... or “How to win states when it seems karma is against you.”
A team with 8 former Section Champs, a defending State Champ
and a 51-match win streak means an easy year, right? Hardly!
I learned a lot of life lessons during my short coaching and long business career. One is when everything seems rosy and all is unicorns and rainbows, the cynical part of my brain starts flashing warnings – what’s going to happen to stop all this goodness? You know it’s coming but you have no clue what that “it” is.
1976 team captains, Dave Kress and Mark Bartolo, shared their memories of their senior season with me. The more I learned what the team went through made this article much more difficult for me to write than for previous years’ episodes: Raider fans know about that year but being on the outside, we (at least I) didn’t fully appreciate the emotional roller coaster they rode. If there was a team-level BAGUBA award in Reynolds history, the ’76 team would be one of favorites to win it. So here goes their recollection of that season.
From the yearbook. Unfortunately, they did not publish a full team picture that year.
Coming off a season with an unofficial state title to their credit and a championship caliber roster, the outlook for 1976 Raiders couldn’t be much brighter. The first obstacle came at the start of practices when they lost defending State Champ Jeff Shipton due to a disciplinary issues. Then there were the teacher strikes.
It started with a strike in the fall causing a lot of angst and bad feelings in the school and community. The political/negotiating issues were not resolved, and a cloud of uncertainty hovered over the wrestling program.
Sure enough, near the end of the dual match season, a 2nd strike commenced, and in spite of pleas from Coach Lineman and the wrestlers, the school board voted to suspend all extra-curricular activities as well as the day-to-day academic program. Coach Lineman actually submitted a resignation due to that decision (effective after the season – but did rescind it for year) and the team was emotionally devestated.
With an undefeated team riding a 62-match win streak, Reynolds was forced to forfeit matches to Mercer and Lakeview. Both would have been very easy wins.
Let me digress here with some background. I am avoiding the politics here – that would require an entire essay. However, there is a rumor that, allegedly, after the school board voted to suspend extra-curriculars, the cab of a truck owned by the school board president was totally packed with snow by someone (wrestlers??). I stress “allegedly”!
Mercer and Lakeview refused to reschedule the matches, but Commodore Pery coach Bob Parker said that he didn’t want to win that way and that match was rescheduled. Big RESPECT!
In all the record books used by the PIAA and ratings’ pundits, those two matches are counted in the win-loss records. In the Raider-sphere, we quite often exclude them as if they never happened … because they didn’t. For example, you may see Coach Lineman’s career record listed as 201-10 or 201-12. I am firmly in the “ignore-them” camp. With this reasoning, the season ended with a 63-match win streak.
Meanwhile on the mats, the Raiders mowed down everyone. Only class AAA powerhouse State College and Commodore Perry scored in the double digits against them. The team finished 3rd in the Williamsport Christmas Tourney, perhaps the state’s toughest holiday tourney with all the top AAA schools. The class of ’76 joined the class of ’71 to have never lost a dual match in their four years (see my caveat above).
With the surreal atmosphere of thinking that Coach Lineman was finishing his coaching career, the wrestlers had to refocus. The political issues did not end. Although the school board did allow the wrestlers to compete in the post-season, the coaches were not permitted to conduct practices. Thiel coach Mel Berry, Neal Lineman’s high school coach, allowed the team to practice with his team. The captains would organize the team and travel to the college every day for practice.
You could confuse this with a team picture!
It all paid off when the Raiders defended their section title by winning 10 of 12 weight classes! Post-season success continued with Diehl, Smargiasso & Kress crowned as District champs and Bartolo & Kress taking Region gold. With five state qualifiers, Reynolds became the first ever team to win the team State Championship with Matt Smargiasso winning his title, Mark Bartolo taking a 2nd and Dave Kress earning a 3rd place (Dave’s only losses that year were very close matches to eventual NFL running back, Matt Suhey. And to National Greco-Roman champ and eventual NCAA All-American Jack Campbell).
The State Trophy with Coach Tokar, Matt Smargiasso, Coach Lineman and Mark Bartolo
The team was laden with lots of talent. Others on that starting lineup, included three-time district champ Jerry Diehl and John Urmson won districts the following year. Eventual state runners-up, Tim & Dan Morrison, both who went on to be ranked in the top 3 in the NCAA and Tim earning All American honors
I think they missed listing Dino Tofani, second from right in the back row.
Sophomore backups Denny Gibb and Bill Arbanas became state 3rd place winners in two years and then a freshman, Kevin Klasic, won the states during his senior year.
Managers Scott Artman, Howard Scott & Ron Shollenberger
The 1976 team will always be remembered in our history for being the first team to win a state championship. But overcoming all the pitfalls in that journey makes this a truly special team!