Gary Siegel was welcomed back to the Tunkhannock wrestling program as he was approved as head varsity wrestling coach on Sept. 25 by the school board.
Siegel returns to the Tigers after a brief stint at Crestwood, where he held the same position.
Before taking over at his alma mater, Siegel was Tunkhannock’s assistant coach for the varsity program from 2003 to 2005, and the youth program head coach from 2005 to 2008. He was also a volunteer assistant with the varsity program from 2009 through 2014.
A resident of Falls, his ties to the district run deep, as his wife, Janette, is a teacher in the intermediate center and his son Ben has his name on the banner in the high school gym with 104 wrestling wins.
“I hope to be able to carry on the Tunkhannock wrestling tradition,” said Siegel. “We have worked hard to show progress in the program, and I just want to be able to help carry that on. Our hope is to gain the experience needed to get to states and get some kids on the podium at states.”
Experience is something Siegel can attest to. His wrestling resume reads like a textbook of success.
Beginning in high school, Siegel was a three time state place winner at Crestwood: placing fourth as a sophomore, second as a senior, and taking the gold as a junior, as he compiled a 92-11-1 high school record in the 105/112/119 weight classes.
He earned a wrestling scholarship to Division I Syracuse University and continued to win on the mats. He was a four year letterman, a three-time EIWA Place winner (5th-3rd-5th), and three-time Cornell Open Champion (1981-82).
In 1981, he wrestled in the National Freestyle Championships in Arizona for the New York Athletic Club.
Also that year, he was ranked in the top 12 of the nation, as a sophomore.
Two years later, he reigned as the Lock Haven Mat Town Individual Champion and Penn State Invitational Champion.
In Siegel’s senior year, he was on his way to another stellar campaign. He was ranked fifth in the nation, was named a tri-captain, and boasted a 14-0-1 record, before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“The sport has been good to me. It has provided mentors, coaches, and friends,” he said. “This sport could be life changing by the opportunities it offers student athletes on and off the mat. Wrestling helps with mental and physical preparedness.”
After he hung up his headgear, Siegel began his coaching career at Wilkes University from 1984 to 1987 and founded a freestyle wrestling club in Wilkes-Barre, the Wyoming Valley Freestyle Association.
In 2003, Siegel found his way to the Tigers as his youngest son began training with the youth program. The elder Seigel quickly emerged as an assistant coach for the high school kids as well as a volunteer for the younger ones.
Siegel was inducted as a member of the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
In his last stop before returning to the orange and black, Seigel took on the challenge of leading Crestwood’s grapplers.
“When I signed on at Crestwood, there were seven wrestlers, but we had a good run, and a state place winner,” he said.
Seigel, it should be noted, was the first athlete in Crestwood history to be a state champion in any sport.
But now, he is back in Tunkhannock.
“Wrestling is a payback sport. I was going to retire from coaching, but then I found out about the opening here. It is a great sport for young athletes,” he said.
Siegel is in the process of assembling a team of assistants, and though the official approvals are still pending, he is excited. The possibilities include a who’s-who of local wrestlers who have grabbed headlines in the past.
Scott Davies will return to assist the varsity program, and Siegel’s son Ben also returns to the program.
Siegel inherits a program that endured a very emotional year for the staff, wrestlers, and community last season.
Tunkhannock’s team had a flurry of injuries to their seniors and top point-earners, as Tommy Traver was hurt in a freak accident in his automotive class, David Evans broke his wrist, and Logan Hedgety injured his tibia in a match.
“I’ve known Tommy since he was five years old, and he is a special kid,” said the coach. “It was a tough year, wondering what could have been, but he has a great family, and a supportive wrestling family, behind him.”
Focusing on this year’s squad, Seigel said that the Tigers have two state qualifiers and five district champions returning.
He added, “This year could be special. Coach Hedge and Coach Davies have done a wonderful job in the face of the difficulties they faced. We will keep the sport viable, and attain the goals we set.”
Coaches Hedgety and Seigel have talked, most recently at the wrestling booster club meeting, and were teammates in the Chris Packer Memorial Golf Tournament this past Sunday.
Seigel coaches under the philosophy of “Confident not cocky” and admits to being an “old school” coach.
According to Seigel, that entails respecting coaches, referees, opponents at all times, and letting the winning take care of itself.
Tunkhannock wrestling, as a whole, will not see many other changes this season. The Holiday tournament will continue with Frank Wadas overseeing and spearheading the event, and the schedule will see only minor adjustments.
The Tigers will not travel to the New Oxford tournament, but will add duels with Abington Heights and, not surprisingly, Crestwood.
“Crestwood is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of wrestling this season, and I will be a part of it,” offered Siegel.
He said of Tunkhannock, “I am invested in the Tunkhannock athletic community. My boys -Josh, Jacob, and Ben- have worn a Tiger uniform in soccer, cross country, swimming, track, and wrestling. We are a wrestling family, and I love what the sport can do for these young men and women. I am proud of what I have done as a coach, and ready to get started with the Tigers.”
“This is a tough sport. It is a combat sport. When people understand that, they learn to respect the student athletes that compete, and that makes wrestling fun and enjoyable,” he said. “And it is always fun and enjoyable when we win.”