Penns Valley’s wrestlers have it easy today compared to their predecessors.
The Rams have their own practice room where they aren’t bothered by anything.
Former Penns Valley wrestler Max Dinges recounted a time when the team actually practiced in the hallways outside of the gym.
“We had to put the mats out every night and gather all the stuff,” Dinges said. “We’d run about 15 minutes to get warmed up before practice. Right as I was coming through the double doors that went to the gym, one of the basketball players opened up the door and I hit the door. I flew the whole way against the windows on the other side of the hallway.”
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It was a tough price to pay, but Dinges made the most of it as he went on to win a state title. Dinges is still the only wrestler to win a state title in program history. He almost had company two years ago, but Corey Hazel fell in the finals.
On Wednesday, Penns Valley is set to honor Dinges and his teammates on the 1963 team before the Rams’ match with Huntingdon.
The 1963 team was the first-ever undefeated sports team in school history.
“One of the biggest things,” said Herb Bierly, who was the 133-pound wrestler on the team, “Max, naturally and he had all the rights to do so, got most of the publicity all this time because he is the only guy that’s been a state champ. The nice thing about this (recognition) is it was really important to realize that there were a lot of other guys on that team that really had outstanding records.”
The 1966 wrestling team, which also went undefeated, will also be honored Wednesday. Joe Hammaker, who coached both teams, felt it was an opportune time to have such great success.
“At that time in particular, the ‘60s, every team in the area was a powerhouse,” Hammaker said. “It was a very important time to accomplish this. Each team was unique. The ‘62-63 team was a generally good team from top to bottom. In ‘65-66, it was a little different. The ‘65-66 team had what was known as the ‘big seven,’ which was the top part of the order.”
Hammaker said it took a team effort to finish unbeaten in both seasons. He said each wrestler on the 1963 team had a role. As long as they accepted their roles and did their part, the team would be successful.
The Rams went 11-0, won the Tri Valley league and tied with Clearfield for the Central Pennsylvania Wrestling Conference title. They had one shutout and held four other teams to single digits.
The first match of the season was against a Homer Barr-led State College team that was on a 64-match winning streak spanning over six years. Penns Valley lost to State College 41-3 the year before, with Dinges earning the only win in that match.
The Rams pulled off a 29-18 victory to snap the streak. Dinges felt it was a springboard for the year.
“That started us off with a good omen for the rest of the year,” he said. “It gave us an adrenaline to keep on going. We had some good luck during the year. The stars just aligned right for us.”
Penns Valley had five wrestlers go perfect in duals with Dinges (11-0), Bierly (10-0), Merle Wertz (10-0), Wayne White (10-0), Eugene Parrett (8-0) and Rich Coral (8-0). Dinges finished the year 22-0 overall, while Bierly (15-1) and Parrett (8-1) both suffered just one loss.
Dinges and Bierly each defended their Bald Eagle-Nittany Tournament titles that season, and Wertz also claimed one.
“That’s the thing that is really kind of astounding,” Bierly said, comparing wrestlers’ records then and now. “In those days, you wrestled 12 duals meets and we had one tournament we went to. Your overall record over a period of time was really relatively small. Today, you see (Nick Suriano) who wrestles for Penn State was 159-0 in his high school career. Kids today they really wrestle and go to all these tournaments. Back in those days we had no such thing.”