Mount Union’s Wertz quietly reaches milestone
Corey Wertz and Omar Porrata have little in common other than being wrestling coaches. But they create an interesting contrast – one has made headlines across the state for a controversial decision in a match; the other quietly finds success while keeping the focus on the kids.
Wertz, Mount Union’s coach since 2002, oversaw the 200th win recorded by one of his teams when the Trojans wrestled Canton in a tournament at Line Mountain on Jan. 11.
I know about it only because one of his assistants, Dennis Drake, told me. Corey, I assume, is more worried about 14 kids and their achievements than his own.
Wertz’s first win as a coach was in the first dual meet that he was coaching. His second and third years were the only ones in his career that Mount Union ended below .500. His 100th win took seven years; it took five to get the next 100.
As a Mount Union wrestler, Wertz went 62-27, won a district title and placed at states. But you still might wonder why he chose wrestling when you look at his overall high school career: Wertz played football on a team that was unbeaten in the regular season. He pitched on the 1993 state championship baseball team – and went to college on a baseball scholarship.
A physical education teacher at Mount Union, Wertz took over as wrestling coach when he was still teaching in nearby Huntingdon. His teams have won the District 6 team title twice at the individual tournament, and have won two District 6 duals titles.
He also stepped in and ran the football team through a difficult 2013 season when health issues forced the sudden retirement of Alan Hartman on the second day of practice.
Getting past the stats, I understand why Corey wasn’t worried about telling me about No. 200 back when it happened. As noted already, his kids come first. The attention should be on them. He’ll correct them – maybe even chew them out – like a father when they aren’t walking the straight and narrow, but will defend them like a big brother if anyone tries to run them down.
Mount Union should count itself lucky this native son chose to come home.
Porrata, for those who haven’t seen the story, is the Palisades coach who forfeited to Bethlehem Catholic in the District 11 duals.
No, not that kind of forfeit. His team showed up. And then made all 14 wrestlers from BeCaHi come to the mat and have their hands symbolically raised.
Porrata refused to talk after it happened, but it’s pretty obvious to wrestling observers everywhere what was going on – Palisades had four holes in its lineup, and could not possibly hope to overpower one of the top wrestling programs in the nation. And, to add insult to injury, BeCaHi didn’t even weigh several of its better wrestlers, instead entering junior varsity grapplers at a few weights – apparently so confident this one was in the bag that the second string was good enough.
BeCaHi, of course, “doesn’t recruit.” It’s all just a coincidence that all the top-notch wrestlers in the region happened to choose the parochial school.
It is wrestling’s version of the schools that game the system in football and basketball, the reason there have been complaints, inquiries and legislative threats hanging over the PIAA for more than 15 years.
District 11 wrestling chairman Bob Hartman told the Morning Call of Allentown, “This absolutely damages the integrity of the sport.” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told the newspaper the action “violated the intent of the tournament.”
I disagree – it’s the PIAA’s integrity that comes into questions in situations like this.
I think Northern Lehigh coach Steve Hluschak Jr. said it best: “I understand why Palisades did what it did. They (Bethlehem Catholic) don’t follow the same rules as everyone else follows … it’s not a level playing field.”
Porrata was suspended – temporarily, for the time being – and his team was allowed to continue in the wrestlebacks. And if you’re wondering, members of his team were quoted as being in support of his action.
The Palisades coach has been called gutless, unsportsmanlike, an embarrassment – but I think the opposite is true. It took quite a spine to go out there and do that. And there’s little as unsportsmanlike as buying a winning team, in any sport.
Unfortunately, instead of fixing the real problem – PIAA policies that favor a small cadre of powerful Catholic and charter schools at the expense of the public schools who pay most of the PIAA’s operating cost – the answer is to go after a coach who, in a different way, stands up and puts his kids first.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.