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Sports lost a real hero, role model

Commentary

One thing that surprised a lot of folks when I was sports editor was my attitude toward a lot of sports.

I watched very few NFL or Major League Baseball games. I really didn’t care for the NBA at all. I watched hockey in postseason.

It was different at the lower levels. The Hershey Bears are an ingrained part of our family. I love going to Spikes games in State College. High school sports were always the best to me, and what I miss most from my new seat in the newsroom.

In 1993, Charles Barkley famously — infamously? — declared that he was not a role model. People got mad at him, but I think he’s right — professional athletes often make the worst role models, terrible heroes.

There are exceptions. One of them died this week.

Carlton Haselrig was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a heavyweight wrestler, but he was also a heavyweight among wrestlers. And for all his other athletic exploits, that is the one sport with which he will be most identified.

Wrestling, and sports in general, lost a lion when he died Wednesday, just 54 years old.

You don’t know the story? How about this:

Haselrig attended high school in Johnstown. There was no wrestling team. He wanted to wrestle. In his senior year, he did — not even 10 matches. But he won them all, the last for a PIAA title.

His wrestling career continued at his hometown college, Pitt-Johnstown. He won three NCAA Division II championships.

It didn’t end there. In those days, the D-II winner was allowed to enter the Division I tournament. Haselrig did — and won it three times, too. His success was apparently too much for the NCAA to handle — that’s now banned by what is colloquially called the Carlton Haselrig rule.

What he didn’t do in college was play football. UPJ didn’t offer it. But when he finished, he played again — in the NFL. He played four years for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one for the New York Jets. He played in the Pro Bowl.

In his 40s, he got involved with MMA and won there, too.

Probably the hardest thing he ever had to beat was Carlton Haselrig. He fell into the trap that trips a lot of pro athletes. Alcohol and drugs. Legal problems. He was out of football after five years.

But his passion never went away. He turned his life around. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Coaches and National Wrestling Halls of Fame, among others.

I remember watching Haselrig at the District 6 tournament, coaching his hometown school — and his own son. His passion was still there, and it was exciting to see him next to the mat.

His uncle, Bruce Haselrig, is perhaps the senior mat official in the district, and one of the best. We enjoyed talking, and joking, and wrestling.

One year, I told Bruce how I had tried to explain to my son who Carlton was before I left for Altoona. He pulled Carlton aside and took a picture of us together that I could show my son, really help him know how important this lion of wrestling was.

I cherish that photo, and the kindness both of the Haselrigs showed in making that memory.

Despite his flaws, Carlton Haselrig was a role model. And at times, for me, he was a hero. Charles Barkley will just have to live with that.

¯¯¯

Jeff Fishbein is Lifestyles Editor of The Sentinel, and was sports editor for more than 12 years between 2003 and 2019.

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