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Panther Valley to cut wrestling?

The Panther Valley School District is facing some difficult decisions as it pieces together its budget for the upcoming school year.

While the board voted to pass a proposed $28.2 million spending plan for the 2020-21 school year on Wednesday, it did so without including funding for the wrestling program.

“At this point the board has not voted to terminate the wrestling program, but it has approved the removal of the program expenses from the budget,” Panther Valley business manager Kenneth Marx said in an email Friday.

The board has until June 30 to approve a final budget under state law.

While the program has struggled in recent years, its removal was something that few saw coming.

“Talking to Kristin Black (Panther Valley Athletic Director), she was blindsided by this as much as I am being blindsided by it currently,” said Panthers’ head coach Zane Bachert. “There were rumors, but there were rumors of a lot of stuff. I know with the massive budget deficit that PV faces we became an easy target with our low numbers the last two years and the amount of money needed to keep the program.

“Of course nothing is set in stone, but I now know they are at least considering getting rid of our program.”

The proposed budget includes a tax increase for the district’s homeowners that live in both Carbon County and Schuylkill County in an effort to avoid running out of money in its general fund by the end of the next school year.

Panther Valley has a rich wrestling tradition, and enjoyed a strong five-year run toward the end of the last decade.

The Panthers had at least one state qualifier every year from 2014-18, and sent three wrestlers to Hershey in 2014 (Lenny Ogozalek, Richard Nase - eighth at 195 - and Rian Shubeck), 2015 (Darren Goida, Ali Capobianco, Shubeck - eighth at 195) and 2018 (Tanner Kennedy, Hunter Kennedy, Derrick Beckham).

Capobianco and Hunter Kennedy qualified for states in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

The program has produced 27 state qualifiers dating back to Herb Whilden (Class B, 155) in 1975, and a total of seven state medals going back to Duane Slonaker (AA, 185, fourth) in 1979.

But in recent years, the program has struggled with low numbers. In its final two matches of the regular season, Panther Valley filled four out of 14 spots in its varsity lineup each time. Prior to that, the Panthers wrestled with three twice and two on another occasion.

Earlier in the season, the numbers were higher. The team had nine wrestlers in its season opener against Tri Valley, and 10 in a 37-36 win over Halifax a week later in December.

Bachert, who took over for Tim Robb prior to the 2018-19 season, is determined to get the program back on track if given the chance.

“I honestly have no idea what the actual future holds, but I know that no matter what happens, I will do everything in my power to make sure our boys still have a place to get on the mat,” he said.

Rian Shubeck was the last Panther Valley wrestler to earn a medal at states, earning eighth place in 2015. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO