Programs Started (Coach):Notre Dame (Charles DeBellis)
LVL League Champion:Northampton (9-0)
District Champion:Allentown (6 Champions, 1 Runner-up)
Regionals:Allentown (4 Champions)
Individual State Champion:Dick Rushatz, 95, Allentown

Allentown lost state champion Al Rushatz along with veterans Bob Sommers and Dick Greenleaf, but still returned six starters plus had Dick Rushatz now eligible.  The Canaries were gunning for the fourth straight title but again had many challengers.  The Northampton Konkrete Kids fell one tie short of at least gaining a share of the title.  Coach Harry Wall’s team lost seven starters to graduation including six district finalists.  Easton returned a talented group of lightweights along with several other starters while Bethlehem was hit hard by graduation losing all four of their district champions (the lightweight murderer’s row of Hollinger-Rinker-Mosser along with 185 hero Bill Werst).  Upstart Wilson looked to be the new kid on the block trying to break through and challenge the top 4 teams.  No other team had broken the top 4 since 1952-53.  Notre Dame began their wrestling program under Coach Charles DeBellis.

Regular Season Highlights

The season opened with Bethlehem visiting Northampton in a battle between the two top teams who had lost the most talent from the ’57-’58 season.  The Kids would only win four of the eleven bouts but registered three falls by returning veterans – Larry Suranofsky (95), Fred Heffelfinger (120) and Mike Gontar (138).  Two other bouts ended in draws, and Tom Chuss (165) edged Joe Bedics 3-2 to clinch a 23-19 victory.  Allentown and Easton won easily in their opening matches over Whitehall and Emmaus, respectively.

Easton had several interesting non-league bouts scheduled.  First, Easton came from behind to down District 1’s Pennsbury 23-19.  In their next non-league bout, their fortunes were reversed when Shamokin won the last two bouts to deal the Rovers their first loss after four wins 26-21.

Allentown’s first test came against Bethlehem, and they jumped out to a big lead.  Dick Rushatz, Carl Nelson and Bob O’Donnell each won decisions to give the Canaries a 9-0 lead.  O’Donnell was taken to the limit by Terry Iasiello but prevailed 5-4. After Doug Koch downed Henry Raines at 120, the teams traded decisions at 127 and 133.  The Canaries would extend their lead to 17-6 when Joe Gareffa scored a fall by cradle at 138.  The Canaries appeared to be cruising to their 38th straight match without a defeat, but the Red Hurricane had other thoughts and ran off three winds in a row to tie the match at 17 entering the heavyweight match.  Gerry Gaycheck decisioned Frank Czar 3-0 to preserve the streak and give Allentown a 20-17 win.   The same night, Northampton jumped out to a big lead and then held off a Wilson comeback to claim a 26-19 victory.

Allentown, Easton and Northampton were tied at 3-0 while Nazareth was 2-1 in league competition.  With many of the league’s key battles scheduled for after the holidays, several teams headed to holiday tourneys.  Northampton crowned 5 champions (Larry Suranofsky, Fred Heffelfinger, Mike Gontar, Dan Vogel and Tom Chuss) en route to easily winning the Haverford College Tourney.  Both Easton and Bethlehem entered the Washington NJ Invitational.  Somerville NJ won the title with Easton finishing second.  The Rovers Dick DeWalt and Barry Pearson along with the Hurricanes Ron Bednar won individual titles.

In a battle of two of the three unbeatens, Northampton visited Easton.  Larry Suranofsky continued his pinning weighs decking Dick DeWalt with a chicken wing and chancery at 95.  Easton’s John Vincent countered with a fall of his own by cradle at 105, and Malcom Purdy added a decision at 112 giving Easton an 8-6 lead.  It would be the last time Easton would lead in the bout.  In a match up of each team’s top wrestlers, Fred Heffelfinger edged Ted Sulkin 10-9.  This would start a seven bout win steak for the K-Kids.  Finally at heavyweight Russ Amato managed a draw against Adolph Ebner.  Northampton had a huge 33-10 win and now shared the league lead with just Allentown.

Allentown continued their winning ways and unbeaten streak by downing Kingston 29-13 (40th) and Wilson 33-9 (41st).  With both Allentown and Northampton 5-0 in the league, Friday January 30th was circled on the calendar as a key date in the season.  While Allentown was 2-0-1 against Northampton in the last three years, Coach Harry Wall still held a 6-4-1 advantage over Coach Glenn Smith.  According to The Morning Call “the largest scholastic wrestling crowd in history – more than 1,000” turned out to see Allentown at Northampton.  Dick Rushatz upset pinner Larry Suranofsky to start the match by a 6-5 score.  The teams traded decisions at the next two weights with the Kids’ Dan Micio tripping Carl Nelson 4-0 and Canaries’ Bob O’Donnell winning 8-2.  Hank Raines pulled off another upset for the Canaries edging Fred Heffelfinger 7-6 at 120.  After Jim Milham added another decision, Allentown had jumped out to a 12-3 lead.  But the Northampton middleweights came through winning five straight matches by decision including three bouts by 1 point.  Irv Rismiller, Mike Gontar, Chris Sieger, Don Vogel and Tom Chuss all triumphed to give Northampton an 18-12 lead.  Allentown Hwt. Gerry Gaycheck needed a first period fall to gain a tie in the team score.  Gaycheck won 7-2 but could not register the fall.  Northampton had won 18-15 and Allentown’s amazing 41 match streak going all the way back to the last two matches of 1954-55 had been broken.

A few weeks later, Easton would travel to Bethlehem and try to stay in the mix for the top two spots.  Easton’s strong light weights would again allow them to jump out to an early lead.  Dick DeWalt and John Vincent registered falls while Malcom Purdy added a decision, and the Rovers led 13-0.  Bethlehem’s Doug Koch would down Ted Sulkin 4-3 at 120, but Easton would win 3 of the next 4 bouts including a fall by Bob Gilds at 127.  Easton still held an all but insurmountable 24-6 lead.  The Hurricanes would rally to win the last three bouts including two by fall, but would fall short 24-19.

After defeating Allentown, Northampton never looked back.  Coach Harry Wall’s team defeated their last three league opponents by an average margin of 29 points.  They would finish 9-0 in the league winning their first title since 1952-53.  They would finish 10-1 overall with their only loss coming to Hill School by a 28-13 count.

Second place in the league still needed to be decided on Thursday, February 12th Allentown traveled to Easton to take on the Rovers.  Both teams were strong in the lower weights and accustomed to jumping out to early dual leads.  So these matches were expected to be key bouts.  In a high scoring opening bout, AHS’ Dick Rushatz edged Dick DeWalt 11-9.  Easton countered at 103 as John Vincent decisioned Carl Nelson 5-0.  At 112 in a bout featuring defending district champions,  Bob O’Donnell downing Malcolm Purdy 9-2.  At 120 with Ted Sulkin edging Hank Raines 2-0.  Four bouts – all key – were split evenly and the score was 6-6.  After alternating wins the score was tied again at 9.  In a battle of veterans at the next two weights, the Rovers’ Bill Kelley easily beat Joe Gareffa 9-2, but AHS again countered with Jim Milham, jumping up two weights, decisioning Barry Pearson 3-1.  The result – tied again at 12.  Morgan Peters would move AHS ahead 15-12, but Brian Mackes decked Dave Moyer in 55 seconds with a reverse nelson to give the Rovers an 18-15 lead.  In the heavyweight bout Gerry Gaycheck had 1 second more riding time then Russ Amato giving him an extra point and earning an 18-18 tie for Allentown.

In their final bout of the year, Allentown would travel to Pottstown to defeat tough Hill School 20-17.  With the bout tied heading into the final but, Heavyweight hero Gerry Gaycheck came through again with a 4-0 decision to give Coach Glenn Smith the victory.

Allentown and Easton would end the year 7-1-1 in league competition tied for second place.  Overall, the teams finished an outstanding 10-1-1 and 12-2-1, respectively.  The final standings were:

Compiled LVL Standings 1958-59PlaceW-L-D
Southern Lehigh100-9

District XI Tournament

On Friday, February 27th, 106 wrestlers from nine schools were ready to compete at Emmaus High School.  Two of the three defending champions would match up at 112 – Easton’s Malcom Purdy and Allentown’s Bob O’Donnell.  Easton’s Bob Kelley moved up one weight to 138.  Three runners-up also were returning.

Emmaus Hosted the 1959 Districts (Photo Courtesy of Emmaus H.S. Yearbook)
Emmaus Hosted the 1959 Districts (Photo Courtesy of Emmaus H.S. Yearbook)

A huge crowd of over 1,400 watched the first round and quarterfinals.  The contest very quickly became a four team race.  Northampton (8 semi-finalists) led with 14 points followed by Bethlehem (8 in the semi’s) and 13 points.  Allentown (8 in the semi’s) and Easton (9 in the semi’s) were tied in 3rd with 12 points.  Several favorites were defeated in the quarters.  Allentown’s Hank Raines (120) lost a 2-0 decision to Whitehall’s Wilbur Anthony.  Defending District runner-up Bill Kraemer of Nazareth dropped a 3-2 decision to Bethlehem’s Dick Bedics, and Hwt. Mel Bruder, hobbled by a badly sprained ankle, of Emmaus fell 8-0 to Steve Magdasy of Bethlehem.

The district’s depth and talent level was clearly on the rise, and the semi-finals featured some tremendous bouts.  At 95, Easton’s Dick DeWalt decisioned Northampton’s Larry Suranofsky 5-3, and at 103 Easton’s John Vincent won an 8-7 battle over Allentown’s Carl Nelson.  Allentown won key bouts from Jim Milhalm (4-1 over Northampton’s Dave Micio at 127), Terry Delong (11-6 over Northampton’s Irv Rismiller at 138) and Morgan Peters (7-4 over Bethlehem’s Tom Clements at 145).  Regular season champ Northampton only managed to go 3 for 8 in the semi’s and lost their lead.  Allentown went 6 for 8 to take the lead.  Bethlehem advanced 4 wrestlers and Easton advanced 5 wrestlers to the finals.

In the finals, Coach Glenn Smith’s team shined on its way to a decisive win.  The Canaries won 5 of 6 final bouts + an exhibition bout at 88 pounds (by Tom Schleicher).  Dick Rushatz pinned Dick DeWalt with a tight waist and arm bar at 95.  At 112, Bob O’Donnell was able to repeat his regular season victory over Malcolm Purdy of Easton, but this time by a much tighter 7-6 margin.  O’Donnell would be named the meet’s outstanding wrestler.  Jim Milhalm (127), Morgan Peters (145) and Gerry Gaycheck (185) would all win decisions for the Canaries.

Easton Wrestling
Easton’s Bill Kelley Pulled Out the District Title at 138 for Easton (Photo Courtesy of The Morning Call)

Easton’s John Vincent would gain the only other fall in the finals at 102 pinning Nazareth’s John Viglione.  Bill Kelley would earn his 2nd district title defeating Northampton’s previously unbeaten Mike Gontar 7-5 at 138.  Bethlehem had three champions in Doug Koch (120), a 5-1 winner over the Kids’ Fred Heffelfinger, Roger Grubbs (133) and Dic Bedics (154).  Lee Todora won a championship for Nazareth at 165 winning 1-0 in overtime over the Kids’ Tom Chuss.

1959 District XI Wrestling Champs
1959 District XI Wrestling Champs (Photo Courtesy of Globe Times via Bob Hower)

Heading into regionals, the local contingent was led by Allentown with 5 wrestlers + 1 exhibition wrestler at 85.  Bethlehem had 3

Team Scores:
Southern Lehigh2

Northeast Regional Tournament

Two weeks later the Northeast Regionals would again be held at Wilkes College.  Bob O’Donnell, Bill Kelley and Lee Todora along with exhibition grappler Tom Schleicher received byes into the finals.  District XI wrestlers won 5 of 8 semi-final bouts.  Allentown was 3 for 4 with Dick Rushatz (6-4), Jim Milham (6-4) and Morgan Peters (5-2) all winning by decisions while Gerry Gaycheck (0-3) dropped his bout.  Other semi-final winners were John Vincent (3-1), Roger Grubbs (5-2) while Doug Koch and Dick Bedics both lost their matches.

In the finals, Coach Glenn Smith was a busy man.  Smith was in the corner for 4 of the 11 champion bouts + the 88 pound exhibition bout, and the Canaries won them all!  Tom Schleicher (88) got things started with a 5-1 win.  After a close afternoon bout, Dick Rushatz scored a fall to win a regional title at 95.  Bob O’Donnell (112) won a 6-3 decision to win his 2nd regional title and punch a return ticket to University Park.  Jim Milham (127) and Morgan Peters (145) completed Allentown’s perfect evening.

Lee Todora, Nazareth District Champ & Regional Runnerup (Photo Courtesy of Nazareth H.S. Yearbook)
Lee Todora, Nazareth District Champ & Regional Runnerup (Photo Courtesy of Nazareth H.S. Yearbook)

The rest of the district didn’t fare quite so well in the finals.  In fact, non-Allentown wrestlers were 0 for 4.  Both John Vincent and Bill Kelley from Easton were pinned in dropping their first matches of the year.  Bethlehem’s Grubbs and Nazareth’s Lee Todora (165) lost decisions and settled for 2nd place.

Allentown and District XI crowned 4 champs tied with District 4 for the most champions. District 2 had 3 champions.  Both Shamokin and Kingston crowned two champions each.

PIAA State Tournament

Allentown was unable to repeat the regional semi-final round performance at State College.  Instead the Canaries were only able to win one of four bouts.  Dick Rushatz got things off to a strong start winning by a 6-2 decision.  Bob O’Donnell (2-6), Jim Milham (3-8) and Morgan Peters (0-9) all dropped their semi-final bouts.  For O’Donnell it was his only loss of the year, and only the second for Milham.

In the finals, Dick Rushatz pinned John DeMico from Pennsbury.  Rushatz became the second member of his family to win a state title (after brother Al last year) and became Allentown’s fifth state champ.  District 6 dominated the tournament winning 6 of the remaining 10 finals.  State College won the mythical state title with two state champs and a runner-up.

(Photo Courtesy of Tom Elling from 1960 PIAA State Wrestling Program)

Phillipsburg Post Season

District Champs (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg H.S. Yearbook)
District Champs (Photo Courtesy of Phillipsburg H.S. Yearbook)

Over in New Jersey, Dave Osmun became a three-time district champ – every year at 120.  Bob Masterson also won a title at 95.  The third time was the charm for Osmun in the state tourney as he won a gold medal!  Masterson took home a bronze medal.