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Bald Eagle Area wrestling records 700th victory

by on January 24, 2019 10:08 AM

WINGATE — Early in the 1956-57 wrestling season Bald Eagle Area beat the Clearfield junior varsity team, 33-20.

That might sound like an ignominious victory except for this: it was the first win for the newly-minted program, some of whose wrestlers didn’t know a takedown from a reversal. For many of them their only exposure to wrestling was the barn floor, playground variety where you got a pin by putting your opponent on his back and kneeling on his biceps.

The gym at Wingate hadn’t even been finished when the school opened its doors for the first time in September of 1956 and the wrestling mats were gathered together and were horsehair filled and covered with a big vinyl mat cover.

Fortunately for BEA, it had some wrestlers with experience. They had wrestled at Bellefonte until the BEA jointure was formed. They were the core of the team that went on to post a 9-4 record that first year and won eight meets in a row including victories over the varsity teams of Lock Haven, Jersey Shore, Philipsburg and Captain Jack (now Mount Union). 

The seeds of the sport had fallen on fertile ground but no one then could possibly have foreseen that on a January night in 2019 the BEA wrestling team would record its 700th victory, beating a Tyrone team which would have been far out of its class in 1957.

Nor could anyone have imagined that a freshman on that 1956-57 team would one day coach the Eagles to a PIAA team championship and be ranked No. 1 in the country in two different polls in 1999. Nobody dreams that big.

So now the Eagles have a career record of 701-246-13, the most wins of any team in District 6 history. The next best record belongs to State College, at 655-433-9 and the Little Lions had a 17-year head start on BEA. In their first meeting in 1957, the Little Lions beat BEA 42-5.

“You look around and see that Bald Eagle is the only team in District 6 that has 700 wins and we’re kids compared to a lot of those other programs that have been around a lot longer than we have,’’ said Dick Rhoades, who wrestled at BEA and later returned to coach it to over half of those 700 wins (386) in a 32-year career at his alma mater. 

Rhoades cited the program’s emphasis on being a tight-knit group as being one of the key ingredients in its success.

“We always prided ourselves on being one big family,’’ he said. “We always had sets of brothers like the Guenots, the Fishers, the Packers, the Taylors. And we had built a tradition. Everyone who has come through here has had to live up to that tradition.’’

Current coach Ron Guenot knows all about that tradition. In the 1980s he was one of the wide-eyed kids who crawled right up to the edge of the mat to watch the bouts. He watched his uncle Troy win a District 6 title in 1982 and then went on to win a district title himself in 1992.

“The referees would always be telling us to get back,’’ he said, fondly recalling his formative days. “Those were the days when the gym was packed and they had closed circuit television to the auditorium. ‘’

Now he’s charged with carrying on that tradition. It can weigh heavy at times.

“It is a source of pride,’’ he said of the glory days of the past. “It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been part of it, if you haven’t put in the hard work. If you have you know what it’s all about. My family has been involved in this for about 40 years. That says a lot about how important this is to us.

“In a sense you get used to the pressure. To get to 700 wins means there have been a lot of people, good people, who have contributed to this program. And the young kids are aware of the tradition. They see the trophies, the pictures of the champions on the wall down in the wrestling room. ‘’

Richard Taylor’s photo is on that wall. He won three district titles, his oldest brother Doug won two plus a PIAA title and middle brother Keith also has a district title to his name.

“This has been such a huge part of my entire life,’’ he said in the wake of the history-making win. “Among my brothers and me we were part of this from 1984 through 1995. You want to see them do well. Getting 700 wins is almost like seeing your family succeed.’’
That success is well known across the state. Taylor encounters the reputation from time to time.

“In my job I travel a lot,’’ he said. “And when I talk to someone who happens to be a Bald Eagle wrestling fan they give you that look.

They know who you are and what that means. They know that being a Bald Eagle wrestler means we’re disciplined, hard-nosed. There were nights when Dick (Rhoades) came into the wrestling room and he wasn’t happy about something. He’d put a snowball on the thermostat and you knew the next two hours of your life were going to be hell.”

Taylor, who went on to wrestle at West Virginia, is now assisting BEA grad Mike Maney at Bellefonte. Maney won a PIAA title at BEA in 1999 and went on to wrestle at Lock Haven where he became an All-American.

“Mike and I were talking about this the other night,’’ Taylor said. “We agreed that some of our practices at Bald Eagle were tougher than a lot of Division One practices.’’

Among the 700 wins none stands taller than the 53-0 shutout of Upper Perkiomen in the inaugural PIAA Team Duals champion ship. Yet it was preceded by a 28-22 win over McGuffy in the semifinals that ranks among the best dual meets in the program’s history.

“In 1997 we finished third in the individual tournament and in 1998 we were second,’’ Rhoades said. “I think we may have had our best team in 1997 when we took 10 kids to Hershey and finished third. We decided we needed to get tougher. So that’s when we decided to go to the Iron Man where we finished second, the Easton Duala and the Beast of the East, which is an unbelievable tournament. (BEA won the Beast in that 1998 season, the only public school to have done that). We wanted to show our kids they could compete with anyone. ‘’

700 wins proves he was right.

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