He has made the leap from contributing to a tradition decades in the making to helping start a new one.
Anthony Siwek — a Bridesburg resident and former North Catholic student athlete — is now a senior wrestler at Father Judge High School. It’s only his second season as a Crusader but he’s already helped make history on Solly Avenue.
The Father Judge varsity wrestling squad earned its first-ever Philadelphia Catholic League championship appearance when the team went up against powerhouse La Salle High School on Feb. 1.
The Crusaders didn’t claim the title crown. They did turn in a stellar performance, gaining an early lead but eventually falling to the Explorers, 37-27.
Father Judge stormed to an 18-12 lead during the first six matches of the championship contest in La Salle High School’s gymnasium. The Explorers retaliated, though, claiming wins in seven of the final nine bouts of the night.
The championship win was La Salle’s fourth consecutive PCL title.
“We did really well as a team. We wrestled real tough against them,” said Siwek, who defeated La Salle’s Pat McGinley by a 3-2 decision in the 106-pound weight class. “The younger guys got put in tough situations, and they really stepped up.
“I think I could have wrestled better. It felt good to win, but I felt like I didn’t do my complete job,” he added. “I only won (on a ) decision, but I’m capable of doing better than that. He (McGinley) wrestled a smart match against me. I’m a little angry about it.”
Siwek still has a chance at redemption. The title bout capped off an 8-2 Philadelphia Catholic League record for the Crusaders this season, but they aren’t done just yet.
Father Judge wrestlers will compete in the District 12, Southeastern PA Regional, and eventually in the PIAA State Championship tournament if they qualify. (Father Judge can qualify as a team, as well as individual wrestlers.)
“Obviously, our goal is to win a district title and go to the state tournament as a team,” said Father Judge head coach Jim Savage. “I think this year has been one of my most enjoyable years coaching. It has nothing to do with winning or losing. Watching a group of kids improve as much as they have from the beginning of school year to now … coming in and doing the hard work. I’m really starting to see a lot of people have a lot of success.”
Savage is no stranger to coaching in the Philadelphia Catholic League. A graduate of North Catholic High School and a former wrestler for the Falcons, Savage returned to his alma mater as the head wrestling coach for 13 years.
When the financially strapped Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed North Catholic in 2010, Savage was offered the coaching job at Father Judge. He has guided the Crusaders to two postseason appearances in as many seasons and an overall 15-4 record.
“When North was closing, I sat down with them (his wrestlers) and I told them where I was going,” explained Savage. “I told them that we were going to have the same type of training and values that we had at North. We had some kids go to (Archbishop) Ryan and some to Roman (Catholic).”
Then, of course, there were the ones who followed Savage.
“Our coach came to Judge. As soon as he said he was coming, I made an immediate decision to come to Judge,” said Siwek, who was joined by five other North wrestlers. “Last year the Judge kids didn’t really understand the tradition of hard-nosed, tough wrestling. Now the kids are really starting to pick it up. ‘Sav’ (Savage) tells them to keep an eye on when we’re wrestling. Now they really get how to wrestle tough. Everyone is working hard.”
Savage also thinks his North wrestlers had an impact on the Judge squad.
ldquo;I think it allowed us to have success a lot faster than if I just came over here and told them how hard they need to work,” the coach said. “Having those guys come in and show them was very important to improve to where we’re at.”
For Siwek, the transition offered an opportunity to become a leader for his squad. Only in his fourth year of competitive wrestling, Siwek embraced his new role and improved his own game.
“When he was as a freshman, he only weighed seventy pounds. He was tiny,” said Savage. “As he’s gotten older, he’s grown and his body filled out. He has put in a lot of time and effort. His goal is to go to the state tournament and make a run for a state medal.”
Currently ranked among the state’s top 10 wrestlers, Siwek has put together a 68-16 record during his high school career. Last year, he competed for the Middle Atlantic Junior Olympic Championship team and earned a silver medal.
“My goal is to make it to the PIAA state tournament and place in the top eight,” said Siwek, 17. “It was a tough loss in the championship, but now we’re right back in it. We’re not done yet.” ••EndFragment