West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker


My career on the mats began in the 1950s near the end of a "golden era" in Pennsylvania wrestling. In fact, I was surrounded by wrestling icons throughout all my competitive days. As a graduate of Shamokin High School, allow me to share this unique story with you.

First and foremost, I must emphasize that I was blessed with parents who wanted only the best for their sons--and that's what we got!

I started wrestling in third grade. My mat heroes were Ken Faust and Ed Peery. So in junior high my mom and dad sent me to my first wrestling clinic at Cheshire, Connecticut, where Ed Peer was the feature clinician. I was in awe by his knowledge of the game. Young coach Peer really knew how to motivate kids. It was there that I was also touched by Chris Poff, and his positive philosophy on sports and life.

To top off a great week (and I digress a bit here), I was befriended by the assistant camp director, who invited me to supper at his home. This man taught me humility. I was especially impressed with one of his football awards, which he simply remarked, "Oh, that; I won it in college--no big deal." His name was Larry Kelley, Yale's 1936 Heisman Trophy winner. Wow!

My high school coach, Mal Paul, needs no introduction. A charter member of the "PWCA Hall of Fame," Coach Paul was a stern disciplinarian, whose practices were spiced with a salty sense of humor. He excelled in teaching the basics and instilling a winning attitude.

Mal Paul's assistant during his 20-year tenure as mat mentor was Lyman "Beans" Weaver. Coach Weaver, though unassuming, was one of the most well- known and highly respected assistant coaches in the annals of PA high school wrestling.

Not only did Coach Paul and Coach Weaver bring out the best in their wrestlers, they saw to it that during competition we had the best in officiating at those all- important dual meets of the time.

Over the four years I competed on the varsity squad, I developed a close personal relationship with two outstanding referees -- coaching great Russ Houk (Bloomsburg State College) and master official Glenn Flegel. They taught me to appreciate the important role referees play in a match, enforcing the rules and promoting good sportsmanship.

During my schoolboy days, I continued to attend summer clinics. My favorite was the Lehigh Camp, where I formed friendships with three dynamic individuals -- Gerald Lehman, Ron Pifer, and Red Campbell (What a prankster!).

There was one doctrine they stressed regarding clinic attendance: "Don't try to learn lots of new moves. Instead, look for techniques that will improve the effectiveness of maneuvers already working for you." It was sound advice that I always practiced at wrestling camps.

Well, superior coaching, clinics, and hard work paid off when I won states, and shook the hand of Penn State's ultra successful mat-wizard, Charlie Spatial. We had a nice talk after the match; he had the mannerisms of a gentle grandfather.

Upon winning states, I had the arrogance of youth, thinking I alone accomplished this feat. Now I know better. When one's character, values, personality, and work ethic are molded by good people, success is virtually inevitable.

I chose to continue my education at the University of Pittsburgh. My freshman year I wrestled under the astute dominion of Rex Peer, a true "king"of the mats. Like myself, Coach Peer was small in physical stature, but we knew he was a giant in the sport--one of life's splendid oxymoron, and a living legend!

Rex Peer taught us the subtleties of wrestling, but more than that, he prepared us for adulthood. I will always remember what he preached in practice and class: "The real world is not always fair, but that is no excuse for failure. Excuses are not an option."

The following summer Rex Peer retired from coaching, and 1, well I ended up in the hospital for two weeks due to a motorcycle accident. I had lots of time to think while recuperating. I thought long and hard, remembering Coach Peer's words. It was then that my priorities began to change. I loved wrestling, but I had to set fresh goals for myself.

I was never an honor student in school because my whole life, up to that point, was the mat sport. I made a "coming of age" decision. Our new coach was Dave Adams. We sat down and had an in-depth talk. Maybe it was the accident or maybe a change in attitude. Be that as it may, I decided to hang up the "Tigers." I knew it was time to devote all my energies to studying. Dave Adams didn't yell or scream at me. On the contrary, he understood, shook my hand, and wished me "good luck." What a man!

I went on to earn both my bachelor's and master's degrees at Pitt. I later acquired a doctorate from West Virginia University, with high honors.

Desire is the key--be it wrestling or life. And all those men were my master teachers. Many of them have left us in body, but not in spirit. Yes, I was surrounded by greatness.

Today I smile when I peruse the state program at Hershey. I take extreme pride in seeing their revered names (those in italics throughout the article) listed as members of the "PWCA Hall of Fame" -- and silently thank them.

(Editor's Note: Bill Welker was the third family member to win a PIAA State Championship (1963), and the youngest in Shamokin High School's storied wrestling history of nearly 75 years. His older brother Floyd was a state champion in 1959. In fact, Bill andFloyd Welker were thefirst brother-team to win states in District Four. They won their titles during a time when there was only one division of schools, and you couldn't lose at any level of the elimination process. Also, cousin Harold Welker won his state crown in 1938, at thefirst PIAA state wrestling tournament held in Penn State's "Rec Hall." All three were Shamokin "Greyhounds.")

Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association (PWCA) Hall of Famers in the article and their major achievements:


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