Behind the Mic: The State of District XI Wrestling Address

Gary will be returning with a new blog on May 22.  This week, he’s asked RCN’s Jim Best to guest blog.  Viewers should recognize Jim from RCN-TV’s coverage of high school wrestling.

The State of District XI Wrestling Address:

The 2016-17 high school wrestling season has come and gone. At face value, what a great season it was. In the AAA ranks, Nazareth and Bethlehem Catholic had three epic dual meets, and Nazareth finally cracked the code to knock off the Golden Hawks for a District XI team title and then went on to capture a coveted Pennsylvania State Championship team title by defeating the Golden Hawks in a come-from-behind victory in the finals of the team championships. In the AA ranks, Saucon Valley continued their dominance, but Wilson High School showed that they are back in the mix of things with a young and talented team. At the conclusion of the individual post- season, District XI crowned four state champions in the AAA division, and Nazareth, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton placed first through third respectively in the team standings. Many fans of District XI wrestling are chanting the phrase, “We’re back!” in reference to the statewide dominance of District XI wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s.

So, it’s all good in the District XI wrestling world, or is it? Dig a bit deeper, and an argument can be made that District XI wrestling is struggling. Why? For starters, the balance of wrestling power weighs heavy towards five teams. In AAA, Nazareth, Bethlehem Catholic and Northampton have separated themselves from the rest of the AAA field. In fact, those four AAA state champions were all from either Nazareth (2), Bethlehem Catholic (1) or Northampton (1). In AA, the balance is a bit more distributed, but Saucon Valley and Wilson appear to have distanced themselves from the rest of the competition. I happened to have spent a lot of time at the District XI Junior High Championships in February, and I can tell you, based on what I saw at that tournament, that those five teams are going to continue their dominance for at least the next six years. Meanwhile, the majority of the other District XI wrestling teams are left hoping for a slightly above average team record and, if they have a really over-achieving season, they qualify for the team districts where they will eventually run into one of the five “superpower” teams and suffer a humiliating defeat. The result…as evidenced by steadily declining entry numbers in the junior high district tournament, participation numbers in the sport of wrestling are down across the district (as they are across the state) and a classic case of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is in full process. Good news for District XI wrestling? I don’t think so.

A second hint that something is amiss in the District XI wrestling world is the resignation of several prominent coaches across the district following this past season. When at least three quality head coaches decide to resign in the same year, you have to scratch your head and ask, “Why is this happening”? While I don’t think there is any one specific reason, I do think that the time and energy commitment it takes to build a top team in the district has taken a toll on the personal lives of many head coaches. In addition, those coaches who have not seen their expected level of success over many years, despite their non-stop effort to build a top program, eventually get to the point when the say, “Why am I doing this”? It is admirable to want to help wrestlers become better wrestlers, and better people in the process, but to keep running into the same wall over and over again, and not see different results, is frustrating. Quality coaches resigning from their positions while still in their prime coaching years should be a big red flag to all District XI Wrestling fans.

I apologize if I have painted a grim picture of District XI wrestling. From a broadcaster’s perspective, the District XI wrestling world couldn’t be better. My partner (Scott Barr) and I get to call some great dual meets, and the finals of the District XI individual championships seem to get more action packed every year. As a fan of wrestling, with no invested interest in the success of any one team, all IS good in the District XI wrestling world. However, as an ex-District XI wrestler and head coach, with an invested interest in helping to maintain or grow interest levels in the sport of wrestling, I have serious concerns about the current “state of affairs” within the district. In my humble opinion, an honest and in-depth conversation which begins the process of solving the existing problems is long overdue. Where, and with whom, does that conversation begin?

 

 

 

 

The SportsTalk Shop: “Calm” Before the Storm

It’s been an exciting run of high school sports action so far this winter.  You have your dominant teams (like Bethlehem Catholic & Nazareth wrestling, Allen and–up until Friday–Bangor boys basketball teams that have been undefeated).  You also have teams that are surging of late (Parkland & Liberty boys basketball, Easton & Nazareth girls basketball), along with other schools (Emmaus, Becahi & Whitehall boys, Parkland, Allen and Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball & Parkland, Northampton & Easton wrestling) that have been very consistent all season long.

Things start to get serious for teams as we head into the final two weeks before the post-season commences in all of the winter sports.  Teams fighting for playoff spots start facing “do-or-tie” games in order to qualify, and other schools are looking to solidify as many home games and higher seeds as possible as the league and district playoffs appear on the horizon.  Wresters are also tuning up and trying to zone in on individual matchups and target the weight classes that they will be competing at for the post-season.

This Thursday, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at the local wrestling season with the Morning Call’s Tom Housenick and RCN’s own wrestling analyst, Jim Best.  They’ll be identifying the top athletes and best match-ups going forward, in addition to talking about the wrestling season overall and handicapping the District XI Team Wrestling Tournament, which will be on RCN-TV the following week.

We’re also going to feature Rodney Williams—a standout high school basketball player from the Washington, DC region who’s now having tremendous success for the Drexel men’s basketball team.

Your comments are most welcome in advance of the show (email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and tune in this Thursday, live at 7pm on RCN-TV, to hear our wrestling experts’ responses to your questions/opinions.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of our recent broadcasts of both local wrestling and high school basketball.

We’d also like to let you know that we are now offering exclusive, behind-the-scene tours here at RCN-TV to charities, youth and community groups, schools and local organizations (20 members or less).  Discover how television productions like “Community Spotlight,” “Pennsylvania Crossfire,” “Nuestro Valle,” and even our own “SportsTalk” shows work and learn different aspects of the broadcasting industry. Tour times are flexible and our staff will work hard to accommodate your needs.

If you are interested in a tour, please call our studio manager, Rick Geho, at 610-443-2909 to learn more.

 

Don’t forget to check the RCN schedule here on the website for our upcoming games as the contests get more heated, with local teams jockeying for a spot in the league and district playoffs—along with fighting for the best possible seeds!

Behind the Mic: Beca-Nazareth Wrestling

It seems that every year the question on every District XI wrestling fan’s mind is, “Can ANYONE beat Bethlehem Catholic?”  The answer this year is a definitive “maybe.”

This past weekend the Golden Hawks dropped two dual meet matches to #4 in the nation Lake Highland Prep out of Florida and then lost to Malvern Prep, ranked #8 in the nation.  They will wrestle #9 Wyoming Seminary on Thursday, before moving on to the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference “championship day”.

This Saturday on RCN, the #14 Nazareth Blue Eagles will take their shot at the Golden Hawks, in the Eastern PA Conference Championship match.  The teams are each champions of their divisions, and will meet at 7:00pm on Saturday night at the Easton Middle School.  The atmosphere should be much like the old days when fans looked forward to three or four outstanding dual meets each year.  That environment has been missing for a few years, but rest assured the Middle School gym will be rocking, especially if Nazareth can give the Hawks a battle.

Both lineups are peppered with nationally ranked talent, and both offer plenty of balance throughout their squad.  There is a very good chance that Beca, banged up with injuries, can be in the throes of a three-match losing streak by the time Saturday rolls around.  Granted—all three losses are to top-tier academies – but the losses are not something that Jeff Karam’s team is used to.  How will they react?

Nazareth, under legendary coach Dave Crowell, will have their hands full.  They will need bonus points from their blue chippers, and will need to grab at least two tossup bouts.  Even if this all goes the way of the Eagles, they may need one more upset.

If Beca prevails, as I suspect they will, fear not Blue Eagle fans.  This may be the first of three consecutive Saturdays that feature these squads.  There is nothing that can stop a rematch for the District XI Team Championship, and both are favored to make the PIAA State Championship finals.

Scott Barr (who assisted with this blog) and Jim Best will be there along with the RCN television crew to bring you these two powerhouses.  It will certainly take us back to the days when Easton-Northampton, Easton-Nazareth, Nazareth-Northampton, etc. were on every wrestling fans’ calendar.

Those were the good old days of Lehigh Valley wrestling!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. Tom Brady of the Patriots and Matt Ryan of the Falcons text each other regularly during the NFL season. Matt Ryan played his college football at Boston College and Tom Brady always followed him.  Two good friends will try to beat the other in the Super Bowl.
  2. Up this way, we do not get to see the Falcons very often, but they were sure impressive yesterday against the Packers. No player was more impressive than Julio Jones – 15 catches, 247 yards, and 3 TDs.  Bill Belichick always says he wants to stop the opponent’s best player, but seven Falcons caught passes on Sunday.
  3. How do the Patriots do it? They draft Chris Hogan, a Penn State lacrosse player, and they make him a star wide receiver.  No organization is better at resurrecting careers and finding obscure players.
  4. During the Lafayette at Lehigh men’s game on Saturday, Lehigh honored the team that stunned Duke in the first round of the NCAA playoffs in 2012. The star of that team, C. J. McCollum, could not be there because he was preparing to play the Celtics as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.  He did send a recorded message that was played in the arena.  He went on to score 35 points against Boston and Portland won the game.
  5. Only Allen remains undefeated in high school basketball as Bangor suffered their first defeat to Stroudsburg this past weekend. And then there was one.  Allen has Liberty and Stroudsburg this week – two tests for the Canaries!

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The SportsTalk Shop: HS Mid-Winter Sports Update

Maybe it was the lack of snow or the warmer-than-normal temperatures over the last month, but it is really hard to believe we are at the halfway point of the scholastic basketball season.  Here’s three Eastern Pennsylvania Conference-related observations from the first half of the winter sports campaign.

Parkland looks even better than last year

They not only have practically the same team back from a year ago, but they have more depth and can beat you in more ways than they did during last season’s run to the state playoffs.  They barely missed a beat without some of their football players on board to start the season—giving the “reserves” an extended varsity experience.  However, the returning players seem even more determined than a year ago, and I don’t think anything less than a state title game is what they are setting their sights on.

The only question might be what teams they’ll face—and when—in the PIAA tournament.  There’ll be several of the high-octane offenses from Philadelphia that love to push the tempo and Parkland doesn’t get a whole lot of chances to see that from teams in the Lehigh Valley—not to the extent of the Philly teams.  However, the team has gotten some significant tests early (and a couple more still to come before states).   I would be surprised if the seniors refuse to take every opportunity to match the football team’s success, and it certainly looks like they have the weapons to go much deeper into the state playoffs.

Central’s coming on strong
I saw Central Catholic a few times in December, and, they looked like a young team that had a ton of potential, and, after going through some growing pains, they would eventually have great success.


I’m not sure if Santa granted the Vikings a flash forward to their learning curve, but in the times I’ve seen them since Christmas, it seems like the younger players are not only buying into the team-defense approach, but they are becoming much more comfortable playing—and scoring—together on the court.  I think some of the Class 3A teams were hoping Central Catholic might have to wait until next year to once again be considered the favorite in the District XI playoffs, but the way the Vikings have been playing the last few weeks, I think they have a great chance at being in the EPC playoffs as well as being the ‘team-to-beat’ in their district classification.

Freedom as a dark horse?
There are some interesting teams in the “Steel” division of the EPC—and probably several of those teams could make the playoffs with a quality run over the next few weeks.  If I had to pick one of them to surprise area basketball fans over the next month, I’m leaning toward Freedom.

They have one of the area’s best head coaches (Joe Stellato), a great coaching staff, and some really good athletes.  On paper, they may not be the best team, but they’ve had some nice wins and have been “in” most of their losses.  Not many people are picking the Patriots to do much in the post-season, but of all the teams not directly in the area’s media spotlight, I think Freedom might be one team to make some noise over the next month.

Allen and Whitehall were also featured on RCN-TV recently and are two more teams that have played well this season.  With a number of talented teams, the Canaries, Zephyrs and a few other teams all very well could contend in the playoffs this February.  Also, Bethlehem Catholic was a team to watch on our basketball preview show back in December, and they have done very little to disappoint so far.

We’ll have more opinions and video highlights of other high school sports teams, in addition to wrestling videos, coming up over the next several weeks here at the “SportsTalk Shop.”

Also, keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for our schedule the latest games to be broadcast on RCN-TV and feel free to send your sports comments and opinions to us at RCNSporsTalk@rcn.com