Hundreds of local fans turned out for a special ceremony honoring the 1967-68 team
One of the best things about my job is that, every once in awhile, I get to witness a little bit of local history.
And that was certainly the case Thursday night at Honesdale High School.
Despite wintry weather and frigid temperatures, a huge crowd turned out to help celebrate an amazing milestone: “50 Years of Hornet Wrestling.”
On the surface, this would appear to be just another league match.
However, the main reason for this standing room only crowd was a wonderfully-orchestrated tribute to Honesdale's first varsity wrestling team.
Jenny O'Day organized the proceedings, while assistant coach Chris Carroll acted as emcee, introducing each wrestler.
Current grapplers all stood and applauded as men from the 1967-68 Hornet squad ambled out onto the mat, some of them for the first time in a half-century.
Each wore a big smile and several looked as though they could suit up and wrestle again at a moment's notice.
It was a magical moment, one documented by countless cell phones and cameras, including mine.
Sprinkled in among the crowd Thursday night was a veritable “Who's Who” in the history of Red & Black wrestling.
Sitting in the first row near the home bench were members of the Stanton Family … Hornet wrestling royalty.
George Stanton was the driving force in getting the program off the ground in the late 1960s. Stanton was a star wrestler at Bucknell, losing just one match in his entire career … and that by referee's decision.
He approached Paul Brock with the idea and the Wayne Highlands school District superintendent just ran with it.
By the 1967-68 season, the Hornets had graduated from “club” to “junior varsity” to “varsity” status.
Sadly, George passed away in 2004. However, his wife Sally, sons Fred and Dave, were in attendance.
“George just loved the sport,” Sally said. “He felt that it built character. You know, he only lost one match in his entire career and that was on a referee's decision.”
The Stanton Family matriarch claims not to be a sentimental person, but her eyes sparkle when telling tales of those halcyon days.
“We had the very first wrestling banquet in our home,” Sally said. “We had everyone crammed into the living room and dining room. One of my favorite memories of that day is that we went through a half-bushel of tossed salad.”
George Stanton graduated from HHS in 1941. He was a member of both the boys basketball and tumbling teams, but fell in love with wrestling during his college years at Bucknell.
When he returned home, George began working toward bringing the sport to Honesdale.
“He would have loved this,” Sally said of the ceremony. “George didn't like being in the spotlight, but he loved wrestling and he especially loved working with those young men.”
In the Beginning
Fifty years ago, about 100 curious fans turned out to witness the home debut of a brand new varsity sport at Honesdale.
George Stanton and Jim Clift took their places mat-side as the Hornets began an athletic tradition that's still going strong.
Earlier that week, the team had journeyed to Blue Ridge for its inaugural match and come away with a decisive victory.
“All of those kids were rookies and so was I,” Jim said with a laugh. “None of us were really sure about what we were doing. But, it was so exciting and we won! I remember thinking on the busride back that we'd never get home.”
Jim Clift dedicated his entire adult life to the Wayne Highlands School district, first as a teacher and coach, then as an administrator.
He looks back on those early years with a smile.
“I just can't believe it's been 50 years,” Jim said, laughing. “It can't be possible. All of those young men are now collecting social security!”
Clift is a modest man, consistently deflecting praise for his part in the program's founding. He points to Stanton and then-Athletic Director Dick Osborne as the real heroes in this story.
“I've been so lucky all my life to be surrounded by great people,” Jim said.
“George Stanton and Dick Osborne were two of the finest. None of this would have happened without all their hard work and dedication.”
Greg Frigoletto and Ryan Chulada now proudly carry on the tradition that George Stanton, Jim Clift, Dick Osborne and Paul Brock first established.
Frigoletto himself is the product of Honesdale's wrestling program and is now the superintendent.
“This sport means a great deal to me personally,” he said Thursday night. “It taught me so many things that carried over into my life outside sports.
Greg went on to point out that countless young men have been positively influenced by Hornet coaches over the years.
“Those men connected with the kids,” he said. “The messages they imparted … like the value of hard work and discipline … still resonate today.”
Any discussion dealing with the history of Hornet wrestling must mention the contributions made by the Chulada Family.
Rich Chulada, affectionately known as “Chooch” to an entire generation of fans, was head coach at Honesdale for 33 seasons. When his tenure finally ended, he'd racked up more than 360 wins and earned enshrinement in the PA Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Chooch is nothing short of a legend on the Wayne County Sports scene and its's only fitting that his son now runs the show.
Ryan Chulada, and Joe Arnone, have been at the helm for the past 12 years. Last winter, they guided the Hornets to one of the best seasons in school history, winning 22 matches and capturing a Class AA District Two Duals title.
“I literally grew up around the program,” Ryan said. “I was one of those little tykes helping roll up the mats and beatin' around the practice room. I love reminiscing with my Dad and asking his advice.”
“It's so amazing to be a small part of a night like this. Wrestling is a family-oriented sport and we all stick together.”
Over & Out
I think it only fitting that I leave you with the names of those young men who comprised that very first Hornet squad.
Here are the members of the 1967-68 Honesdale varsity wrestling team:
Jack Creighton (95 lbs), John Henderson (103), Jim Rickard (112), Mike Tallman (112), Bob Burcher (120), Duane Hiller (120), Bob Rickard (120), Dave Stinnard (127), Mike Bodick (133), Drew Olver (138), Stu Apgar (145), Lou Rickard (154), Ted Olver (165), Mike Moffitt (180), Joe Robinson (180), Earl Appel (Hwt), Herb Sereyani (Hwt), Carl Brown and John Johnson.