Memories and Advice from a Former Wrestler, Part 1
In December, Don Lehman, webmaster of the West York (PA) Wrestling Alumni website, asked me for an interview regarding my scholastic wrestling career and my involvement in wrestling throughout my life. The reason he was interested in interviewing me is because I competed against a West York opponent my final bout as a high school wrestler. I told him I would be glad to accommodate him. Below are excerpts from the interview, part one of two.
Don Lehman - After reading your resume, I guess I can safely say that the sport of wrestling has been a huge part of your entire life! At what age did you take up the sport of wrestling... and who were your early mentors up in the Shamokin (PA) area of Pennsylvania?
Bill Welker - I began wrestling in the third grade. We had a six-week wrestling program in elementary school which concluded with an intra-squad tournament in the high school gym sponsored by the Key Club. Varsity wrestlers were the officials and no one ever complained.
My coaches were Mr. Delbaugh, Mr. Artman, Mr. Dapra (state runner-up) and Mr. Cawthern (regional champion). They taught us only the basics, absolutely no fancy stuff. But, what was just as unique, none of them had a son on the team. They coached out of their love for the sport, not to protect the interests of their off-spring, which you often witness today.
Don Lehman - Dr. Welker, your wrestling accomplishments at Shamokin HS are exceptional ... 85 high school victories in a three-year span with three Sectional titles, three District IV titles, two Northeastern Regional titles, a PIAA State second place and a PIAA State title! I know you give a lot of credit for your success to Coach Mal Paul and Coach Lyman "Beans" Weaver of Shamokin HS. Tell me a little about the technique drilling and physical training emphasized and taught by these two fine gentlemen during your high school career.
Bill Welker - I can still remember the first day I walked into the Shamokin High School wrestling room. I was in awe with the two icons of Shamokin's "Golden Age" of wrestling - Mal Paul and Lyman "Beans" Weaver. Their success as wrestling coaches was their emphasis on drill work, be it takedowns, rides and pinning combinations, or escapes and reversals.
We were introduced to situation wrestling, round robin workouts and chain wrestling on the bottom. Back then, it wasn't one escape or reversal move and stop, but combinations of escape-reversal maneuvers, constantly moving and changing directions.
Their primary area of emphasis was takedown instruction. In fact, our adversaries referred to the Shamokin "Greyhound" wrestling team as "Double Leg" High School.
Finally, when it came to physical training, they kept us moving all the time. If we weren't wrestling, we were running. If we weren't running, we were climbing ropes multiple times, arms only. In essence, we were continually moving throughout the entire practice.
No wonder Coach Mal Paul and his assistant Lyman "Beans" Weaver were both inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame - Pennsylvania Chapter. They were truly "masters of the mat sport."
Don Lehman - Did you do any off-season training, such as weight-lifting or running... to prepare for the sport of wrestling?
Bill Welker - Unlike today's philosophy of just specializing in one sport, we in the 1960's were influenced by our coaches to participant in various sports during the course of the year.
I also participated in football as a junior high student. In high school, I played baseball and golfed off-season; we didn't have a track program at the time. I also remember lifting weights three days a week and running in the summer.
Whereas contemporary coaches place emphasis on their wrestlers competing in various off-season tournaments, our mentors stressed attendance at summertime wrestling clinics to fine tone our mat skills. My clinic mentors included the likes of Chris Poff, Edwin Peery (3-time NCAA Wrestling Champion), Henry "Red" Campbell, LeRoy Alitz (Army's Hall of Fame coach), and Gerry Leeman (Lehigh's legendary mat mentor, Olympic Sliver Medalist and NCAA Wrestling Champion). I was indeed surrounded by the best coaches during my competitive days.
My advice to contemporary wrestlers who attend clinics - don't try to learn as many new moves as you can, but instead (1) observe the clinicians carefully when they are demonstrating moves you use to see how you can execute them more effectively and (2) take home one new wrestling maneuver in each area of wrestling you like, and add it to your total mat repertoire of moves.
Don Lehman - As a senior, you reached the 1965 112lb. PIAA State Wrestling finals... and your opponent was West York High School's Dana Luckenbaugh. What did you and your coaches know about Dana before the match... and, walk me through your mental approach?
Bill Welker - Coach Paul and Coach Weaver were exceptional when it came to scouting our opponents. Their analytical abilities in evaluating our adversaries mat skills were nonpareil.
I don't remember the specifics of our strategy for wrestling Dana Luckenbaugh, but I do know my general "game plan" for the match. I was aware that Dana was an exceptional pinner, strong and very aggressive. My strategy was to slow down the pace of the match to get Dana away from his style of wrestling. In other words, I wanted to keep him off-balance regarding the tactics he normally felt comfortable with during a match. My goal was to keep the match close until the third period and then let loose. Everything worked as planned when Dana and I reached the final period of the bout. In fact, the score was tied 3-3 at that point. Victory and a second state championship was mine for the taking since I was down the third period, and escapes and reversals were my forte.