District 11 wrestling has always had a proud tradition. It's no secret that the district is one of the hot beds for talent not only in Pennsylvania, but in the eastern part of the United States.
Area wrestling programs, however, have been at a bit of a disadvantage compared to other District 11 squads. The main reason for that has been the lack of a centralized facility to practice year round. Such a facility would be able to bring together talent from area teams, thus improving the overall performance of local wrestlers.
The addition of the Pyramid Sports Performance Center in Lehighton has changed that. Area wrestling coaches Danny Williams of Lehighton, Dave Lavin of Palmerton, Todd Herzog of Northern Lehigh, Tim Robb of Panther Valley and Shawn Albert of Jim Thorpe have joined forces to create a wrestling club that will hold 24 one and a half hour sessions throughout the summer months.
"What we did when Steve Strauss and Chris West were starting everything up [at the Pyramid Sports Performance Center] is talk to them about bringing in wrestling," said Pyramid club representative Floyd Brown. "So we got all of the local high school coaches together and talked about who to bring in as instructors and the format we would run and so on. All the coaches got their booster clubs involved and youth programs and that really got things started."
The fee for a member school wrestler which is any wrestler from Lehighton, Palmerton, Northern Lehigh, and Panther Valley is $100 for the 24 sessions. The fee for a non-member school wrestler is $150. Wrestlers also have the option to pay for 12 sessions, which is $75 for member schools and $100 for non-members. They can also have the option to pay for one session at a time which is $10 for a member school individual and $15 for a non-member.
Brown explained the overall goal for the club is have a place in this area where wrestlers can get better and not have to drive to the Lehigh Valley to do so.
"We want kids around here to have the same opportunity to wrestle year round as the other areas in District 11," said Brown. "We want to improve wrestling right here in our backyard. It's important for the kids to have a place to go to get top notch instruction and compete against top notch wrestlers."
This year's summer session will be run by Jeff Ecklof, who was a two-time PIAA Class AAA State Champion at Northampton High School and a Division I All-American at the University of Oklahoma. Ecklof is excited for the opportunity to help out another region and try to improve its wrestling abilities.
"I moved back to the Lehigh Valley recently and I took under my wing a group of 15-20 kids and really spent some extra time working with them," said Ecklof. "These kids then started to produce and it caught the eye of people around the area, so I was contacted to help with this clinic. There are a lot of clinics that are going on down in the Lehigh Valley so I wanted to definitely help a different region of wrestlers get better."
Ecklof's main goal is to get any wrestler he helps to the point where they can earn an athletic scholarship and further their athletics along with their education.
"These clinics in a facility like this bring together the area in so many different ways," said Ecklof. "The kids compete against each other and the parents are here so it creates a kind-of competitive community. A place like this also gives kids the opportunity to get scholarships and that's a great purpose. Not everybody can afford college so it's great when a kid can earn a free ride by working hard in any sport."
Everyone involved with the club agrees that this venture can only help area wrestlers down the road. Another thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Pyramid Sports Performance Center is a great addition to the local communities.
"Having a place like this for us to come in and wrestle at is huge," said Brown. "District 11 is so tough that if you aren't wrestling year round then you're really behind some of the other teams once the season starts. This is going to give the wrestlers in the northern part of District 11 a chance to succeed more than they have in the past."
Pyramid Sports Performance Coordinator Steve Strauss was happy to open the door for the club.
"For the area it's been tough for teams to find time to go year round," said Strauss. "Kids have had to run to Blue Mountain and the Lehigh Valley to attend clinics and with the facilities we have here we knew we could help these teams out."