4 led the way with five champions while Districts 2 and 11 each had three.  Shamokin and Bethlehem tied for the most regional champs with two apiece.

PIAA State Championships

On March 15, 1952, the State Championships were held at Penn State’s Rec Hall.  Easton’s Dick Finelli lost for only the fifth time in his career, with three of those losses coming in State tourneys, and was unable to advance to the finals.  Bethlehem’s Bud Smith and Jim Plactoris were both successful in the semi-finals, but both dropped decisions in the finals, 4-1 and 5-1 respectively, to finish as state runners-ups.   Clearfield again captured the mythical state team title.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Elling from PIAA Program & Bob Hower’s Memory Lane

Phillipsburg Post Season

P-Burg’s Fowler goes for the fall (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg H.S. Yearbook)

Phillipsburg had another successful post seasons as Richard Eck (103) and Sid Fowler (112) won district titles.  Fowler would go on to claim his 2nd state title, and Eck took 3rd place.