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Familiar with states, coach makes last trip

Sentinel photo by TAMI KNOPSNYDER
Juniata coach Mike Robinson is making his final trip to the state championships in that capacity, one of many hats he’s worn there.

MIFFLINTOWN — Mike Robinson has been to Hershey as a wrestler. He’s been there as a dad. He’s been there as a coach.

This year’s state tournament will be his last — Robinson plans to step down as Juniata’s coach after the season.

If Robinson had his way, the first gold medal in his life would have come in 1984, his senior year at Lewistown. A second chance eluded him 20 years later.

Juniata, it turns out, has been the place he could finally put his hands on the top state medal, if only to hang it around the neck of one of his charges.

Dave Morgan of West Chester East is the wrestler Robinson will likely never forget. Morgan won a decision in Hersheypark Arena that left the young 138-pounder from Lewistown on the second rung.

“As a senior when you’re on that floor at Hershey, whether it’s the new arena or the old arena, and you know it’s your last chance to win that gold, you’ve got everything laying on the line — a lot of pressure,” Robinson said. “You just have to, literally, give it your best six minutes — plus, if needed.

“With my last match wrestled at states, losing in the state finals, definitely a tough memory. You feel that you left something on the plate, or something on the mat.”

Robinson said he was fortunate to be able to compete at the highest level, and that like anything else in life it was an opportunity to learn.

“I’ve always look at wrestling and tried to put things in perspective — what did wrestling teach me? What did I learn from it?,” he said. “Basically self-discipline. Respect and respect for others.”

After the loss, years later, “I looked back and thought, I really need to give something back to the sport. I was still passionate about it. No regrets.”

Robinson was helping in the Lewistown mat room when his son — also Mike, but affectionately known as Chub — tried to become the first in the family to win state gold. Young Mike made it to Hershey three times, but had just one match victory on the Giant Center floor.

His career ended with 149 wins and success at the district and regional level, as well as the prestigious Beast of the East tournament and he was an All-American in Fargo. He was second-highest in wins at Lewistown and is tied for third in the county with Hayden Hidlay.

But Chocolate Town was not the sweetest place on Earth for him.

“Regardless of Michael’s wins and losses I was proud of him every time he stepped on the mat. His disposition and his attitude was one I was always hoping I could instill in him,” the senior Mike said. “He definitely took his lumps and watching him grow in the sport and grow as a young man to where he is now, I’m just as proud as you can be.”

As a coach, Robinson had a state champion in 2012. Zach Beitz dominated Kyle Barnes of Hughesville in the 145-pound final.

“Leading up to Zach’s winning the gold medal, Seth, his brother, had been a state runner-up. That was my first year coaching,” Robinson said. “That not only told Zach that he could do it, but set the place for Juniata wrestlers that were on that team. For me to be a part of that each step of the way … I was very fortunate.”

For his final, official trip to states, Robinson found himself back in Class 3A, and coaching a wrestler — just one, 160-pounder Tyler Wileman — who is a returning medalist.

“Tyler is a returning state medalist in double-A, and we have high expectations for him in triple-A. The state tournament is a new week for everybody,” Robinson said. “This would definitely be a nice year to see him come through.”

Ultimately, he says, success is measured off the mat as well as on, and it’s hard to say Mike Robinson hasn’t been successful both ways.

“Wrestling is a family. Most of these guys that come through the program I look at as my own kids,” he said. “The families that I’ve been involved with, whether it’s been Lewistown, Mifflin County or whether it’s been Juniata, I’ve been blessed to be involved with the wrestling families, their parents. I’ve been able to enjoy their wins with them.”

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Sentinel correspondent Brian Carson provided historical data for this story.

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