Communities share in mat championships


It was a busy Saturday afternoon. Knowing that our satellite television provider does not offer the Pennsylvania Cable Network, we went to a local club to watch the PIAA wrestling finals.

The lounge was buzzing with members competing in an annual shuffleboard tournament and there was hardly a seat to be found. But seemingly in the background, the PCN broadcast of the Class 2A wrestling finals would draw in the not-as-distracted-as-we-thought crowd.

The Parade of Champions ushered in the finalists and their coaches, an opportunity to honor the greatest competitors in each weight class, along with the mentors who helped them get to this ultimate showdown.

The atmosphere inside the arena is electric. Even as the finals are underway, multiple matches are dividing the attention in the stands, as pockets of parents and fans follow their own school, their own athletes, throughout their tournament journey.

It’s easy to take Pennsylvania wrestling for granted: the popularity of the sport sometimes flies below the radar, until the state finals, prompting thousands of fans to watch in the Giant Center, and thousands more following the finals on TV or online.

The sport itself is among the oldest on record — one of the original ancient Olympic events.

While sports like football and baseball have seen vast advancements in equipment technology, wrestling remains much as it has always been: two competitors in a battle of strength, wits and will.

For those who commit to becoming the best of the best, wrestling means years of dedication and discipline. From weight training to weight watching, cultivating physical and mental toughness, learning from coaches and teammates, but ultimately knowing the contest itself is a solitary quest.

When the time came for a local wrestler to compete for PIAA gold, all eyes turned to the multiple TV screens.

Few in the club knew junior Justin McCoy personally, but all shared in the joy of his winning just the second wrestling title in Chestnut Ridge school history.

As the final seconds ticked down in his 145 pound final, cheers rose up among the hundred-plus in the small restaurant area. Some had tears in their eyes knowing what the accomplishment meant to the proud program.

Surly scenes like this played out across the commonwealth as communities like Huntingdon, Ebensburg and others tuned in to watch their wrestlers, among the best in the state, battle for the coveted spot atop the PIAA medal stand.

Undoubtedly, school celebrations greeted the victors, with classmates and communities sharing in the unique accomplishment. Their names will become legend in their school annals: McCoy, Murin, Oliver …

Up-and-coming wrestlers in their communities will dream of achieving the standard they have so admirably set.

A huge tradition, PIAA wrestling opens its elite doors to a very small club of wrestling champions. Each accomplishes a win for the ages.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.