The PIAA has been staging its state team duals tournament 11 years now. The first, back in 1999, there were just 10 teams - all district champions - that made up the Class AAA field. And there were no wrestle-backs, no consolation brackets, either.
The inaugural run started with some controversy, when Northampton head coach Don Rohn - unhappy that the timing of the duals conflicted with the individual postseason - sent his No. 1 ranked Konkrete Kids' junior varsity team out for a first-round match-up with Gettysburg and, of course, lost. The inaugural run ended on a rather gloomy note, when Bald Eagle Area humbled Upper Perkiomen, 53-0, in the old Hersheypark Arena.
For the next five years, with more postseason-friendly dates - and everyone, including the folks up in Northampton, considerably happier as a result - the duals served as nothing more than a showcase for the District 11 powers. Northampton won it in 2000, then Easton pinned down the next four titles.
In 2005, the PIAA altered its duals format, opening the field to include runners-up and third-place finishers from the state's larger districts, bringing in the champion from its newest member - the Philadelphia Public League (District 12) - and adding a consolation bracket for survivors of the opening-round matches.
Since then, and since moving a few blocks over to the Giant Center, it's been quite an event, perhaps what the PIAA - and Pennsylvania's devoted wrestling following - envisioned from the outset.
But the duals, a great venue for the state to show off its scholastic wrestling powers, were never quite the spectacle they were last weekend.
Don't think so? Take roll call (alphabetically) on Saturday ... Blue Mountain, Boyertown, Central Dauphin, Central Mountain, Cumberland Valley, and Northampton.
Well, depending on what state ranking you choose to read (or subscribe to), two of them had Central Dauphin, Northampton, Central Mountain, Blue Mountain, Cumberland Valley, and Boyertown at No. 1 through No. 6, respectively. And depending on what national ranking you choose to read (or subscribe to), the one most recognized (and, of course, most criticized) had Central Dauphin at No. 4, Northampton at No. 5, Central Mountain at No. 6, Blue Mountain at No. 14, and Cumberland Valley at No. 19.
Let's see, the top six teams in the state and five of the Top 20 teams in the country all sharing four mats Saturday morning at the Giant Center.
Can you say, "Wow" ... or just spell it?
And did Boyertown belong in that elite group of six? You can bet your singlet it did.
The Bears have their share of what wrestling extremists like to call "studs," those you can likely count on to get four or more points no matter what weight class you pencil them in at. Not a lot of them, mind you, but their fair share. They have their share of others who will, more often than not, get you a win here and there. And, most important, they have their share of anonymous entries in the lineup who will not always surrender the bonus points that are so critical in determining the outcome of big matches.
This season, despite a couple of injuries and an assortment of distractions from their critics and forums statewide, the Bears stepped up ... and without question earned the right to be called one of the top six teams in Pennsylvania.
And if you're talking top six? In this state? For 2008-09?
Not bad ... not bad at all.
PAC IT UP
The Pioneer Athletic Conference's 23rd season of wrestling ended Monday night with Boyertown claiming its third straight title. Runner-up Upper Perkiomen, with the exception of the ineligible wrestler issue that created the forfeit frenzy in 2007, has been first or second every season since 1997.
But it's been a while since the rest of the league was so competitive. Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley shared third place at 6-3, and both Methacton and Spring-Ford were right behind at 5-4.
OJR lost to Perkiomen Valley, but defeated both Methacton and Spring-Ford, the latter for the first times since joining the PAC-10 back in 1988. Perkiomen Valley lost a two-point thriller to Methacton, but got the best of Spring-Ford for the second straight season - which it had never done before.
Methacton, which got thumped early by Spring-Ford, finished strong with the win over PV underlining the stretch run.
And if there was a silver lining for the Warriors, at least for rookie head coach A.J. Maida, it was that he had wins over three Methacton graduates who are currently head coaches in the PAC-10 - Tim Walsh at Perkiomen Valley; Dave Saville and Phoenixville; and Jeff Madden at Pottsgrove.
Owen J. Roberts was 6-3 for the first time since 2002, while Perkiomen Valley was 6-3 for the first time since 2003. ... Spring-Ford's five wins were the Rams' fewest since the Pioneer Athletic Conference's inaugural season, when they were 4-3 in the then eight-team league. ... Pottsgrove, which closed at 3-6, lost to Perkiomen Valley by just two points and were within two individual bout wins of knocking off Owen J. Roberts and Methacton. ... Phoenixville, as well as Pottstown and St. Pius X, weakened considerably by lack of numbers, injuries and illnesses, still reared their competitive heads at times this season.
Spring-Ford, the only member of the Pioneer Athletic Conference with a winning record in all 23 seasons, remains the winningest program in the PAC-10 with 172 wins. Upper Perkiomen is second (134). ... Boyertown, with seven seasons in the league, owns the best winning percentage (.914). ... Perkiomen Valley (103) and Pottstown (100) became the third and fourth teams to get to the 100-win mark in league competition. Owen J. Roberts needs two wins next season to join the group.
Springfield-Delco's Andre Petroski, a legitimate contender for a state title at 189 pounds next month, tuned up for the postseason by winning the 184-pound weight class in the annual Edinboro Open last Saturday. Petroski strung together five wins - four decisions and a disqualification - against college rivals.
Boyertown's Matt Malfaro and Upper Perkiomen's Mike McStravick will be shooting for sectional titles as well as their 100th career wins Saturday. The 119-pound Malfaro, a junior, hasn't lost since Jan. 3 - a string of 21 straight wins - and is one away from the milestone after his victory Monday night against Phoenixville. The 140-pound McStravick, a senior, has won 15 of his last 16 bouts and needs two this weekend to reach the milestone.
Boyertown's Ryan Kemmerer (152) is currently eighth on The Mercury area's all-time win chart. ... Owen J. Roberts' Nick Fuschino (117) needs five more wins to move up into third place on his school's leaderboard behind former Wildcats' Robert Hoffman (131) and Aaron Brown (134). ... Boyertown's Alex Pellicciotti, a junior, and Upper Perkiomen's Jared Bennett, a senior, each take 111 career wins into the postseason, while Boyertown's Tim Feroe (107) - who reached the mark just over a week ago - is the only other active area wrestler with 100-plus career wins.
HALL OF FAME
The District 1 Wrestling Coaches Association announced the 20th class of inductees for the district's Hall of Fame. Those to be honored at the Southeastern Regional at Oxford later this month are former longtime coaches Charlie Kramer of Perkiomen Valley and Mike Colley of West Chester East, and outstanding wrestlers Mike Jones of Haverford, Rocky Mantella of Council Rock, and Derek Zinck of Upper Perkiomen.