Chestnut Ridge wrestling legend dead at 26

Gary Pfahler-2008

By Todd Irwin

For the Mirror

Gary Pfahler became a trailblazer when he wrestled at Chestnut Ridge, becoming the school’s first state champion in any sport in 2008 and earning Bedford County’s first state title in 25 years.

Pfahler, named the Mirror’s Wrestler of the Year in 2007-2008, died on Thursday at the age of 26.

The circumstances regarding his death were unclear as of Friday afternoon, but Clark did know Pfahler was out-of-state at the time of his death.

“It’s a tragedy for his family,” his former coach Jim Clark said by phone from Florida. “It’s obviously a very sad situation. I really don’t know a whole lot about the situation.”

Pfahler’s death comes on the heels of the mysterious death of former North Star three-time state champ and UPJ’s Division II national champ Nick Roberts.

Pfahler, who is still the only Ridge wrestler to be named the Mirror’s Wrestler of the Year, pulled off a shocker at the 2008 state tournament, beating Burrell’s returning state champion Jordan Shields, 4-3, in the 140-pound Class 2A state finals.

To get to the finals, he beat Smethport’s Jon Marc Burdick, 11-10, in two tiebreakers in the quarterfinals and avenged his only loss of a 38-1 senior year by defeating South Side Beaver’s Dominick Demor, 6-5, in the semifinals. Demor beat Pfahler, 5-4, in the semifinals of the Southwest Regional Tournament, in which Pfahler finished third.

Shields had beaten Pfahler, 8-1, in the regional tournament the previous year. Pfahler, though, took him down with 32 seconds left in the state finals, gave up an escape with 15 seconds left and held off a late charge by Shields to earn the gold.

“That was just a phenomenal performance in Hershey that year,” Clark said. “He had a real uphill battle in the finals against Jordan Shields from Burrell, who had defeated Gary the year before at regionals. The gameplan was to keep it close, and he was able to get a late takedown in the match. He hustled and kept the action going. That was a very special moment because he only got third at regionals.”

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Pfahler told the Mirror after winning. “It’s better than any other match I’ve ever won, better than anything. It’s something me and my family have always dreamed about since I was 4 years old. Got my gold medal. It’s what I’ve worked for all year, endured for the last 13 years, and I finally got it. It was my last chance, and I had to go for it.”

The last time Clark had seen Pfahler, whose stepbrother, Josh McDannell, was a state runner-up in 2009 for first-year coach Greg Lazor, was about three years ago in Sheetz.

“He was a phenomenal competitor,” Clark said of Pfahler. “He had a very good combination of strength, agility and quickness. As a coach, it was really nice to see an athlete reach his ultimate goal in becoming a PIAA state champion.

“He was a very good team leader and inspired other kids to go above and beyond. He worked with the elementary program for a whole year and inspired a lot of kids to get better and work to achieve their goals. I know he really loved working with those little kids.”

“I will remember him as a great athlete with a big heart,” Lazor said, “and how he enjoyed working with the elementary wrestlers his senior year.”

The date and site of a possible service for Pfahler, a former Marine and mixed martial arts fighter, were not known as of Friday.