By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
It will be out with the old and in for the new in 2013 for Shikellamy and Selinsgrove wrestlers, and the two head coaches are happy with the change, if not the travel that will be involved.
District 4 Class AAA is not only losing its much-maligned four-team tournament, recently held at Jersey Shore and, before that, at Selinsgrove; it is also saying “good-bye” to the Lehigh Valley, where Susquehanna Valley wrestlers have met with little success in recent years.
After discussing it for several years, the PIAA at long last has combined District 4 with District 9 for a nine-team district tournament from which the top four place-winners in each weight class will move on to the Northwest Regional. Three will advance to the state tournament in Hershey. District 9 consists of consists of DuBois, Clearfield, Saint Mary’s, Punxsutawney and Bradford.
The bugaboo as far as the local coaches are concerned is that they will have to travel to Clarion for the district tournament, then to Altoona the next weekend for the regional.
Like his Selinsgrove counterpart, Seth Martin, Shikellamy coach John Supsic is not happy with the travel involved with the new arrangement. But, he said it is his understanding that the district tournament will be held in Clarion for two years. “After that, it possibly could come back to District 4, which it should,” Supsic said.
Both Martin and Supsic agree that the reason for the change is a good one, to make for a more competitive district tournament, and advance the best possible wrestlers to the regional. And both agree it has not happened in many years.
Said Martin, “I am happy there are more teams in the district. I’m glad it’s going to be a lot tougher to get through districts because I know in the past, we’ve had guys go to regionals and, I don’t want to be mean, but they didn’t really belong there.
“Especially at the Northeast Regional, when you’re carrying like a 4-26 record or something like that. I’m not just talking about my team, I’m talking about other teams, too. In our district, we were taking guys like that to regionals and they’d just get thumped and they were there because there were only two people in their weight class.”
He added, “I think as a district, (the new alignment) was good for all of us, because the guys that go to regionals probably should be there, they can handle that atmosphere, and the guys that can’t mostly like won’t make it to regionals.”
Said Supsic, “That is a long haul for a district tournament and I’m not really hyped on that, but it is a trial and error thing, and we will see how it works out this year.”
He said that in the long run he sees it as a positive. “In the past we had four teams and half of them were going on to the regional tournament and there were kids from every team that didn’t belong at the regional tournament.”
Supsic added, “Sometimes it’s detrimental to a team. If we have three four or five kids who don’t belong, and they start getting wiped out, our better kids see the others losing and they get down, too. If you get momentum, it keeps going, and if they are losing, it can get contagious.”
Supsic said he is not opposed to wrestling in the Lehigh Valley and would go back there again because his team always wants to face the best competition. Just not under the previous four-team district set-up.
“I don’t look at (leaving the Lehigh Valley) as a positive or a negative. It’s a change. We have no problem going where we are told to go.”
But he added that the last 10 years have seen his teams struggle in Bethlehem even though they have had some state-caliber wrestlers. “I don’t know if they were intimidated or what happened to them at times, but we haven’t performed up to our par at times,” he added.
SEALS, BRAVES ARE GREEN: Both Shikellamy and Selinsgrove are sending extremely young teams to the mat this year but, Supsic said, despite a poor performance at the recent Manheim Christmas Tournament, he believes his kids will improve in the month and a half leading up to the post season.
“We are not where we want to be and we are preaching to the kids and coaching them to get better each week,” said Supsic, who has five freshmen in the starting lineup and only three seniors. “Hopefully they improve enough by the end of the year that we can go out there and make some noise, and get a couple kids through to the state tournament.”
Martin and Supsic both feel good about their programs in light of the talent that is now in the junior high and believe both teams will improve in numbers as well as quality of talent in the next few seasons.
One of Selinsgrove’s key returnees would have been senior Mike Walter, but the latter needed to have surgery for a football injury. Martin said Walter was trying to decide whether to wrestle and miss his final track and field season, or have it now and miss wrestling. Martin told him that, as badly as he wished he could have him on the wrestling team, he thought the right thing to do was to have it now and only miss one of his seasons.
Another was, Mike Ede, who won 33 bouts as a sophomore and missed last season with an injury. He also decided not to risk injury as a wrestler so he could be healthy for track and field.
“He’s going to focus on the hurdles. Last year he went to states (in the hurdles) so I can’t blame him, but he was replaced by somebody who hadn’t wrestled a varsity match yet.
“We are no stranger to unpleasant surprises but I’m keeping my hopes up for some pleasant surprises here in the next two months,” Martin said.
BOOK IT: Congratulations to Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame member Tom Elling for producing another outstanding wrestling handbook. The 356-page publication covers virtually everything a fan needs to know and then some about Pennsylvania wrestling and beyond.
n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.