Ken Wunderley has this week's High School Wrestling Notebook. Read his story below.
(Photo: Hempfield senior Jarod Verkleeren, pinning Brock Port of Bellefonte, will wrestle at Penn State instead of Iowa State. Marc Billett/Tri-State Sports & News Service)
The WPIAL wrestling community lost one of its most successful coaches May 12 when former Connellsville coach Tom Dolde Sr. passed away at age 78.
Dolde was born in Coraopolis in 1938, but his family moved to Connellsville when he was a junior in high school. He lived and worked there for the rest of his life.
"Dad never wrestled in high school," son Don Dolde said. "His first experience with the sport came in college at Slippery Rock. They were just forming a club team when he was there."
After graduating from college, Dolde became a teacher at Connellsville and worked for the district for 44 years as a history and physical education teacher. His first coaching job was with the junior high basketball team.
Dolde started Connellsville's wrestling program and coached the Falcons for 34 years. He ranks second among WPIAL coaches with a 448-137-6 record. His teams won four WPIAL Class 3A titles, and he coached seven PIAA individual and 22 WPIAL champions. He also served as an assistant with his son, Tommy, as the Falcons won three more WPIAL titles and a PIAA title.
"Dad also coached football for 50 years, with stints at Brownsville, Albert Gallatin, Geibel and Connellsville," said Don Dolde, who served as a junior high wrestling coach at Connellsville for 24 years. "He loved coaching. He loved teaching. He touched so many lives."
Dolde was also a history buff and made numerous visits to Gettysburg. In fact, he wanted to be a tour guide at Gettysburg.
New coach at Canon-Mac
When Jeff Havelka became an assistant coach at Waynesburg College three years ago, the plan was for him to replace head coach Ron Headlee when he retired. That plan changed when the head coaching position opened at Canon-McMillan in April.
"I was a bit surprised when I saw the job opening in the paper," said Havelka, who was hired May 11. "Canon-McMillan has one of the best wrestling programs in the state. I'm very excited to get this opportunity. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Havelka is a Burgettstown graduate who was a four-year starter for the Blue Devils. He was a four-year starter who qualified for the PIAA tournament twice and finished with a 119-49 career record.
"I live in Canonsburg and have taught health and physical education at Chartiers-Houston for five years," Havelka said.
Havelka has one year of head coaching experience. He was Chartiers-Houston's head coach for one season before taking the assistant job at Waynesburg.
"We are excited to have a quality person in Jeff to lead one of the top high school wrestling programs in the country," Canon-McMillan athletic director Frank Vulcano Jr. said. "He knows the expectations are high and that the tradition of Canon-McMillan wrestling is second to none."
Havelka replaces Jason Cardillo, who stepped down after leading the Big Macs to a 52-14 record in four seasons.
Verkleeren happy with PSU
Hempfield senior Jarod Verkleeren had a change of heart after a coaching change at Iowa State.
Verkleeren had signed a letter of intent with Iowa State, but coach Kevin Jackson stepped down and was replaced by Virginia Tech coach Kevin Dresser.
"I made another visit to Iowa State in April," Verkleeren said. "At that point, I reconsidered my options and felt Penn State was the best option for me. It's also closer for my family."
Verkleeren concluded his high school career ranked No. 1 in the country at 145 pounds after winning Class 3A WPIAL and PIAA titles this past season. He finished with a 127-19 career record. He also won a Junior World Freestyle title in 2014.
"Penn State has the best program in the country," Verkleeren said. "They have been No. 1 in the country six of the past seven years. I want to be the best wrestler I can be and Penn State is the best place for me."
Verkleeren is the second WPIAL wrestler to change his mind and choose Penn State. Jefferson-Morgan junior Gavin Teasdale committed to Iowa, but changed his mind after winning a third PIAA Class 2A title in March.