Monday, September 14, 2015

Heart, Desire land Buttry a Division I signing

   Throughout his high school wrestling career, Conner Buttry's been dealt his fair share of adversity.
   His way of battling through it, both on and off the mat, has been nothing short of remarkable. And over the weekend, the Chestnut Ridge senior secured a spot to wrestle at the next level in signing with West Virginia University.
   Buttry, who spoke to Sam Shuss for Monday's Bedford Gazette, has overcome two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in three years to get to this point — a 95-31 career record that includes a third-place state medal from last March, which was about a month after he tore the ACL in his right knee.
   "He never let his injuries dampen his mood or change his goals," said Chestnut Ridge coach Greg Lazor.
   There's no doubt about that. After going 17-17 as a 160-pound freshman, Buttry hurt his left knee early in that offseason, but returned to post a 36-9 sophomore record at 182, which was the most improved win-loss mark of any wrestler in the county. He reached the state tournament for the first time. At 195 as a junior, he was 42-5, won a district championship and placed second in the Southwest Regional before getting third at states.
   As stated previously, the individual postseason saw Buttry wrestle on a torn ACL in his right knee, one which he suffered during the state team semifinal match with Wyalusing Valley. Buttry used all his injury time before coming back to pin his opponent and keep the Lions rolling on their way to a 45-21 victory to put them into the Class AA team finals.
   He's not playing football this fall, and he is likely to be cleared for wrestling later this week. He'll be at 195 pounds again, where he will certainly be among the favorites to claim gold in Hershey.
   Buttry's selection of West Virginia centered around the ability to be close to home, the school's nursing program that he will be a part of academically, and the opportunity to compete for WVU coach Sammie Henson, who is a former NCAA and world champion.
   His mom, Michelle, is a graduate of West Virginia and is in the nursing profession herself.
   "I am so proud and excited for his family," said Lazor. "It is so nice to see a great kid who has earned his success get rewarded by getting to wrestle for the college of his choice."
   Buttry's decision gives Bedford County three Division I wrestling commitments from the Class of 2016. Bedford state champion Jonathan Gabriel will attend the United States Naval Academy, while Buttry's teammate at Chestnut Ridge, Aaron Burkett, announced he is heading to Lehigh University.
   Taking my reporter's cap off for a moment or two, you won't find many young athletes who are more likeable or approachable than Conner Buttry. When I asked him about the next level at Friday's Chestnut Ridge football game, he said he was close to deciding, and obviously that was the case. I'm definitely pleased for him and his family, as I also am for Gabriel and Burkett. To have three top-level NCAA wrestling prospects from two schools in this area is quite a feat. And for Lazor to have two in his practice room is a tremendous achievement for the Lions' program.
   I know Buttry, who coincidentally shares the same birthdate as my son, is tired of hearing about his knee injuries, but you can't tell his story of desire and dedication without that aspect. The way he wrestled the final month of last season on a torn ACL without ever seeming to complain or waver to the injury is something I will long remember.

Photo by Ryan Spring
   Chestnut Ridge's Conner Buttry, seen here finishing off a pin in the state team semifinal match last February, will continue his wrestling career at West Virginia University.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gene Mills Clinic at Claysburg-Kimmel

   Upcoming clinic on September 20 featuring the great Gene Mills, at Claysburg. Info at the link - Claysburg-Kimmel Clinic

Monday, August 10, 2015

Thoughts on Gabriel, Burkett commitments

   Over the years, I've made it a habit to talk to wrestling people (coaches, fans, parents, other media), check message boards, ranking websites, and anything else basically year-round to keep up with who's coming up through the local programs that should be worth watching for the future.
   And in recent days, two of the best current varsity wrestlers in Bedford County — Jonathan Gabriel and Aaron Burkett — have made their intentions known to compete collegiately at the Division I level. Gabriel will attend the U.S. Naval Academy, and Burkett is headed to Lehigh. I wrote blog posts on each commitment which you can scroll down to.
   Given what each of them has accomplished so far both on and off the mat, it's no surprise to me that institutions such as the two that they chose were interested.
   But what I knew about them three years ago is different from the similarities that they have produced in that time frame.
   I'll start with Gabriel, who was very much as I would say a "known commodity" in my view when he began his varsity career at 106 pounds.
   I knew quite a bit about him. He had won a Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling state title, and he had placed highly in several national events. And I had seen him several times in junior high matches. Certainly, Gabriel was already thought of as the next great Bedford wrestler by many, and he hasn't disappointed.
   As a freshman, Gabriel was 32-4 and won a district championship. He didn't make it to the state tournament, but that 106-pound bracket in the Southwest Regional is one of the hardest individual brackets I've seen. It also featured Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso, Forest Hills' Triston Law, Southmoreland's Austin Griffiths, Burgettstown's Austin McDermitt, and Jefferson-Morgan's Brendan Howard, with three of them finishing in the top six in the state the next weekend.
   The last two years for Gabriel speak for themselves, being a state finalist and then Bedford's first state champion since 1964. He's also Bedford's first three-time Thomas Subaru Tournament champion, an event which the Bison wrestlers always look to shine being that it's in their home gymnasium.
   On the other side, I didn't know as much about Burkett back in late 2012 as official practices for that season began. By all accounts, the 106-pounder was solid in junior high and time would tell as to what would happen.
   In speaking with Greg Lazor after Burkett committed to Lehigh, the Chestnut Ridge coach told me that while not being as well known as say a Ryan Easter, a Justin McCoy, or a Gabriel, Burkett always had the skill set to become one of the best in his room.
   And Burkett has done just that. Two state medals, two district championships, and within reach of becoming the county's first 150-bout winner will talk yourself into any conversation about the top local athletes.
   Like Gabriel's state title winning peterson roll in the final seconds of his championship bout, I also recall Burkett's late cement job in the state quarterfinals as a sophomore to secure his first PIAA medal. Lasting memories for those involved.
   My point here isn't to compare Gabriel and Burkett. It's only to say that no matter the expectations, whatever you want to accomplish can be had. From my coverage standpoint, it's fun to see the expected happen, like Gabriel's career. And it's fun to get the occasional surprise, as I have in Burkett. Congratulations to both of them on their collegiate choices.

Gabriel selects Naval Academy

   While Jonathan Gabriel still has more goals to accomplish before his high school wrestling career is done, the first step in life after high school has already been determined. Over the weekend, as he also celebrated a birthday, Gabriel chose the United States Naval Academy as his next destination.
   It's the second Division I commitment for a local wrestler in the past month, after Chestnut Ridge's Aaron Burkett selected Lehigh - see Lehigh lands Burkett below in my blog.
   Gabriel says the Naval Academy stood out in a couple of trips to the campus.
   "When I visited, I felt like it could be a second home to me. I felt comfortable and like I was already a part of their family."
   Gabriel, well accomplished in both the classroom and on the wrestling mat, added that a couple of other schools had shown interest in the Bedford state champion.
   In March, Gabriel became only the third PIAA champion from his school with an 8-4 victory in the 126-pound Class AA championship bout, defeating Seth Hogue of Reynolds with a dramatic five-point move off a peterson roll in the closing seconds of the third period. He became the first state champ from Bedford since 1964, and broke a streak that included the Bisons having nine state runner-up finishes in a row since Ron Hamilton won his title 51 years ago.
   Gabriel is a three-time District 5 champion and a three-time Thomas Subaru Tournament champion, and was second in the state as a sophomore 113-pounder. He's also closing in on 100 wins for his career and is a two-time Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic team member.
   Other than wrestling, where he projects as a 125-pounder at Navy, Gabriel aspires to be a pilot, but is keeping his academic options open.
   "I just want to be the best wrestler and best student that I can be, and represent the Navy as best as I can," he said.
   Of course, there's still one more season left in his high school colors, and Gabriel wants to see his name above all others again.
   "I want to be the first two-time state champion at Bedford. That's what I can focus on now that this is out of the way."
   Navy's 2014-15 roster included wrestlers from several states, but it also did include a former area competitor in Westmont graduate Don Shovestull.
Bedford's Jonathan Gabriel is seconds away from winning his first state championship 
after putting Reynolds' Seth Hogue on his back in the Class AA 126-pound final in March. 
Gabriel will compete collegiately at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lehigh lands Burkett

   Greg Lazor has a wealth of hard workers in his Chestnut Ridge practice room, but he says Aaron Burkett can measure up to any of them.
   The senior-to-be is a prime example of that hard work paying off in more ways than one. Over the weekend, Burkett made a commitment to wrestle at the next level at Lehigh University.
   "It's great to see someone who has done everything right on and off the mat get this opportunity," said Lazor. "He's a perfect role model for everyone else in our school and community."
   Burkett is 111-23 in his career, coming off a 41-6 season. He's a two-time District 5 champion and two-time state placewinner, including a runner-up finish this past March at 106 pounds. And he's been a key member of the Lions' state team medal runs two of the last three years. Burkett projects at 125 pounds at Lehigh.
   While Burkett's wrestling credentials are high-level, he'll get a chance to be in the room with the Mountain Hawks because of classroom work as well. After his junior season, Burkett was named a first team All-Academic choice by the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association, as he was listed with a 4.0 GPA.
   "To be able to go to a place like Lehigh shows that Aaron has more than great ability on the wrestling mat," said Lazor. "He's such a great person to put up there in your program to show everyone else that the work pays off. He's just an all-around example of what you want your child to be."
   Burkett's resume currently speaks for itself, though he wasn't always mentioned among the top wrestlers to be coming up around the local area.
   "He's put a lot of work in, especially later in his wrestling life," added Lazor. "He's really improved throughout his junior high and varsity years, and has really made himself into something. He may not have been as well-known as some other kids in our program or some others in the area, but we knew we had something special when he got to our room."
   Burkett has a chance this coming season to make a little history on a few fronts. He's well within striking distance of the all-time win records for Chestnut Ridge (Tyler Dibert, 138) and the county (Bedford's Ryan Easter, 141). Also, should he reach the podium in Hershey again, Burkett would become the Lions' only three-time state medalist.

Chestnut Ridge's Aaron Burkett controls Benton's Alan Diltz during a win in the 106-pound state semifinals in March. Burkett, who went on to finish second, recently committed to wrestle at Lehigh University.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bedford's Ed Clark a coaching legend

   Earlier this week, one of Bedford's longtime coaching icons, Ed Clark, passed away at the age of 89.
   I have a more detailed story for Saturday's edition of the Bedford Gazette, but here are some of Clark's highlight accomplishments.

— Posted a wrestling record in 17 seasons of 149-24-1.
— Coached state champion Ron Hamilton, who was Bedford's last PIAA winner (1964) until Jonathan Gabriel won this past season.
— Also coached wrestlers to 71 district championships and nine regional titles.
— Had two brilliant stretches in dual meets, going 45-3 between 1961 and 1966, and went 42-4 from 1971 to 1974.
— Was named PA Coach of the Year in 1974.
— After handing the wrestling reigns to Bill Creps, Eddie took over Bedford's golf program and had nine unbeaten teams in 17 years.
— PA Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame (1980) and Bedford County Sports Hall of Fame (2006) inductee.

    Clark, also well-known for his "Eddie-isms" as a coach and a health/physical education teacher, is survived by his wife Margie and three sons among other family members. His son Jim was an outstanding coach in his own right, having guided Chestnut Ridge to 342 dual meet wins in a 31-year career. The younger Clark is also a member of both Hall of Fames mentioned above.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

AAU National Duals Updates

   In further action at the 2015 AAU Scholastic Duals at Disney World, Middle Atlantic Blue and Young Guns White met in a first round match in the medal rounds of the District All-Stars Division. Middle Atlantic Blue won the dual, 56-6. There were two bouts of note to local followers:

— At 126, Luke Karam (MAB) dec. Justin McCoy (YGW), 5-2. I didn't see this bout and it is the "offseason", but a three-point loss to a two-time state champion and three-time finalist isn't a bad result for the Chestnut Ridge stud, sixth in the state as a freshman.

— At 132, Jake Boozel (YGW) dec. Jonathan Gabriel (MAB), 7-4. Interesting result here, as Mount Union product Boozel (state qualifier at 132) scores a big win over Bedford state champ Gabriel (at 126).