Knight wrestlers take their place in history

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Photo by Wayne Dutrow

On a chilly February day, Middletown High School junior Danny Bertoni steps onto the mat. Despite the big stakes, he prepares just like any other match, ready to take on his opponent and battle it out. The crowd is expecting big things from the wrestler, and so is Bertoni. He meets James Pender at the mat with his team behind him and a trophy just in sight.

Minutes later Pender is pinned, and the Knights are on their way to making history.

The Middletown High School wrestling team captured its first duel state championship in school history on Feb. 13.  Although the team has won only one dual state championship, the wrestling program at MHS has a rich and respected history.

“When (the program) started, no one knew anything about wrestling, but now people have come to respect us,” said MHS wrestling head coach James Schartner.

Scahrtner, who has been in the halls of MHS since 1992, has had a plethora of success with the Knights.

During 24 years at MHS, Schartner has won Frederick County coach of the year five times, has had 16 consecutive seasons with a winning record, 23 Maryland State place winners, six individual state champions, one all-American and was inducted into the Frederick County Hall of Fame in 1992.

Included in these achievements are the numerous athletes who Schartner has sent up to the collegiate level.

These alumni include Chad Strube, Joshua Grossnickle, Jacob Ridgely, Judd Ziegler, Tucker Ziegler and Nathan Tice.

Brothers Judd and Tucker Ziegler wrestle for Princeton University and Brown University, respectively, and while Tucker just arrived at Brown this year, Judd has kept a 56–59 record at Princeton, finishing as a three-time letterman.

A fellow MHS alumnus, Strube was a part of the Virginia Tech 2014 ACC tournament championship team and at one point in 2014 was ranked one of the top 25 wrestlers in the nation.

Schartner also attributes some of the Knights’ success to the youth programs that train wrestlers at a young age.

He said, “Athletes have been wrestling for four, five, or 10 years,” and that the experience they gain is extremely important.

One of these young wrestlers was MHS junior Sean Mullican, who just racked up his first individual State Championship this season.

His final match of the season was hard-fought as he took down Smithsburg High School wrestler Bryce Scott, an undefeated opponent, in overtime, 10-5.

“I felt amazing,” Mullican said, adding that he attributed his success to his hard work on the mats with fellow MHS wrestler Tyler Clemmer.

Next to Mullican, Bertoni snagged his third State Championship in three years with the Knights, something only three Frederick County wrestlers have achieved.

“It’s nice,” he said, “but the team championship was more meaningful.”

Agreeing with Mullican’s point, Bertoni said that his teammates at practice, along with his family and coaches, helped him persevere on his quest for a third title.

Along with Bertoni’s three State Champion rings is an outstanding ongoing record of 138-1. “I don’t think about the record because then I’ll focus on not losing,” he added. “I treat every opponent the same.”

Other finishers in their weight classes in the individual State Championship this year included Adam Bain, who placed second, Ed Gurerro, who finished fifth, and Joshua Paige, who finished second.

Last year, when the Knights finished second in the dual state championship, they left the mats with a different tone. “It left a sour taste in my mouth,” Mullican said.

Paige, a varsity wrestler in both of his years at MHS, said that after the runner-up finish, he was “heartbroken.”

But the Knights were only one step from the trophy. “We had gone out there and wrestled the best we could have wrestled,” said Schartner after the championship win.

After collecting championships on both the dual and individual level, the future looks bright for the MHS wrestlers. The unprecedented success the Knights have experienced will most likely skyrocket in coming years.

Schartner said he foresees “a lot of positive… a positive future.”