The LVWC is a 501-C-3 Non Profit Athletic Club incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania to teach and practice wrestling within a 50 mile radius of Bethlehem, PA.
The LVAC is overseen by a Board of Directors (coaches, local club leaders, local business leaders), and run by a Head Coach and a Director of Development & Public Relations.
Since November, 2000, the Club has provided first rate freestyle and folkstyle wrestling instruction to men or women of all ages, ranging from grade school to post graduates who are members of the Club.
Instruction is provided at Fall, Winter and Spring clinics, with members encouraged to participate in events locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Long Range Goal
The long range goal of the LVAC is to field an internationally competitive elite post-graduate team (one per Olympic weight) vying for positions on the United States Olympic team.
THE CASE FOR CREATING & SUPPORTING THE LVAC
The prestige of high school coaching and wrestling in the Lehigh Valley is virtually unsurpassed at the folkstyle level in the past half century. The quality soared after WW II, with a stunning five local grapplers winning national titles from 1970-75 and nine young men from 1970-1989 winning 12 titles, all three of these figures all-time records for the area. Their combined two-decade W/L mark in the finals was a stellar 12-6. Compare the numbers since then (1990-2009): just one NCAA title (Rob Rohn, Lehigh, 2002) from the Valley in only five trips to the finals in 20 tournaments. How is this shift possible for one of the strongest areas for HS wrestling nationally?
A review of Lehigh Valley history may help provide some, if not all of the answers:
In Jan. ‘56 LIFE Magazine featured Lehigh NCAA champ, Ed Eichelberger, an electrical engineering major who earned a PhD from Princeton paid for by IBM, for whom he developed over 20 patents in the new and rapidly emerging field of computer technology. The article tabbed Bethlehem “the number one wrestling town in the United States.”
That claim was backed up by the rich history of college wrestling around Bethlehem. From 1931-40, Lehigh had five Top 5 NCAA teams and earned 13 All-American medals (vs. three for Penn State); the 13 were more than the rest of the East combined. In 1935, future charter Hall of Fame LU coach, Billy Sheridan, created the nation’s first wrestling clinic. In 1939, he & his team helped produced a film promoting Lehigh and wrestling, shown in 5,000 theatres nationwide. In 1950, he was the first coach to schedule a major dual meet on network TV (WOR-Ch. 9, NY), as Lehigh defeated the NYAC.
By 1951, the Brown & White had hosted the NCAA Championships five times – the most for any school through 1990; Lehigh hosted the Olympic Trials in 1948. Sheridan served as alternate coach for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team and was Pan Am team coach in 1951. He mentored five Lehigh men who won six National AAU titles and three who achieved Olympic alternate berths. In ’55, Eichelberger was OW at Nationals for the new LU coach, Gerry Leeman, just as Ben Bishop was in 1934 (like Ike, an Olympic alternate).
Many historians cite the Sheridan name as a prime reason for HS wrestling prominence in the Lehigh Valley, before the area grew from just two high schools in 1950 to over 20 today. Another factor: his importing of Olympic silver medalist, Gerry Leeman from Iowa, to replace him as LU coach. The EIWA hired other national figures (liked Rex Peery from Oklahoma State; Bill Koll from Northern Iowa) and soared as a league in the 1950’s, with a record nine NCAA finalists and two years with five NCAA champions.
However, one major change in the past four decades was the emergence of Dan Gable as Iowa Coach in the 1970’s and his success as freestyle wrestler, then as coach. A related new development for prep wrestlers evolved in 1971: the Junior National Freestyle Championships. This now mammoth event began in Iowa and quickly moved to Fargo, ND. The even more out-of-the-way location has nonetheless become a sort of “Mecca” for wrestlers 13 to 18 and also a focus for recruiting nationally. Its importance has also signaled moves toward diversification of skills, especially offensively, with a slide in emphasis on riding and on-the-mat wrestling. Countless eventual NCAA champions since then have cut their eye teeth on competing nationally in Fargo.
Local interest in wrestling certainly hasn’t declined – HS duals still draw big crowds and the number of L.V. area All-Americans placing 3rd-6th from the Lehigh Valley has actually increased from 12 to 22 over the past two decades. But this means an even more significant drop in the ratio vs. finalists. From 1970-89, the pct of NCAA Top Six’s from the Valley making the finals was 52% (13 of 25 places) – compare this to 21% for the past 20 NCAAs (6 of 28 places). Five of the last six finals trips occurred since 2000 (1,Rob Rohn, Nazareth; 2, Brian Snyder, Easton, who competed for Nebraska; 2, Jon Trenge, Parkland.
These five overlap the ‘raising of the bar for wrestling’ at Lehigh and the EIWA, plus the creation of the LVAC in 2000. Lehigh hired U.S. Olympic Coach Greg Strobel in 1995, who eventually teamed up with three Olympic candidates – post-grads Kerry McCoy and Pat Santoro, on staff, plus Trenge as collegian. McCoy (LVAC, 2000-05) earned Olympic berths in ’00, ‘04, placing 5th and 7th in the Game, to retire as one of America’s Top Five hwts ever. Santoro (a key co-founder of the LVAC with Greg Strobel) was 2nd and 4th on the Olympic Trials (’96, ’00) and Trenge was 5th in 2004.
The inescapable conclusion: there is progress being made, but lots more work needs to get done locally to compete head-on with other national centers of power, especially in freestyle. The LVAC began operating in 2000 to help leverage four key factors:
higher level training partners for workouts, plus teaching freestyle and folkstyle
a wider range of cutting edge wrestling skills shared with developing athletes
the addition of Spring freestyle clinics LVAC subsidies to help area wrestlers get to Fargo.
One key to increasing travel support was a challenge gift from Trenge himself – since there was no club to support him when he won Jr. National titles in Freestyle & Greco in 1999. Jon is a rare Fargo national champ from the Valley, competing for Parkland HS in Orefield, PA; the first was double-champion Mark Lieberman from Allentown in 1973 (wrestling four years for Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ, 45 min. from Bethlehem); another just outside the Valley was Derek Zinck in 2001 for Upper Perkiomen HS a half hour South. They won eight NCAA medals for Lehigh U: Trenge 2, 2, 3; Zinck 5, 8; Lieberman 2, 1, 1. Although he never went to Jr. Nationals, Lehigh’s Bobby Weaver (who runs the Weaver Elite Wrestling Club in the Valley and has participated with the LVAC) is the area’s sole Olympic medalist in wrestling, winning Gold in 1984 (also NCAA 3rd).
Based both on history and current events, the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club recognizes that standing still is definitely not an option. We seek to constantly improve our fund-raising capabilities, in order to recruit and retain as many high-quality post-grad coaches, mentors and training partners to the area as possible. The current level of Annual Fund (a record high $140,00/year) is barely half our near term goal. Our long term goal will always be: to help the Lehigh Valley earn and maintain its appropriate place as a true center of excellence in multiple styles of amateur wrestling.