Last Friday night's home wrestling match had the feeling of a block party or family reunion.
Former Upper Perkiomen wrestlers, many of them with young families in tow, packed the bleachers along with officials, teachers and parents of former wrestlers.
They were all on hand to pay tribute to Indians' head coach Tom Hontz, who guided the high school program from Pioneer Athletic Conference doormat to a national power over the course of his 24-year tenure.
With Hontz's recent hiring as head football coach at Upper Perk, he subsequently decided that this wrestling season would be his last. And with senior night festivities slated last Friday night against Pottsgrove, it seemed a fitting time to celebrate Hontz's accomplishments.
Moments after the Tribe put the finishing touches on a 45-24 win over the Falcons, Hontz's longtime friend Tim McDermott, who has been scorekeeper and the voice of the Tribe for the past 24 years, took to the center of the mat. He spoke of the many memorable moments the Indians' gym played host to, including the unforgettable showdown with the then No. 1 team in the nation, Blair Academy, back in 2006, as well as the capacity crowds that created a deafening atmosphere.
What Hontz has left in his wake is a litany of accomplishments. They include 21 wrestlers with at least 50 career pins; 23 wrestlers who reached the coveted 100 career-win mark; 71 sectional champions; 29 district champions; 18 regional champions; 22 state medalists, including six finalists and four state champions; and seven wrestlers who went on to become All-Americans in college.
Team-wise, the Hontz-led Indians racked up eight sectional team titles, five district team titles and five southeast regional team titles. Don't forget the 10 consecutive PAC-10 championships, six district duals titles and six state dual top four finishes, which included a state duals title in 2006 – the same year Hontz was named PIAA AAA coach of the year. With his win against the Falcons, Hontz's career win total is 359.
As a wrestler, Hontz compiled a 111-10-3 record at Quakertown High School from 1981-85. He was a regional champion his senior year and went on to take silver at states that season. He later furthered his wrestling career at Duke University before graduating and taking a position at Upper Perk as a social studies teacher.
"I dedicated my life to the sport," Hontz said to the crowd after being asked to say a few words. "I have been at it since I was little and it has given me everything in life: my wife, my best friends – I'm going to miss it."
Hontz was presented a photo collage by his wife Lori and children, and was joined under the spotlight by his current coaching staff and former coach Jamy Ritter, who was an integral part of the Indians' success. Afterwards, this year's team posed with former Upper Perk wrestlers for a photo.
McDermott, who helped spearhead the tribute, said it started by word of mouth a few weeks ago before a group text was sent out. Those in attendance were a who's who of Upper Perk wrestling over the past 20 years, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the glory days, when you couldn't hear a referee's whistle over the din of the crowd. The tribute also included a shout-out to the late, great sports editor Don Seeley of The Mercury, who was a supporter of Hontz on and off the mat.
When asked about his favorite memory in a previous discussion with former standout wrestler Derek Zinck, Hontz said there was just too much to pick from. He said examples of the long list of highlights included undersized heavyweight Collin Keyser's pin of Eric Butcher in 1999 that gave the Indians a dramatic win over Boyertown, and the atmosphere and excitement created by headlocking-great Marky Smith, taking the mat to chants of "USA." He also referenced his current coaching staff of Chris Sheetz, Brent Fiorito and Sam Walters, all formers wrestlers who shared a big part of the Indians' success.
"But there are new adventures," Hontz said. "I encourage the wrestling community to stay strong to keep Upper Perk on the map. I respect the sport – it teaches a lot about life and has given me so many memories."
As far as the match itself, Upper Perk took the lead for good four bouts in. The victory clinched a winning league record of 5-4, 8-12 overall. Sights will now be set on the PAC-10 League Championships this weekend at Boyertown High School, with the top five advancing to the district tournament at Spring-Ford, Feb. 22.
A noticeably energized Tribe cranked out six pins in its eight individual wins to create the separation from the Falcons, as the team honored seniors Dan Jordan, Casey Cook, Chris Kramer, Colby Corino and Justin Crossley beforehand. Cook's pin was especially poignant as his 16-second slap at 195 notched the 50th of his career.
Dustin Steffenino (113), Jacob Folk (132), Jordan (138), Mike Lockhoff (145) and Trevor Weeks (170) also won by fall, while Owen Leister won by decision at 182 and Eric Miller picked up a forfeit at 126.
"I've been blessed," Hontz said. "I've had the same timekeeper and voice for 24 years, great assistant coaches, especially Jamy Ritter, who stuck by me, and we were able to do some great things. Now it's time to do the same thing on the football field."