The Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling organization is one of the most longstanding and successful youth wrestling tournaments in the United States. Highly motivated and diligent leadership in the early history of the youth wrestling movement played a great role in fifty years of PJW success. The vision of early leaders has been passed down and resulted in consistent growth throughout the past five decades. Their devotion has led to countless opportunities for youth to wrestle in the statewide PJW organization.
The founder of Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling was John Harwick of Clymer, who became a teacher and coach at Oswayo Valley and Marion Center High Schools. John then worked in the newspaper business as sports editor for the Indiana Evening Gazette for three years prior to coming to Waynesburg College as a publicity director in 1961. In 1962, Harwick was appointed as the first chairman of the Allegheny Mountain Association (AMA) of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and originated the AMA/ AAU track program. The following year, Harwick initiated the Junior Olympic wrestling tournament. The track/wrestling affiliation is apparent by the fact that fourteen of the twenty-eight AMA/AAU wrestling champions in the first two years competed as representatives of the Greene County Track Club.
The first two Junior Olympic tournaments held at Waynesburg in 1963 and 1964 attracted 200 and 380 wrestlers respectively. Four qualifiers were added in 1965 when Waynesburg (Area I) Altoona YMCA (Area II), Greensburg (Area III), and Washington (Area IV) held the first area tournaments. The number of participants in the four qualifiers significantly grew to 1,005 that year. From 1965 to 1970, both finalists of each area tournament advanced to the All-Area Finals.
Dubois (Area V) and Meadville (Area VI) added area tournaments in 1966, while Glenshaw (Area VII) was initiated in 1967 and Waterford (Area VIII) was established in 1968. The founders of the original eight areas were men who possessed a passion for youth and development through sports. A list of original founders of the first four area qualifiers would include George Alberts, Area I; Harold Hartley, Area II; Bill Scott, Area III and Art Sandusky in Area IV. Ralph Boyer of Dubois founded Area V and brought the All-Area Finals to Dubois from 1970 to 1973. Other instrumental leaders who were the first chairmen during expansion were Steve Orozco, Meadville YMCA director of Area VI, Charles Case of Glenshaw in Area VII and Bill Taylor of Waterford in Area VIII.
The expansion to eight area tournaments dramatically boosted participation to 3,000 by 1968 and to 7,400 by 1971. Features that made participation very affordable were an entry fee of $1.00 that also provided wrestlers with insurance coverage by the Shaffer and Harringer Agency of Dubois, private homes that hosted wrestlers on Friday night of the All-Area Finals and uniforms that were provided by each Area organization. The Quaker Oats Company sponsored the AAU and the Junior Olympic medals awarded were miniature replicas of the World’s Olympic games. All wrestlers received a certificate of participation. After the expansion to eight areas, only one wrestler advanced and there were no wrestle-backs. Matches were 1-11Ž2-11Ž2 with a 30 second rest between the second and third period. Any wrestler with four or more varsity bouts was ineligible.
John Harwick left Waynesburg College to become a professor of journalism at Point Park Junior College and later, St Bonaventure University. Harwick continued involvement as general chairman of the AMA/AAU and added several other sports to the program. Walt Carmo, a teacher/wrestling coach at Blairsville High School who also served for two years as secretary of the AMA/AAU took over Harwick’s position in 1968. It was during Carmo’s eleven-year tenure as All-Area Chairman (1968-1979) that participation climbed to over 11,000 for four consecutive years and peaked at 13,000 in 1973. It was also under Carmo, that jurisdiction of the organization changed from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) to Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling (PJW).
The first of a two-step change occurred in 1974 as a result of plans to establish eight eastern areas and a statewide tournament by 1976. The committee of Area Chairmen decided to break from the AMA/AAU and became sanctioned for two years under the Pennsylvania Amateur Wrestling Federation, which was a branch of the United States Wrestling Federation (USWF). A national struggle had occurred between the two organizations based on USWF claims that the AAU was a multi-sport body and not serving the specific needs of wrestling. Committee members were also concerned that the AAU was going to increase the entry fee to $2.00 and require freestyle rules. With the break from the AAU, a constitution was drafted; the Junior Olympic name was dropped and the organization became known as Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling (PJW). The following year the USWF declared that each PJW entrant would be required to purchase a USWF membership card. Strongly opposed to the increased costs, the PJW Committee decided to withdraw and become totally independent as of 1976. The USWF eventually transformed into the USA Wrestling organization.
In 1980, Walt Carmo’s leadership abilities guided him to a career as a PSEA representative and lobbyist. Jim Stuchell, Area III chairman assumed the position of All-Area Chairman. The present PJW slogan was initiated and appeared on all stationary and winners’ brackets. Communications were continued with in the eastern part of the state in hope of statewide expansion. Most of the 1980’s PJW All-Area Finals tournaments were held in Altoona. Participation began a steady decline but the Altoona facilities and organization was excellent. In 1983, the rest period was eliminated for the 11 & 12 group and partial wrestle-backs to four places were held for the first time. Weight classes were revised and complete wrestle-backs were instituted in 1984. In 1987, motel behavior issues led to costly legal litigation and a revision of PJW due-process procedures. The entry fee increased from four to six dollars in 1969, still a very good buy!
A new era began in 1990 when Ron Smith from Area V became the All-Area Chairman. Expansion efforts into the east increased but eastern wrestlers qualified through the Area II tournament. To emphasize the state tournament concept, a new rule required all participants to be Pennsylvania residents. The age cut-off date was moved from March 15th to January 1st to align it with the AAU. In 1991, two wrestlers per weight were advanced to the All-Area Finals in the 13-14 division and by 1997, two wrestlers per weight also advanced in the 11 & 12 division. Also, after three decades of expansion efforts, Area IX (Lebanon) was added under chairman Tom Lambach. With goals of advancing more wrestlers to the All-Area Finals and wrestling back to more places, plans to add four regional qualifying tournaments were made but never materialized, as leaders did not want to lengthen the season.
It must be noted that the PJW expansion would not have occurred without larger host facilities and improvements in communications technology. Computer software has been crucial to coordinate increased numbers of participants and place winners. Dick Locke instituted the first computerized results at the Erie Civic Center in 1991. The expertise and efforts of Ray Bennett and Escape Sports began at the State College finals in 1993. Ray also established the outstanding PJW website, which is now maintained by Kevin Vallely.
John Early, a veteran Area VIII chairman served two years as All-Area Chairman in 1998 and 1999. Significant accomplishments were made during his short tenure. Area X (Williamsport) under chairman Patrick Eck and Area XI (Philadelphia), under chairman Mark Harner were added. The PJW logo was altered to include a Pennsylvania state outline and the organization was much closer to a true state championship. The All-Area Championships assumed the new title State Championship Tournament. In 1999, all age groups advanced two wrestlers per weight class and consolations were wrestled back to six places for the first time.
Jack Vallely, a twenty-year PJW board member from Area VI became PJW State Committee Chairperson in 2000. Under Jack’s direction, 1,034 contestants entered the State Championship Tournament at Johnstown. Having lived to see the dream he worked for, Jack passed away in January of 2001. Paul Yoder, former Area II chairman who played a key role in the movement to expand eastward, replaced Jack and served as PJW State Chairperson from 2001 to 2007. In Paul’s first year, contestants in all age divisions wrestled to eight places for the first time. Larry Newcomer is in his fifth year of service as PJW State Chairperson. Under his management, the 8 & under division was added at PJW State Championship Tournament at Wilkes-Barre. The addition of the 8 & under division enabled the participation of 88 more contestants.
The men mentioned in this article are only the tip of the iceberg. Many others have served under their leadership in countless manners, creating opportunities to participate in the great sport of wrestling. It is heartwarming to know that PJW involvement has molded and shaped over 286,000 youth during the past fifty years and many more great experiences wait Pennsylvania youth in the next fifty years!
All-Area Finals Site
- Waynesburg: 1963 to 66
- Greensburg 1967 to 68
- St. Vincent College, Latrobe 1969
- Dubois: 1970 - 73
- Greensburg: 1974 - 75
- Sharon: 1976 - 78
- Altoona: 1979 - 86
- Sharon: 1987 - 88
- Erie Civic Center: 1989 – 92
- State College: 1993 – 94
- Johnstown: 1995 – 2003
- Hershey: 2004 - 05
- Johnstown: 2006 – 07
- Erie Civic Center: 2008 – 09
- Wilkes-Barre: 2010 – 11
- Hershey Arena: 2012
- Farm Show Complex: 2012-1014
- John Harwick, Pittsburgh, 1963 to 1967
- Walt Carmo, Blairsville, 1968 to 1979
- Jim Stuchell, Greensburg, 1980 to1989
- Ron Smith, Clearfield, 1990-1997
- John Early, Erie, 1998 & 99
- Jack Vallely, Jackson Valley 2000
- Paul Yoder, Philipsburg, 2001 to 2007
- Larry Newcomer, Scottdale 2008 to present