Prebish takes ventures to Israel

Sentinel file photo
Rob Prebish, above, was a standout wrestler at State College from 1987-90. Today he is a successful high school coach for the sport at St. Christopher’s in Richmond, Virginia.

Longtime wrestling fans in Mifflin County might remember State College High standout Rob Prebish.

Prebish wrestled for the Little Lions from 1987-90, capping a high school career with 98 wins — ninth best in program history — two District 6 Class AAA championships, two Northwest Regional titles and a fifth-place finish at the PIAA state tournament in 1987.

The wrestling bug bit Prebish early, thanks to the influence of Rich Lorenzo’s Nittany Lion program and the coaches in the State College elementary system.

“I grew up watching Penn State wrestle in the early 1980s and wanted to emulate the guys I watched: NCAA champion Carl DeStefanis, and All-Americans like John Hanrahan, Eric Brugel, and Scott Lynch,” Prebish said. “I fell in love with the sport early on; I was a natural. I remember my youth coach, Chris Sefter, telling the other coaches I was like ‘a takedown machine without an off switch.’ That always stuck with me.”

Today, Prebish is a successful high school wrestling coach at St. Christopher’s in Richmond, Virginia, named assistant coach of the year in 2015. He was the 2014 USA FILA Cadet World Team Greco-Roman coach.

This summer, he is in Israel as an assistant coach at the 20th Maccabiah World Games in Jerusalem, which began July 4 andcontinue through July 18.

Prebish won two golds at the games as a contestant in 1989. This return trip to Israel as a coach is all about atonement.

“The last time I was in Israel was 1993, and it was not a great experience for me. I was not in a good place in my wrestling or my life, and I always wanted an opportunity to redeem myself,” he said. “This trip is my redemption. I have a great opportunity to share what I have learned about wrestling and my faith as a Jewish citizen with my athletes.

“I was a double gold medalist in wrestling at the 13th Maccabiah in 1989, but I have grown so much as a wrestler, coach, son and teacher since.”

As of Tuesday morning, the team won 12 medals in freestyle, including five gold, and two golds out of seven accumulated in Greco-Roman, with the competition ongoing.

The Maccabiah Games, first held in 1932, are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event held every four years. Maccabiah is more about discovery and cultural heritage than wrestling or any other sport, but make no mistake: Prebish has lofty goals for his wrestlers at the games.

“Hopefully, we come away with 16 golds. That would be from winning all eight weights in both styles,” he said. “The wrestling is a small part of the Maccabiah experience. I want our team to tap into their Jewish roots and build pride in being Jewish.

“This is a great group of wrestlers on and off the mat. We all bonded as a team before we departed New York. I’m proud of all the hard work they put into their training. It will pay off,” he said. “Maccabiah 2017 is my third international coaching experience. And from Israel, I will go to Fargo, North Dakota, to coach Team Virginia in the Greco part of Cadet and Junior Nationals.”

In his youth, Prebish took to Greco like a duck to water. He is a former U.S. Cadet Champion, a second-place finisher at the 1987 World Greco Championships, and a former Junior National World Champion. He was a two-time USA Wrestling National Champion, All-American, and a member of four World teams.

“When I wrestled my first Greco match I knew I had found the style of wrestling that was perfect for me. There is something awesome about being able to lift and throw your opponent from the mat in a back arch,” Prebish said. “The more I learned, the better I got. Wrestling Greco taught me all about patience, position, and purpose in wrestling. It helped me in high school and college. I was pretty successful too, which doesn’t hurt.”

Greco-Roman — no holds below the waist — is a style that hasn’t reached the popularity of freestyle in America. Prebish has his reasons the U.S. hasn’t embraced it like Russia, Iran, and Cuba have. It all boils down to one word — commitment.

“I could talk all day about why Greco isn’t as big in the US as it is in Russia and Iran. It comes down to one thing: fear of the unknown. We fear what we don’t understand and since many wrestlers and coaches don’t understand Greco — they don’t want any part of it,” he said. “We Greco guys are like second class citizens in the USA wrestling world and that is sad. Greco is strong everywhere else in the world, but until we decide that the U.S. wants to commit to success in Greco, we will have limited success.”

As anyone who ever wrestled knows, if you start young, a chance for burnout exists. Prebish was no different. It took a teaching opportunity to rekindle his passion for the sport.

“After I stopped wrestling in college at Millersville University … I hated the sport and wanted nothing to do with it. But to take my first teaching job I had to coach wrestling,” Prebish stated. “I didn’t want to but did because I wanted to begin my teaching career. And here I am 19 years later still involved, with a deeper passion and appreciation for wrestling. I am grateful for the opportunities to fix the mistakes I made in my competitive career.”

Coaching is the way Prebish gives back to the sport that took him all over the world and taught life lessons he’ll never forget.

“Wrestling is one of the best sports to prepare young men and women for what lies ahead in life. We learn how to weather the storms and never quit on ourselves. We’re motivated to be the best we can be,” Prebish said. “Wrestling for me today is not about me; I had a great career and did some amazing things. Wrestling is about the guys in the practice room grinding it out every day without complaint. It’s about helping every wrestler in the program reach their goals.”

Prebish is in a good place in his life — a destination we all want to achieve. How ironic, the former high school phenom found his bliss right where he started and tried so hard to get away from — on a wrestling mat.