By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
Chase Marstellar is ranked No. 1 in the country, but it was clear during Saturday afternoon’s inaugural Phil Lockcuff Duals that the late esteemed Shikellamy coach was No. 1 in the hearts of the wrestling fans who attended the tournament held in his honor.
The Kennard-Dale phenom — a three-time state champion who has never lost a high school match — did what fans expected of him, running roughshod over the competition, going 5-0, finishing his day with a fall in 1 minute, two seconds over the Braves’ Quaneer Ford at 182 pounds.
The Braves lost that final meet to Marstellar’s Kennard-Dale Rams, coached by former Shikellamy wrestling standout Mike Balestrini, and the host team went 2-3 on the day.
But no matter the outcome, this day belonged to the legacy of the Braves’ Hall of Fame Coach. The highlight was the dedication of the Shikellamy Field House to the Lockcuff, with the name changed to the Phil Lockcuff Memorial Gym.
In Shikellamy’s final bout of the day, former Braves’ teammates John Supsic and Balestrini, faced off with the Rams winning, 42-29.
Balestrini made his first visit to the facility on Saturday (his wrestling was done at the former field house on the opposite end of the Walnut Street complex).
“This was pretty neat,” Balestrini said. “Everyone knows how well Coach was liked and this turned out great. It’s a good tournament and it’s only going to grow. I hope they keep it going. As long as I’m around I will keep coming up. This is long overdue.”
Supsic was thrilled to be a part of the special day in honor of his high school coach and friend, but much less thrilled about the way his team performed.
The Braves won their first two meets in the six-team tournament, 57-18 over Bloomsburg, and 49-21 over Juniata, then fell 49-20 to Coatesville (which won the event with a 5-0 mark) and 34-33 to West York, before dropping the finale to the Rams.
“I expected us to go 5-0,” Supsic said.
Injuries left the Braves without four regulars in their lineup, but Supsic said, “We have some guys who want to wrestle and we have some don’t.”
The Braves next compete in next week’s annual Manheim Central holiday tournament, but he is not sure how many wrestlers he will take to that event,
Kennard-Dale took a 21-0 lead in a meet that started at 160, before the Braves made a comeback with two forfeit wins sandwiching a fall in 1:39 by their 285-pounder, Jeremy Bacon and took the lead with another fall, in 3:11, by 113-pounder Jake Matthews.
The Rams regained the lead for good at 27-24 when, at 120, the Rams’ Mike Bracey broke a 4-4 tie with Tyler Hepler with a reversal and then pinned him in 5:07.
Austin McNamee clinched the win for Kennard-Dale with a 6-2 decision at 138.
Shikellamy’s Tristan Paul scored a 16-1 technical fall in 2:03 at 145 for the final points for the host team.
The dedication got off to a poignant start when young Rusty Armstrong took the microphone from master of ceremonies Steve Williams to tell the crowd that he is a wrestler and coach Lockcuff was his pop-pop. Rusty is the son of the late coach’s daughter, Russlee.
Former Shikellamy coach and wrestler Brett Michaels, now a coach at Lycoming College, spoke about what Lockcuff meant to him and the wrestling community.
He said that Lockcuff’s legacy lives on through the youth wrestlers and all of the wrestlers whose lives he touched.
When Shikellamy wins the program’s 600th meet — likely next month — that will also be part of that legacy, he said.
He spoke of the principles held by Lockcuff, including “Put others before yourself.”
Michaels said a perfect example occurred years ago when the Braves, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAA, hosted North Schuylkill, ranked No. 1 in AA.
One of the Spartans’ best wrestlers had to leave because of a death in the family, but Lockcuff took a double forfeit rather than the free six points, which could have, but didn’t cost his team a win.
Shikellamy district superintendent Pat Kelley made the official announcement that from that point forward, the gym would be known as the Phil Lockcuff Memorial Gym and thanked the Lockcuff family, including his widow, Liz Lockcuff, for sharing Phil with the school.
Jim Troup, the late coach’s son-in-law, spoke on behalf of the family, and donated the late coach’s state championship jacket to the wrestling program.
He thanked retired teacher and coach Dick Hort for prompting the school board to name the gym for his father-in-law.
Troup also paid tribute to all of the other coaches before and after Lockcuff.
Williams read a letter from one of Lockcuff’s former opponents, former Nazareth coach Ray Nunamaker, who, in part, wrote that he will always remember Lockcuff as “a gentleman who exuded class.”
Williams called Lockcuff, his long-time friend and broadcast partner “a deeply caring man.”
He added that Lockcuff, while not one to concern himself with numbers (despite his accomplishments), was most proud of what his wrestlers and students accomplished in their lives.
Resilite Wrestling Club president Tom Krieger presented plaques to several individuals, businesses and organizations who made the event possible, including the Lockcuff family.
And Michaels summed up the atmosphere of the day best with one of Lockcuff’s favorite phrases: “How sweet it is.”