They presided over nine years of excellence by Boyertown High School wrestling.
Now, the coaching staff’s three principals — head coach Pete Ventresca, assistants John Cooley and Tony Haley — are concluding their various tenures with the program. In the spirit of unity, they are stepping away at the same time.
It was recently revealed Ventresca, who joined the program in 2003 and became its head coach two years later, was leaving at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. It was further revealed, around the same time, Cooley and Haley were ending their respective 26- and nine-year stays.
“I wanted to see it through this class,” Ventresca said during a break at the 2017 South East AAA Regional Tournament. “It was a mutual thing. John was first to say he’s been here long enough.”
The coaches’ unified identity was further cemented at that tournament. Prior to the medal round, they were all inducted into the Southeast Regional Wrestling Hall of Fame, dominating the seven-member Class of 2017.
“They were an incredible part of the program’s success,” Ventresca said of his assistants. “I relied on those guys a lot. The success we did together, and now we’re going out together.”
Ventresca laid the foundation for his wrestling résumé as a student at Penncrest, from where he graduated in 1990 with a 101-17 career record, three sectional and one South East AAA Region championships and state-tournament qualification his senior year. He then went on to attend Lock Haven University, graduating in 1995 after recording 80 victories and two NCAA Division I qualifications — that in addition to serving as team captain.
Ventresca’s coaching career began the same year as his college graduation, at Sidney, N.Y. for one year. From there he coached two years at Manville, N.J. and four years at Cortland (N.Y.) University. He was hired by Boyertown as an assistant to Bruce Hallman, ascending to the head coach’s spot in 2005.
“I liked coaching at Boyertown,” he said. “Great people and a great community.”
During his head-coaching tenure, Ventresca oversaw 48 sectional/Pioneer Athletic Conference tournament champions, 42 District 1-AAA West and 12 South East AAA Regional title-winners and 22 Class AAA state medalists. Seven of his wrestlers reached the championship matches of their respective weight classes, headed by Jordan Wood’s gold-medal showing at 220 in 2015.
The performances of those individuals were key to Ventresca being named PAC-10 and District 1 Coach of the Year five and four times, respectively. In 2016, he was named the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (PIAA) Coach of the Year by the Pa. Wrestling Coaches Association — in complement to his 210-69 career record at Boyertown.
“There were a lot of notable people in this program,” he said. “The 2016 team was the most notable … it reached as far as it could go.”
The Boyertown program had an especially productive run starting in 2014. The Bears were PAC champions two times (2014, 2016), four-time District 1-AAA West team champs and three-time South East AAA Region champions. They also went 9-0 in PAC duals between 2014 and 2016 — part of a 33-match win streak ending this winter.
“The last four years we had a great group,” Ventresca noted. “The kids were talented and big into the program. They were successful and reached their potential.”
Cooley, described as the program’s “historian,” was affiliated with the Bears as far back as 1980. He was a three-year varsity wrestler, serving as team captain and compiling a 35-17 record.
After serving a four-year enlistment in the United States Air Force, and continuing his education at Montgomery County Community College, Cooley returned to Boyertown joining Bruce Hallman’s staff in 1991.
Among the Bear wrestlers he coached was his son, JT. The younger Cooley, though sidelined his senior season by a shoulder injury, thrived in the Boyertown program: A PAC champion and state qualifier his junior year, with a 73-36 career record.
“Dad wants me to do better my whole life,” J.T., who will be continuing his academic and athletic careers at Lehigh University next year, said. “I wanted him in my corner.”
“Haley is a 1988 graduate of Millville (N.J.) High School, where he went 44-19 in two years of varsity competition. He then went on to attend Mansfield and Bloomsburg universities, graduating in 1993. While at Mansfield, he wrestled for two years and served as team captain one season.
Haley joined Ventresca’s staff for the 2008-09 season, that after serving in various coaching capacities within the Methacton School District. A highlight of his time at Boyertown was being named USA Wrestling Magazine’s 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year.
“They were great assistants,” Ventresca said. “They helped us do the best we could.”
Current and former Boyertown wrestlers were effusive in their praise of the team’s coaching trio upon hearing of their plans to step aside.
“They (coaches) all were mentors,” J.T. Cooley said. “I looked up to them even more than four years. They did a great job.”
Lucas Miller, a 2016 Boyertown graduate currently attending Kutztown University, remembered how Ventresca and his assistants guided their wrestlers’ evolution into standout performers.
“They pushed us to the limits, breaking us to be better,” Miller, a two-time state qualifier and fifth-place medalist his junior season, said. “They taught us different finishes while they were here. The idea was ‘If it worked for them, why not us?’ “
Brody O’Connell, another 2016 Boyertown grad who also went on to Kutztown, recalled the coaches’ demeanor in dealings with the team’s students.
“All three were great guys. They’d do anything for any wrestler,” O’Connell, a two-time South East AAA Regional qualifier and one-time medalist, said. “You could talk to them anytime about anything. They cared, wanting the best for us.”
David Campbell, one of the program’s more productive senior wrestlers this season — PAC and district championships at 120, a second trip to states, topping the 100-win mark for his scholastic career — gave much credit for his successes to his coaches.
“They were big parts of my development as a wrestler,” he said. “I’m blessed and grateful to have them be part of my career.”
Chris Berry, whose senior-season achievements mirrored those of Campbell, expressed similar sentiments about the program’s three coaches.
“It’s weird. All I’ve known from Boyertown was them,” he said. “We wanted to show everybody else how much they taught us and pushed us.”
Ventresca’s last on-mat action came Saturday night at the state tournament when he coached Elijah Jones to a fifth-place medal at 182. He expressed the desire to spend more time following his son, Aidan James’ activities.
“I want to be with my kid,” he said. “Eventually, I want to get back into the sport in some aspect Right now, I want to follow kid around.”
Matt Wilde, who capped his Boyertown career with a fifth-place state medal at 113, expects to see Ventresca back at some point.
“He’s a great coach,” Wilde said. “He’ll be around, no question.”
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