Penn State Wrestling has etched it’s rich history in many record books and beyond. That history includes stories and memories from the incredibly gritty, hard-working, and upstanding guys who laid everything out on the mat during their time in Happy Valley. Just the other day we released our Top-5 Nittany Lions of the 1970s, and several people were interested in hearing stories from this historic decade. Thankfully the Penn State Wrestling Club has an archive of stories and many of the wrestlers highlighted in the prior article expound on funny stories, wrestling memories, Coach Koll, and their experience driving through a blizzard!
Stories and memories from some of the Penn State Wrestling greats in the 1970s
Impact Penn State Wrestling had on their lives
“I still love wrestling! I still coach it. I still wrestle a little bit when my knees allow. Despite my love for football, wrestling seems to be a sport that is conducive to getting closer to your athletes. With football, you are trying to get eleven people to work together, which can be frustrating. In wrestling, each person can develop his own individual style. I believe wrestling is the best preparation for football that an athlete can undertake. No other sport demands so much but also teaches so much in terms of body awareness, toughness, and tenacity. At Glendale, we insist that our football players at least try wrestling if they are not on the basketball team.”-Charlie Getty (1972-1974) “I don’t know that PSU wrestling was as much an influence on my life as the sport of wrestling itself. I have come to believe that ‘when push comes to shove’ and opponents are near equal, the ‘toughest’ individual wins. I feel toughness is a function of individuals being able to focus their will/desire on a goal they deem important, and persevere until it is achieved. Therefore, I feel wrestling has caused me to believe that strong will, focus of this will/desire, and perseverance are the essential ingredients to success. Those who are able to effectively maintain these qualities under stress become champions. An individual can have all ‘the skills,’ but without strong will, the ability to focus it, and willingness to persevere, he/she will fail.”-Clyde Frantz (1969-1971) “Wrestling has had a very positive impact on my life. It has taught me that whatever you strive to do-you can be successful to a point with the right attitude and stamina.”-Andy Matter (1970-1972) “My wrestling experience has impacted my life and career by giving me the tools to succeed in life. Those tools are ones that aren’t glamorous but are the most important. They include perseverance and hard work, the development of relationships on the wrestling mat and learning to live with those relationships and make them positive were also very important.”-Dave Joyner (1970-1972) “I can’t say enough about the lessons and values I learned from being involved with a great sport like wrestling. I feel wrestling teaches about persistence and hard work as well as anything. Being out there on your own knowing that you control your own destiny makes it extra special as does the amount of work–hundreds of hours for just 7 minutes. Yet anyone who has tried to go hard for 7 minutes knows how tough that can be. I also like the fact that with wrestling there is no extension or professional opportunities so you do it because you love it. Seeing wrestlers come into college, sometimes struggle, make some mistakes, yet continue to work hard and many times find success years after they have left impresses upon me as much as anything about the values that this sport teaches and the impact it has on us throughout our life.”-John Fritz (1972-1975) “My Penn State wrestling career has impacted my life tremendously; it has given me the self confidence I need to try anything in life and to feel I am going to be successful at it. It has also given me the discipline needed to be successful in the business world. The issues and problems one encounters in the business world are generally nothing compared to the obstacles one encounters as a wrestler. Wrestling has made me extremely tough mentally, very focused and disciplined. It has also kept me in shape.”-Dave Becker (1975-1978)
Best Wrestling Memories
“One of the fondest memories that I am sure must have already evoked some stories had to be our one-point win over Oklahoma in January 1978. We didn’t have a heavyweight or one that was in shape early enough in the year (the football team had been in a bowl) or one Coach Koll had enough confidence in his not getting pinned. So Coach Koll decided to insert our 167-pounder, Ashley Swift. I recall the team was up by 4 points going into the H/W bout, and Ashley had to not got beat by more then 8 points for us to win the match.” “Somehow Ashley (with his great conditioning and superior intelligence)—giving up probably 60 to 70 pounds in favor of Oklahoma’s giant heavyweight—was able to lose by less then 8 points to preserve a big upset over the highly ranked Oklahoma team. [Swift lost to Cutchall, 12–7.] As soon as the last second ticked off the clock our entire team, JV’s and all, rushed the mat and carried Ashley off. It was one of the most emotional matches I have every witnessed in Rec Hall.”-Rich Puleo (1977) “My best memories from those years are the times I spent with my good friends Ira Lubert, Rich Lorenzo, Clyde Frantz and others. The great memories of all the things we did together, both in and outside of wrestling, will stay with me forever.”-Andy Matter “My best memories from Penn State are: the wonderful fans and the crowds at Rec Hall where we wrestled, my friendships with my coaches and teammates, and my continued friendship with Coach Rich Lorenzo in the years past. Ira Lubert and I have remained great friends even with our competitiveness on the mat at Penn State. The relationship that Ira and I were able to generate even through hotly contested matches at heavyweight is probably one of my fondest memories of Penn State and my athletic and undergraduate career. Probably the greatest memory is the fact that Ira and I had to eliminate in the main gym sometimes, because they couldn’t get all the people that wanted to watch our eliminations in the wrestling room.”-Dave Joyner “My best memories pertain to the discipline it took to go to class, work out twice a day and sometimes have to lose ten or more pounds in a week. The reason I feel that these are good memories is that if I could endure that type of lifestyle for four years, I can endure any of the tough experiences I may face as an adult. I also have ‘fond’ memories of wrestling everyday with Andy Matter and Jerry Villecco–having my forehead continuously bruised by Andy’s pointy hip bone and Jerry’s head.”-Dave Becker “My favorite memories are the recent ones. I will never forget the reunion of a couple of years ago. It was so great to see how much we had all changed yet hadn’t changed at all. I asked Andy Matter about his two boys wrestling at Penn. I wanted to know if he could still take them. He said, ‘Of course!’ Jerry Villecco is coaching his sons. I asked him the same question and got the same answer. Good people and good times. I also remember all the eating places that Sam (Lestz), the coaches–Bill (Koll) and Rich (Lorenzo), Eddie (Sulkowski) and I would go to after all the other guys (who had to weigh in!) were in bed. Sam and Eddie had a restaurant in every town and sometimes three!”-Charlie Getty “My best memories of wrestling at PSU are of having really great teams. In my junior and senior years, we were undefeated (11-0 in 1970 and 10-0 in 1971), and a whole bunch of us won the Easterns. We had pin pools and I remember Matter and me frequently rooting for Joyner’s opponent not to get pinned until after our respective pin times. We all needed the money!!”-Clyde Frantz “I have so many great memories from my years as a Penn State wrestler. Most of them are the relationships with my teammates and coaches. Many of us still keep in touch. In particular I remember a big win over Oklahoma when we had one of our top wrestlers out of the line-up.”-John Fritz
Road Trip to Michigan State in a Blizzard
“It was my junior year, 1974–75. We were driving out to wrestle Michigan State and Michigan. On the drive out, we ran into a major snow storm, and Ohio closed the turnpike, I-80. Coach Koll pulled off in Toledo to a Ramada Inn, but the Inn was full, no rooms. They let us sleep on the floor in a large auditorium with about 1,000 other people. There was no way we could drive anywhere else—people were being rescued with snowmobiles. The auditorium proved to be too much, so a teammate and I went up to the fifth floor where we lay down in the hallway and tried to sleep. [Although Penn State lost both matches that weekend, Villecco won twice, once with a fall.]”-Jerry Villecco (1973-1976) “The trips we took to away competition will always be among some of our greatest memories. One of the most memorable experiences I had as a Penn State wrestler occurred during a road trip to Michigan during the 1974-75 season. At that time we drove cars to most matches. Coach Koll had half the team in one car, and assistant coach Andy Matter had the other half in his car. I was in Andy’s car along with Wayne Packer, Denny Sciabica, and a few others. We drove through one of the worst snowstorms on the way to East Lansing before we had to stop on I-80 because the road ahead was closed. There was a foot of snow at that time, and it was snowing hard. Our car was low on gas, and we were pretty sure we would be spending the night in the car on I-80, so we had to conserve fuel and therefore couldn’t turn the car on for heat. We needed enough gas to get to a station when the road opened, hopefully in the morning.” “To stay warm we put on layers of workout clothes and warm-ups under our coats. To keep our feet warm we put them under each other’s coats. We were worried about the other car (Coach KolI’s) and thought that they were stranded somewhere else along the road. Of course, there were no cell phones so we had no contact. Since we had worked out before we left State College, we were all close to weight, hungry and thirsty with nothing to eat all day. The National Guard came by in snowmobiles with coffee, and we were excited when we heard the snowmobiles outside the car. When they came to our car and asked how many we wanted, Andy turned them down, saying we didn’t drink coffee. Of course at that point we would have consumed anything. The usually likable Andy was not very popular in our car at that time.” “The next morning they opened the road, and we made the drive to Michigan State. We felt fortunate to be there and thought we would weigh in and get ready to compete, but we thought we would probably have to forfeit since half the team was not there and still stranded. We were surprised to learn that the rest of the team in Coach Koll’s car had already been there and weighed in. They had spent the night in the lobby of a Ramada.” “Although we lost badly in the dual, it was a bonding experience for the team and one we would never forget. I believe it made us a better team at the end of the year.”-John Fritz Coach Koll “Today I can clearly describe what Penn State wrestling means to me. It means I had the privilege of being coached by Bill Koll and Rich Lorenzo from 1971 to 1975. I had the honor of having my head handed to me in the wrestling room almost every day of the season, by the likes of Tommy Teagarden and John Fritz. Although I wrestled only a couple of matches in a Penn State uniform and never represented the team at a tournament, Coach Koll and Coach Lorenzo taught all of us that each in our own way was helping make Penn State great.”-Paul Cormier “My memories of wrestling at Penn State center around my teammates and my coaches, especially Coach Koll. I still remember vividly the feeling you had if you walked off the mat and did not go eight minutes. Coach Koll would be in your face with a cigar, blowing smoke down your throat, telling you why you let yourself and your teammates down. Coach Koll was very fair, but he demanded you demand for yourself 110% effort. If you did that, he was okay with the result. I so much admire and respect Coach Koll after being out of school because he really helped me with the mental aspect of wrestling, giving it 100%, and demanding you put forth the maximum effort or why even compete in the first place.”-Dave Becker “Of course there are numerous Coach Koll stories. He once drove back from an Eastern Tournament in the wrong car and it was reported stolen. Winning the NCAA title is a special memory. Especially because I have so much respect for my opponent Pat Milkovich who was a 2x champ and 4x finalist–we were both totally exhausted after that overtime match.”-John Fritz “Regarding bus trips and hotel stays, we were traveling on an away trip. We had just gone through Port Matilda and were traveling up the mountain to Philipsburg. It was sleeting and snowing. Bill Koll was driving, and he decided to light his pipe and pass a truck at the same time. So he steered the car with his knees! It was quite an experience.”-Andy Matter “When I came off the mat, I thought I had done something great! (Again, remember, I was a freshman.) I was exhausted, so I went to go lie down behind the bench on the floor. Good old Coach Koll came over to me and reamed me up and down. I was shocked! I won, why was he yelling? As I matured at Penn State, I grew to understand that he was trying to teach me about pride, honor, and being a man. Coach Koll and I did not always see eye-to-eye, but he always had my respect, and I see him today as a great man.”-Jerry Villecco “My brother Bernie, who was known to put on a few pounds over the summer, was walking across campus one summer day. Since he was on the end of campus not near Rec Hall and Coach KolI’s office, he was surprised to see Coach Koll on that part of campus, and he was excited when coach went out of his way to approach Bernie for what he thought would be a cheerful greeting. Instead, Coach Koll looked at Bernie and exclaimed ‘Bernie, you look like a fat toad,’ and then walked away without saying another word.”-John Fritz Stories/Memories “Normally the day before a match we would have a rather light practice with most of the varsity guys, who had just wrestled a match or two in an attempt to lose enough weight for the next day’s weigh-in. Jerry (‘Whitey’) White for some reason always wanted to roll around with me, the JV 126-pounder, knowing we would have fun and he would lose some weight.” “..I don’t recall Whitey ever being out-conditioned by any opponent. Nevertheless, Whitey placed 3rd in the NCAA’s. He got screwed in the semi-finals by the ref and should have won that match. During the match Coach Koll was so mad he cursed at the ref (who deserved to be cursed at) and not only was he ejected from Whitey’s corner, but we also had a team point deducted. That year he also pummeled the highly-regarded Mark Lieberman from Lehigh, who went on to win an NCAA title the following year.”-Rich Puleo “Many people think about the road not taken. My thoughts though are, ‘What if I had not taken the road I took, the one that had and still has Penn State wrestling as the main course of my highway?’ There are days when walking by the wrestling room, I still get butterflies when I smell the mats. But it is not because of having to worry about running into the likes of Andy Matter, Jerry Villecco, Jerry White, or Dave Becker, but because I think, ‘What if I never butted heads with them?'”-Joe Bastardi (1978) “When we showed up at Michigan, the team was overweight and tired. So Michigan let us work out and us gave a one-pound allowance. They put us in the women’s locker room to change after our workout. As I was showering, two different women came in—to strike up a conversation. Oh well, I did ask them to come to the match when they left. I guess that’s why so many women were cheering for me (ha, ha ). Anyway, the match started. We were tired from lack of sleep and weight loss. The match did not go our way. We were all doing okay until the middle of the second period. Good news for me, but not for the team, I was the first person to win that night.”-Jerry Villecco “Coach Oishi had just finished teaching a judo class in the wrestling room. He was sitting against the wall still wearing his judo Gi (the jacket worn in judo, pronounced ‘ghee’). Coach Oishi, head coach Rich Lorenzo, and long-time PSU friend, fan, and supporter Bill Tucker were all sitting together in the back of the room. To give you some background info, I often would joke with Oishi, saying that judo was not very tough and that a wrestler could take a judo player any day. So on this day I continued to joke with Coach Oishi about the lack of toughness in judo as I had in the past. He looked at me and said, ‘Fritzy, put on Gi’. I put on the Gi, and, since Coach Oishi was already sitting on the mat, I grabbed his leg and drove into him. I felt that I was in a position of advantage since I had his leg and he was still in a sitting position. Then, to make it even more difficult for Coach Oishi (at least I thought so) I pulled his judo sleeve over his hand so that he only had one hand free. He reached around with his free hand and grabbed the collar of my Gi.” “The next thing I knew I was waking up from what I thought was a long sleep. I awoke to find Coach Oishi over me, bringing me back while Coach Lorenzo and Bill Tucker laughed. Coach Oishi later explained to me that he saw me pass out when I pulled the sleeve of his Gi over his hand. Then as he reached around for the collar of my Gi with his free hand, I turned towards him, which cut off my circulation in my carotid artery. He watched my hands that were holding his sleeve become more relaxed as I passed out. I had a new respect for judo after that.”-John Fritz “I also have vivid memories of Andy Matter helping me wrestle and learn how to wrestle by him pounding on me for four years. That also gave me a lot of confidence because I knew there was no one in the United States that I would wrestle that was close to Andy Matter’s ability and toughness. I also have a lot of memories of Eddie Sulkowski, our trainer, and Sam Lestz, and many other people associated with the program that provided support for us. I still remember at the Army match. I was three pounds overweight the night before the match, and Coach Koll was furious at me. He said work out here and get your own ride home, and he left in the van. Eddie Sulkowski and Sam Lestz looked at me and and I started complaining to them. Eddie looked over at me and said, ‘Hey, Becker, here is a quarter; call your friends,’ and they started to walk out. But they ended up staying and giving me a ride back. That’s kind of funny today because many wrestlers work out very hard the day before the match and even the morning of the match sometimes to get down to weight. That’s one instance I will never forget.”-Dave Becker “My freshman year I lived in Mifflin hall (central part of campus), and Norm Palovcsik also lived there. When we were to run the stadium steps, I told Norm that we should run from the dorms and that way we wouldn’t have to run so far. He agreed, and we ran up to Beaver Stadium. I thought we got away with it until Norm asked Rich Lorenzo to hold his dorm key while he ran the steps. Rich asked him why he had the key, and he explained that he and I had run from the dorms. Rich made us run an extra two miles for that IDIOTIC BLUNDER that Norm made.”-Andy Matter