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PHOENIXVILLE - Three of the select four wrestlers who achieved the 100-victory century mark in career victories were present during Phoenixville High School’s 50th anniversary golden anniversary last Friday evening.
They represent some of the top highlights of the half-century of excellence in Phoenixville wrestling history since 1962 under eight different head coaches for the Phantoms.
One of the four wrestlers was a lightweight, two were middleweights and one was a heavyweight so the four elite young men whose names are posted on the gymnasium banner represent all three types of physical stature in terms of wrestling.
Jason Meister made it as a lightweight, Bret Wade and Dominic Viola as middleweights and Ken Cenci as a heavyweight.
Meister is the career leader in victories at Phoenixville with 126, followed by Wade with 114, Viola with 112 and Cenci with 104. Meister graduated in 1999, Wade and Viola in 2001 and Cenci in 2011.
Joe Youngblood, Phoenixville’s second-year head coach, organized the special evening for Phoenixville wrestling alumni and former coaches. There were also some youth matches prior to the junior varsity and varsity meets.
All the past decades were represented with heavyweight Tom Mitchell, who wrestled from 1966-69, the oldest among the group.
Ray Rutt began the Phantom wrestling program back in 1962, but the golden years occurred under former head coach Lonny Moore, who guided Phoenixville’s mat fortunes for 16 seasons starting in 1966.
Moore directed the Phantoms to an impressive 160-51-5 record during his tenure, which included five Ches-Mont League championships in the old Ches-Mont League and seven postseason titles (three sectional, three district and one Southeast Regional). Moore, who is now retired and living in Florida, served on the District 1 steering committee for more than 30 years and became its chairman for many years prior to current leader Dennis Kellon. Moore is a member of the District 1 Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Coaches State Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Phoenixville Wall of Fame as well as the Phoenixville School District Sports Hall of Fame.
Former head coach Gary Barron, who wrestled for Moore during the early 1970s, spoke on behalf of three of the former 100-match winners, and Youngblood, who served as an assistant to Dave Saville prior to becoming head coach, talked on behalf of Cenci.
Barron guided the purple and white-clad Phantoms for 14 years starting in 1982.
Meister, who has served as the head wrestling coach at nearby West-Mont Christian Academy for the last 10 years, posted a career mark of 126-23. Besides holding the Phoenixville school record for victories, Meister also owns the school record for takedowns in a season with 114, which was set during his senior year.
“I wrestled at four different weights,” recalled Meister, whose range was from 103 pounds all the way up to 125 his senior year.
Meister, who also enjoyed a fine collegiate career at Baptist Bible College as the lone four-time All-American in the Pottstown/Phoenixville area, became a PIAA fifth-place state medalist in 1999 at Hershey. The previous year he finished as a sixth-place state mealist. He was a four-time regional and district qualifier. Meister copped a regional title in 1998 and placed third in 1999. He became a three-time district champion in 1996, 1998 and 1999 as well as a second-place runner-up in 1997. He captured three sectional titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999 and also posted a second-place finish in 1996.
At Baptist Bible, Meister became a four-year varsity starter from 2000-03. In 2003, he won a first-place gold medal with a perfect 32-0 record as a national champion in the NCWA as well as the Oustanding Wrestler. He also claimed first place in 2000.
“Actually, IU came right over from practice,” said Meister prior to Friday’s ceremony. “This is the first time I’ve been around since I graduated, at least for a wrestling match.”
The Phantoms wrestled Perkiomen Valley in a Pioneer Athletic Conference encounter to help celebrate the golden anniversary.
Meister, who lives in Barto above Boyertown, has also been married for 10 years and is the father of three children. They include a 7-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old daughter and a 10-month old son.
“Wrestling is definitely built up from the bottom,” said Meister. “You have to have a strong youth program. Then everything will start to flourish at the middle school and high school. All of that experience coming up, it definitely helps. The kids who wrestle and stick with it that long are passionate about the sport and tend to give it their all.”
Meister said today’s wrestlers and coaches at all levels have had to adapt to some new moves and holds in the sport in order to stay current.
“It is tougher and tougher,” Meister said. “If you don’t keep up, it is hard to compete.”
Viola and Wade, who was unable to attend the special night, actually achieved the 100-victory mark during the same non-league road meet against Glen Mills in an afternoon battle amidst a lot of noise by the student body who attended the match.
Viola had a career record of 112-33 and was a varsity starter from 1997-2001. He became a three-time regional qualifier as well as a fourth-place finisher and Southeast Regional medalist in 2000. Viola was a four-time district medalist and placed third in 2001. A four-time sectional medalist, Viola became a Section IV champion in 2000.
Viola currently lives in South Carolina, near Hilton Head, and prior to that he lived in Florida for five years. He is employed in university housing at the University of South Carolina-Buford. He has been there for more than five years after attending graduate school in Florida. He did his undergraduate work at Albright College.
Viola wrestled in the categories from 130-152 pounds during his scholastic career.
“We hope that (banner) will fill up,” said Viola of the 100-victory club. “It is pretty exciting to get the new banner.”
Viola also recalled that special day from yesteryear.
“It was my birthday so it was a great day all-around,” said Viola. “At Glen Mills, they go crazy there. The energuy there, it was a lot fun.”
Viola, who will turn 30 in January, said it was great to see Barron, his former head coach whom he had not seen in some five to seven years. Viola said he has seen former middle school coach Hank Coyne more recently.
“I loosely stay involved with wrestling,” said Viola. “I had good intentions so it is very nice to be here. There are a few former state place winners in South Carolina at our school so I try to catch some matches.”
Wade achieved a career record of 114-30 as a four-year varsity starter from 1997-2001 at Phoenixville. He continued his wrestling career at Kutztown University. He became an NCAA national qualifier in 2003-04 and then again in 2006.
Wade was also a two-time state qualifier and a three-time regional medalist. A three-time district champion, he earned a District 1 South championship in 2001. A three-time sectional medalist, Wade also became a Section IV champion in 2001.
Cenci registered a career record of 104-36. He became a four-time regional qualifier as well as a four-time district medalist. He won a sectional title his senior year and became a two-time sectional runner-up.
Currently, Cenci is a sophomore at Penn State University, where he is carrying a 3.8 grade point average. Although he is not wrestling at Penn State, Cenci still follows the Nittany Lions’ storied Division I wrestling program.
“I follow it a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t get season tickets this year. I go to some matches but not all of them.”
Cenci said the sectional championship is his greatest memory of Phantom wrestling besides the 100-plus victories.
“I came home with the bracket sheet,” said Cenci. “That is one of my most favorite memories.”
The former Phantoms were all impressed with the new Phoenixville Area School District gymnasium that is housing middle school students. The new school has first-rate facilities that includes a wrestling room for practice sessions.
“It is beautiful,” said Cenci. “I was at the gym during the summer. Mr. Youngblood gave me a tour. The wrestlers have their own room. It is very beneficial for them.”
Cenci wrestled for former head coach John Tornetta during his freshman year and then for Saville the last three with Youngblood breaking in at Phoenixville as an assistant coach.
Former Phoenixville Junior High head coach Frank Giffi, who became the Phantoms’ head coach when Moore retired in 1982, was also in attendance along with Barron, Tornetta and Saville.