Programs Started (Coach):Palisades (Preston Scoboria)
Notable Coaching Change:Charles Bartolet Sr.  John Maitland (Easton)
LVL League Champion:Allentown (10-0)
District Champion:Allentown (4 Champions, 2 Runners-up)
Regionals:Allentown & Northampton (3 Champions Each)

While the top team three teams (Easton, Northampton and Bethlehem) in the prior year’s standings graduated much of their top talent, Allentown only lost two starters.  In addition, Charles Bartolet Sr. retired from coaching and passed the torch to John Maitland.  In the Lehigh Valley, wrestling seemed to be gaining traction as a sport as coverage in the local papers began to expand.  However, not many high schools were adding wrestling.  In 1956, Palisades became the first school other than the “Original Six” to add a wrestling program starting a trend of many schools adding wrestling over the next decade.

Regular Season Highlights

In the opening league bout at Northampton, the AHS matmen defeated Northampton for the first time in four years 25-18.  Allentown led early 11-5 on the strength of wins by Dick Baker, Jim Schmoyer and Russ Rohrbach.  At 127, Bob Meyers posted a key win by downing Bill Trexler 10-6 as Northampton countered with four wins and a draw to lead 18-13 heading into the final three bouts.  Tim Stauffer won by decision at 154 and sophomore Al Ruschatz won by fall giving AHS at 22-18 lead.  Per The Morning Call “Heavyweight Hal Gross decisioned Paul Miller in tight 7-6 match after narrowly escaping a pin and the Canaries head it won.”

One week later, the Canaries again jumped out to an early 14-3 lead thanks to Dick Baker, Jim Schmoyer, Russ Rohrbach and Bill Trexler.  The defending champion Red Rovers roared back to lead 20-14 thanks to pins by Ed Flynn and Gino DiLorenzo and a key 5-3 win by Dick Schaffer over Tim Stauffer at 154.  Two bouts remained.  The Canaries rallied again as Al Ruschatz registered another fall and Hal Gross won by decision to give Allentown their first win ever over Easton 23-20.

Memorial Gym circa 1956 (Photo Courtesy of Bethlehem H.S. Yearbook)
Memorial Gym circa 1956 (Photo Courtesy of Bethlehem H.S. Yearbook)

Two weeks later, Easton was upset again this time by Bethlehem 23-18 at Memorial Gym.  Bethlehem won six of the first seven bouts to open up a commanding 21-3 lead.  Greg Ruth chipped in with a tight 3-0 win over Ed Flynn.  While Easton came back with three straight wins at 145-154-165 as they were able to close the gap to 21-16.  Easton needed a fall in the final bout to salvage a win or tie by settled for a draw and the Hurricanes had their upset.  The same night Northampton stayed in the title chase by easily defeating P-Burg 39-10.

The Rovers’ rough first half continued as they were downed by Northampton 27-14 with the Kids’ lighweights dominating the meet.  Joe Recker, having pinned all of his opponents thus far, remained undefeated at 95.   Meanwhile, crowds were growing in Allentown’s Little Palestra as 700 fans watched the Canaries defeat Bethlehem 23-14.  The match was tied at 14 entering the final three bouts with the Hurricane winning 4, losing 3 and drawing 1.  Russ Rohrbach registered the only fall at 120.  Once again Allen’s big men won three straight decisions to win the match.

The second half of the league season started off with a key match at Allentown’s Little Palestra.  The Morning Call noted that Allentown’s wrestlers “almost gave 500 Little Palestra fans heart failure in the process.”  Joe Recker started the match with a fall to match his performance in the first bout.  Undefeated wrestlers, Dick Baker, Jim Schmoyer and Russ Rohrbach, continued their winning ways and the Canaries led 11-5.  The K-Kids countered winning three in a row including a fall by Bob Myers over Bill Trexler and regained the lead 19-14 with three bouts to go.  Once again, the “Cardiac Canaries” were able to pull out another come from behind win.  Tim Stauffer and Al Ruschatz each won by decision setting up Hal Gross and Paul Miller to decide the outcome once again.  Gross led 7-4, but was taken down and almost pinned.  Gross broke free and added a riding time point.  The final tally Gross 9 and Miller 6 and Allentown had a 20-19 thriller!

While Allentown was seeing newfound success, Bethlehem, Easton and Northampton were battling it out for second place.  On February 9th, Bethlehem defeated Northampton 24-20 on a Frank Szvetecz fall in the final match.  In the final two matches of the year, Easton downed both Bethlehem 24-19 and Northampton 20-17.  The K-Kids Joe Recker started off the match with his 11th straight fall, and Easton trailed 17-5 after the first 6 bouts.  The Rovers won five bouts in a row including Charles Bartolet’s 5-3 win in the final bout.

Allentown faced off against Bethlehem in the final bout of the season but was without unbeaten defending District Champ Jim Schmoyer who had injured his right elbow in practice.  The Canaries found themselves in a familiar position against the league’s top teams behind 20-13 with three bouts to go.  After pins by Tim Stauffer and Al Ruschatz, undefeated Hal Gross’ decision capped a perfect 11-0 season and Allentown had its first Lehigh Valley league title 27-20.  Coach Glenn Smith’s grapplers also had now won thirteen bouts in a row.

LVL Champ Allentown Canaries (Photo Courtesy of Allentown H.S. Yearbook)
LVL Champ Allentown Canaries (Photo Courtesy of Allentown H.S. Yearbook)

Compiled LVL Standings 1955-56PlaceW-L

District XI Tournament

With four unbeaten wrestlers entering the Districts, Allentown was the favorite to win the title, but Coach Smith’s team was dealt a blow before the bouts even started as defending champ Jim Schmoyer was unable to compete due to what turned out to be a broken right arm.  Allentown was able to advance six men to the finals while Northampton had five, Bethlehem and Nazareth had four each and Easton had 3 finalists.

Russ Rohrbach Won His Third District Title (Photo Courtesy of Allentown H.S. Yearbook)
Russ Rohrbach Won His Third District Title (Photo Courtesy of Allentown H.S. Yearbook)

In a year of dominant wrestlers, eight unbeaten grapplers won titles at Bethlehem’s Memorial Gym and advanced to the regionals.  At 95, Northampton’s Joe Recker won his 15th straight bout by fall.  Allentown’s unbeaten duo of Dick Baker and Russ Rohrbach won their bouts at 103 and 120 sandwiched around the Kids’ 2nd champ, Alfred Lotti.  After Bob Myers (13-0-1)  decisioned Allentown’s Bill Trexler and Don Santo won 3-1, Northampton had 4 champions and the lead.  Bethlehem’s Greg Ruth (12-0) won by fall to gain his team’s lone title at 138, and then Gino DiLorenzo (16-0) became an early savior of the streak when he won by fall for Easton’s lone title at 145.  Ed Mertz (8-0) was Nazareth’s only champ by winning his 2nd district title by decision over Allentown’s Tim Stauffer. 

That set up a familiar situation for Coach Glenn Smith – trailing with Al Ruschatz and Hal Gross remaining to wrestle.  Ruschatz won easily 8-1 over Nazareth’s Bob Mertz, and unbeaten Hal Gross followed with a 5-1 decision over Bethlehem’s Frank Szvetecz.  Allentown had their fourth champion and the District team title.

Team Scores:
1956 District XI Wrestling Champs
1956 District XI Wrestling Champs (Photo Courtesy of Globe Times Via Bob Hower)

Northeast Regional Tournament

On March 10, 1956, the Lehigh Valley grapplers traveled to Wilkes-Barre for the annual Northeast Regional tournament.  There continued to be three wrestlers at each weight – the winner from each of Districts 2, 4 and 11.  This required a one bout semi-final round based upon a random draw with the winner advancing to face the winner of the draw (returning regional champs would automatically receive the bye to the finals).  For the second week in a row, Allentown’s chances were diminished when 165 pound champ, Al Ruschatz was unable to compete due to injuries.  Runner-up Bob Mertz replaced Ruschatz in the bracket.

The 1956 regional tourney would prove to be District XI’s most successful tournament for many years.  District XI crowned 8 champions while District 4 had 3 and District 2 none.  Allentown and Northampton continued to lead the locales as they each had three winners while Easton and Nazareth had one each.

Joe Recker’s (95) pinning streak ended but his unbeaten streak continued with a 7-5 decision in the final.  After upsetting undefeated Dale Sullivan of Hughesville in the semi’s, Bob Meyers (127) advanced with a 10-3 victory.  Don Santo gave Northampton their third champion at 133.

Allentown went 3 for 3 with all of their unbeaten competitors winning by tight margins in the finals.  Dick Baker (103) and Russ Rohrbach (120) won by matching 7-5 scores.  At 185, Harold Gross had to go all the way to a referee’s decision over a Kingston grappler.  Kingston, a perennial District 2 power, had advanced 5 District champs to the regionals only to go 0 for 5.

Gino DiLorenzo (145) from Easton and Ed Mertz (154) from Nazareth won their final bouts 5-2 and 5-3, respectively.  Bethlehem’s lone participant, Greg Ruth (138), won by fall in the semi’s but dropped a decision to eventual state runner-up, Larry Sinabaldi from Williamsport, in the finals.

PIAA Wrestling Tournament

It was off to State College for the Valley’s largest contingent ever since the regional tournament format.  Would this year by the year to break through at the state level?   Unfortunately, the answer was “no” on St. Patrick’s Day 1956 despite the wrestlers’ great efforts.

In the semi-finals, 3 of the District’s 8 entrants were able to win.  Russ Rohrbach (120), Bob Meyers (127) and Gino DiLorenzo (145) all won by decision.  The balance of the contingent dropped went down in defeat with most losing their first bouts of the year.  Defending state runner-up Dick Baker lost a heartbreaking referee’s decision in overtime. 

In the finals, the heartbreak continued.  Rohrbach and Meyers lost back-to-back, razor tight decisions.  First Rohrbach lost by referee’s decision, and then Meyers by a 3-2 margin.  A few bouts later, the District’s last chance for a state title, DiLorenzo lost 6-1 to the returning state runner-up.  Districts 6,7 and 9 continued their dominance by winning 9 of the 11 weight classes.  Clearfield won their fifth mythical state title with three champions. 

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

Phillipsburg Post Season

Robert Hart (103) won a 1956 district title at 103.  Phillipsburg has gone on to claim at least one district title every year since (current in 2016).  Hart won a state silver medal.

Glenn’s Boys Reunite

Photo from Allentown Morning Call