NHS Sports Hall of Fame Profile: 1990-91’ Norwich Wrestling

BY DON KOVALCHIK

Sun Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Today’s article on the 1990-91’

wrestling team is the fifth in a series of profiles on this

year’s Norwich Sports Hall of Fame induction class.

The fourth annual induction ceremony is scheduled

for Saturday, May 3 at Canasawacta Country Club.

Reservation forms are available from the school website

at www.norwichcsd.org. All checks and reservations

should be sent to: Tom Rowe, 22 Hayes St.

Norwich, NY 13815.

Seven decades of Norwich wrestling featured

several outstanding teams. Even in this individual

sport, a group of wrestlers can “jell” into a cohesive

team that achieves beyond its collective abilities. The

’90-’91 team achieved beyond its collective abilities.

The ’90-’91 team distinguished itself remarkably.

Led by senior captains, Neil Peraza, Sam

Rifanburg and Joe Telesky, the squad had a large

number of underclassmen, most of whom had been

coached by Rich Alger, Dave Funk, and Sam Whaley

at junior and modified levels. There were 44 on the

roster, and the lineup could be fluid. Wrestlers might

challenge for a weight class, coaches might move a

wrestler up (even during the meet), and illness or

injuries could cause changes. In the pre-season booklet,

criteria for a varsity letter included team points

accumulated, placing in Sectionals, exceptional contribution,

or extenuating circumstances such as severe

injury. Twenty individuals qualified. Development

and improvement were enhanced by full jayvee meets

and tournaments such as our own Evening Sun

Novice Tourney.

The coaches arranged a rigorous schedule and promoted

a Wrestle-the-Best motto. The team won 13

meets, losing only to Johnson City, ranked 3rd in

NYS. Soon after, UE beat JC 32-28; a few days later,

Norwich trounced UE 45-12! All three teams ranked

in the top 25 of NYS, JC 6th, Norwich 17th, at the

season end. At that time, well over 400 wrestling

teams in NY were all in one division with schools of

8000 students (Brentwood) and tiny locals such as

Gilbertsville and New Berlin.

Traditional powers fell to Norwich that season,

including Chenango Forks, Maine-Endwell, Ithaca,

UE, and nearby rivals, Sherburne Earlville and

Oxford. In the Ithaca meet Kevin Slater was pulled

out of the JV lineup, inserted into the Varsity to score

a crucial win enabling us to move others up in the



upper weights to win the meet over powerhouse

Ithaca.

In tournaments with premier teams from other sections

of NYS and other states and even Canada

(Elmira Tourney), scoring differs from dual meets to

reflect team depth and balance. Team scores include

points for advancing, placing, and bonus points for

major and superior decisions, pins, tech falls, and forfeits

or defaults.

In early December, the storied Clyde Cole

Tournament was a tough test featuring Section Two’s

Queensbury, which had won the prior six years.

Norwich won convincingly with 200 points over runner-

up Queensbury’s 168 ½. Norwich had six finalists

and several other place finishers. Matt Downey

and Joe Telesky were champions, while Toby

Franklin, Bob Clipston, Sam Rifanburg and Dan

Jenkins were runners-up. The big win was a hint of

the team’s potential. Joe Winton, Keith Evans and

Mike Blenis all won consolation finals to add important

points to the team score.

In mid-December, Norwich went to Elmira with a

subpar line-up resulting from flu and injuries. NYS’s

reigning top team, Fulton, dominated with Norwich

finishing 4th out of 15 teams including several from

other sections, Pennsylvania, and two teams from

Canada. Two more regular place finishers would

have put us in second place, but several regular consolation

finalists did not wrestle through all the

rounds. Dan Jennings won his weight class, Dan

Jenkins was second and Buster Crandall, Neil Peraza,

Joe Telesky, Steve Doing, Bob Clipston, Keith Evans

and Toby Franklin all placed. Note several different names from the Clyde Cole entry. Another historic test of team depth in late December was the Windsor Tournament; the field

included teams from Sections Two, Three, Five, and Eleven (Long Island’s Huntington). The host school won with 184 to 155 ½ for runner-up Norwich.

Windsor had more champions, with the Purple having more place finishers. That would be reversed later in the season. Runners-up Matt Downey, Joe Telesky and Dan Jenkins lost close decisions in the finals. Sam Rifanburg, Tom Stoddard and Dan Jennings were consolation winners. Drew Downey and Kevin Slater added fourth place finishes, with Slater upsetting the top seed at his weight. There would be a chance to reverse the outcome versus Windsor soon, as the younger wrestlers rapidly developed and the veterans became more determined.

Near season end, the highlight of Section Four wrestling was the STAC Championship, hosted by Norwich for the first and possibly last time, as the conference soon expanded

dramatically. Norwich delighted a largely local crowd and stunned fans and folks from all around the STAC and Section by scoring 211 points to JC’s 203.

Tom Rowe’s headline read, “Norwich’s Depth Leads to STAC Crown.” The Purple had one champion, Joe Telesky, winning

over a Johnson City foe with a swing of eight points.

Johnson City had six finalists and five champions, but

all the Norwich wrestlers,placed, with Dan Jenkins and Dan Jennings vital runners-up. It was a total team effort. Four of the Johnson City champions would go on later to be semifinalists at the highly regarded NY States; their team was then ranked in the top 25 for the country. Every Norwich

wrestler scored crucial points for advancing, placing,

and bonus wins: Buster Crandall, Matt Downey, Aaron Whaley, Bob Clipston, Neil Peraza, Steve Doing, Joe Winton, Kevin

Slater, Sam Rifanburg, Keith Evans, and Tom Stoddard

were in the consolations.

Each added at least 6-14 points to the total, a remarkable

feat. The very next Saturday, again with a packed gym,

Norwich hosted the Section IV Class B Tournament.

Arguably the strongest of the four classes (A,B,C, D)

for several years, Class B would be most difficult for a

wrestler to qualify for the Sectionals, with Section IV

powers Windsor, Forks, Waverly and Bainbridge-Guilford-Afton in the field, as well as other schools having

good wrestlers at some weights.

Windsor had defeated Norwich in their Christmas Invitational, but the outcome was reversed dramatically

“at our house” with 198 points for host Norwich over

Windsor’s 148 ½. Tom Rowe’s headline again summed it well: “Total Team Effort Gives Norwich ‘B’ Title”. As they trod out of the gym, the Windsor Coach said to Coach K,

“You beat the …………. out of us. Why aren’t you ranked higher?” As we left later, Coach Whaley chortled, “They can have the paper, we’ll take the gold’” Coach Alger added his

favorite “No excuses.”

Norwich had won two major tourneys in eight days through the amazing feat of placing all 14 entries in their

weight classes against top notch competition. The

Purple had eight finalists, with Matt Downey, Neil

Peraza, and Joe Telesky champions, and Drew

Downey, Sam Rifanburg, Dan Jenkins, Tom Stoddard

and Dan Jennings all runners-up. Buster Crandall,

Aaron Whaley, Steve Doing, Joe Winton, Kevin Slater,

and Keith Evans were consolation finalists, adding

many points to the impressive total score. Evans was

the last to wrestle in the placing round (consolation

semifinals), so the coaches rounded up his teammates

who stood at mat side cheering Keith to the win. All 14

Norwich wrestlers had advanced to the Sectional

Championships!

At the Championship Finals, Norwich was a strong third to Johnson City and Chenango Forks. There were nine Purple place winners in the 14 weights. It was clear that this experience and incentive would help the younger wrestlers.

Many of those would go on in subsequent seasons to

place higher and win titles.

Norwich was on the map of New York wrestling, highly

recruited by college coaches, largely because of one division representing over 400 schools.

As seniors in 1993, Keith Evans, Tom Stoddard and Dan Jennings were labeled as “Norwich’s Three Bears”

in the official program at States. In their success they

scored more points than any other individual school in

New York State. Later in the decade Joe Telesky was a

national runner-up wrestling as an underclassman for

Division III Brockport; in 1999 freshman Joe Downey

at the University of Buffalo became an NCAA Division I

qualifier for nationals. The successes of Norwich

Wrestling in the 80’s and 90’s has been reinforcedmost recently with the Section IV Class B and Division II titles captured this past season, and coaches Terry Hagenbuch, Mark

Mussarallo, and Bob Hagenbuch were elated by two Division II State Champions in Albany, Frank Garcia and Tristan

Rifanburg. Many of the names in this article are familiar to local wrestling fans, as these wrestlers are frequently sons of former Purple matmen. The coaches are predominantly products of Norwich wrestling. The junior program, coached by Tim Scheer, another Norwich standout, has been noticeably strong. It appears that Purple Pin

Power is here to stay!

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