The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 26, 2013

Harold Raker's high school wrestling column: Wrestling loses a great ambassador


Daily Item

---- — I saw an exciting dual meet on Thursday night and I have lots of leftover material from that Lewisburg win over Benton that was going to be used in this column.

In addition, I was going to give my take on the upcoming District 4 Duals, with the pairings to come out on Sunday.

You won't be reading about any of that today.

This column is reserved for a friend, not just to me, but to the wrestling community and beyond.

We lost a great coach, but more than that, a friend to anyone who ever wore a Shikellamy Braves singlet, and even those of rival schools, when Hall of Fame coach Phil Lockcuff left us early Friday.

What is especially sad is that, more than anything this season, the longtime coach and WKOK wrestling analyst, wanted to see his Braves clinch a berth in that D4 Class AAA tournament. They did that in his absence with a win over visiting Williamsport on Thursday night, two days after what would be Lockcuff's final broadcast. The Braves lost that one, to unbeaten Central Mountain, and needed one win in their two meets this week to qualify to meet Jersey Shore in next week's title match.

The coach was in the hospital that day and, not knowing the seriousness of his situation, the wrestlers all signed a card for him.

This for a man who left coaching before most of them were born.

Likely that was because, even throughout his 13 years as Steve Williams' broadcast partner, Lockcuff never stopped coaching and caring about the wrestlers in the program he helped build.

A case in point, as related to me Friday by Williams: After watching Shikellamy's freshman heavyweight wrestle against the Wildcats on Tuesday, Lockcuff, despite already ailing and in a weakened condition, approached Bacon afterward and, in his usual blunt way, told Bacon, "That's the worst I've ever seen you wrestle."

Bacon pinned his opponent on Thursday in 16 seconds. He later told his mother that win was for Phil.

"He talked to those kids like he was still coaching. If they did well, he would tell them, and, if they didn't do well, he'd tell them," Williams said.

Yes, Lockcuff, especially in his coaching days, could be tough, and intimidating, but he also had a caring side that some would even call soft (just don't tell him that).

Ask Williams. He first met Lockcuff when the coach was his home room teacher at Shikellamy.

"He was my first male teacher. Here I was, this little sixth grader, and Phil was this big, burly guy with a gravelly voice and I was scared to death of him," recalled Williams, who later wrestled for him.

Later, after a couple of years of resistance from Lockcuff, Williams talked him into joining him on the broadcasts.

The two became close friends and, despite his earlier reluctance, Williams said, Lockcuff looked forward to doing every match.

"He was just as excited to go (Tuesday night) as he ever was. He was bummed that he wasn't there (Thursday night) because he was excited for them to win that match and go to the team tournament," Williams said.

"He was really looking forward to that, and he really liked going to Hershey (for the state tournament) and those places because he got to hang out with a lot of old friends, that was big for him," Williams said.

Of course, he didn't have to leave the area for that. Few nights went by that former coaches, wrestlers and even the officials, would not stop by the press table to chat with the coach.

"I called him the mayor," joked Williams.,

"He had his own style, he was still a coach and he was doing that the other night," Williams said, noting that, during the broadcast he would notice things and he would be yelling at the wrestlers if he saw something he didn't like.

"He would get on a roll and I would just let him go. I was just the technical guy, but it was his show," Williams said.

Like Williams, my first memory of Lockcuff was from high school, where he was my history teacher at Line Mountain. He was an assistant coach in every male sport the school offered.

I remember one time when he was driving me home from baseball practice on his way home to Northumberland. He told a teammate, "You swing like a rusty gate."

No, he wasn't talking to me, but he could have been.

Years later, I ended up covering his teams and there was never a dull moment hanging out with Phil on some of those weekend road trips, especially those years that the Braves, and his former school, Line Mountain, competed in the Tool City Tournament in Meadville.

Once as he drove me to my car at about 4 a.m., he asked if I wanted to go with him to Dunkin Donuts. I declined. Even then, I was out of his league. I needed to sleep.

Many of his fellow coaches can tell you stories from those days. I just can't talk about them on the record.

Williams, and station management, now have the unenviable task of replacing a legend.

Another former Lockcuff protégé, former Braves head coach Brett Michaels, will do the honors today when the station airs the Big Seven meet with Bald Eagle Area in the Shikellamy Field house.

But Michaels will not be able to take over fulltime at this point because he is coaching at Lycoming College.

"After (today), we're not sure," Williams said.

Rest assured, whoever takes the job, it will be a tough act to follow.

To paraphrase former vice presidential candidate and senator, Lloyd Bentsen, during a debate with Dan Quayle, "I knew John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a friend of mine, and you, sir, are no John Kennedy."

And there will never be another Phil Lockcuff.

Rest in peace, old friend.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.