Northeast Times

Curtain Call

  • One-man wrecking crew: After wrestling for La Salle as a freshman and for Phil-Mont Christian as part of a co-op program the next two years, Richie Cerebe helped put Calvary Christian Academy on the map, winning a state medal as a one-man team. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Richie Cerebe (second from left) stands on the podium after winning his medal in Hershey. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CEREBE FAMILY

Jon Bon Jovi once sang that no man is an is­land. 

Ap­par­ently, he nev­er met Rich­ie Cerebe.

Cerebe, a seni­or wrest­ler at Cal­vary Chris­ti­an Academy in Somer­ton, re­cently re­turned from the post­season state tour­na­ment in Her­shey with some new hard­ware around his neck, fin­ish­ing sixth in the PI­AA Class AA brack­et at 152 pounds.

The most fas­cin­at­ing as­pect of Cerebe’s jour­ney is not that he came home with a state medal, but rather how he got there. You see, while every oth­er wrest­ler in the state tour­na­ment im­proved upon their craft throughout the sea­son by mix­ing it up with team­mates in the prac­tice room, Cerebe wasn’t so lucky.

In fact, Cerebe is Cal­vary Chris­ti­an’s only wrest­ler. The school doesn’t have a team, so after a fresh­man sea­son at La Salle, Cerebe trans­ferred to Cal­vary to be closer to home and wrestled for Phil-Mont Chris­ti­an in Glen­side as part of a co-op pro­gram. When that spon­sor­ship ex­pired fol­low­ing his ju­ni­or year, he knew full well he wanted to rep­res­ent his own school in his fi­nal go-round, which left one burn­ing ques­tion:

How?

“To be able to gradu­ate from Cal­vary, that was something I really wanted,” Cerebe said at the kit­chen table of his Somer­ton home the Monday after he re­turned from Her­shey. “I knew I wanted to make it work some­how. People knew who I was, but at the same time I really hadn’t made a name for my­self. I wanted to get to the state level and achieve something, but it’s hard to find prac­tices when you’re a one-man team.”

Enter Cerebe’s fath­er, Rich. Luck­ily for the young­er Cerebe, he’s not totally an is­land, adrift at sea without a life­jack­et. No, his fath­er stepped up as his coach, me­tic­u­lously design­ing a workout pro­gram for Rich­ie while work­ing with tour­na­ment dir­ect­ors to al­low his lone wolf son to hit the mat without an en­tire team be­hind him.

“Rich­ie wanted to rep­res­ent Cal­vary … it was a school spir­it thing,” Rich said. “I had a plan, but only on pa­per, so things could and did change. Rich­ie and I agreed he was go­ing to have to have pa­tience and dis­cip­line to make this work. Luck­ily, he’s the hard­est-work­ing ath­lete I’ve ever seen, so he’s not afraid to push him­self out­side of his com­fort zone. As a wrest­ler, that’s how you have to work.”

Without a co­ordin­ated team prac­tice, Rich would drive Rich­ie after school to MPR En­dur­ance, a mixed-mar­tial arts train­ing fa­cil­ity in Fair­less Hills to train. Rich­ie also spent time train­ing with loc­al wrest­lers such as Fath­er Judge’s Joe Galasso (whom he’s known since he was a child) and Ne­sham­iny’s Ra­heem Ra­ham­atulla, a rising ju­ni­or, something he said was in­valu­able in a seni­or sea­son where he went 23-5, won dis­tricts, re­gion­als and his 100th ca­reer match.

“In the prac­tice room, I usu­ally take it to the kids to the point where they get bet­ter, but at the same time I’m not get­ting what I need,” Rich­ie said. “A guy like Joey, who’s won a state title, took it to me and helped push me to the next level. He showed me if you have the right work eth­ic, then noth­ing can stop you.”

Ad­ded Rich, re­gard­ing Ra­ham­atulla: “That kid, I don’t even know if he real­izes how big a part of Rich­ie’s suc­cess he was, just en­dur­ing the pun­ish­ment Rich­ie put him through in prac­tice. He was a steady part­ner who wouldn’t com­plain or cry. They both got a lot out of it.”

In Her­shey, Cerebe knocked off his first op­pon­ent, 9-0, be­fore up­set­ting fa­vor­ite Drew Doak in the quarterfi­nals, 3-1. In the semis, he had South­ern Columbia’s Blake Marks on the ropes with about a minute left in the match, be­fore Marks ex­hib­ited a “funky move” and was able to pin Rich­ie, keep­ing him out of the state fi­nals. Cerebe lost his two con­sol­a­tion round match-ups the next day to fin­ish sixth.

“The next two, I just couldn’t get my mind off how close I was,” Rich­ie ad­mit­ted. “Be­ing 45 to 60 seconds away from the fi­nals of the toughest tour­na­ment in the coun­try, it was rough. I couldn’t get my head back in­to it. But it was a great run. It didn’t go ex­actly the way I wanted, but I still made a mark and I’m pretty proud of that. Even just talk­ing about it now is dis­ap­point­ing, but bet­ter things are com­ing my way in col­lege.”

In­deed. Rich­ie has already com­mit­ted to Mes­si­ah Col­lege, a Di­vi­sion III wrest­ling power­house loc­ated just out­side of Har­ris­burg. The school has a strong crim­in­al justice pro­gram, which in­terests Rich­ie, and the school’s wrest­ling coach, Bry­an Brunk, said in his re­cruit­ing pitch that Mes­si­ah was a few wrest­lers away from a na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship. He sees Rich­ie as one of those miss­ing pieces.

“To win a na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship in col­lege, I think that’s any ser­i­ous wrest­ler’s dream,” he said. “And after what I’ve been through already, that thought doesn’t seem so dis­tant.”

If Rich­ie’s unique sea­son ac­com­plished any­thing, it’s that it brought him even closer to his fath­er. Not that they ne­ces­sar­ily needed it, be­cause they already shared a tight-knit bond tra­cing all the way back to when Rich­ie was 5 years old and star­ted play­ing com­pet­it­ive sports. 

“We star­ted to­geth­er all the way back then, and the best thing he said to me was, ‘I want you to coach me to a state medal this year,’ ” Rich said. “For me to be able to go up there and place the medal around his neck, it was a great mo­ment. The greatest mo­ment.

“People didn’t think he’d even make it to states giv­en all he went through with his situ­ation, so it’s amaz­ing. He ac­com­plished everything this sea­son that he’s worked so hard for.”

And des­pite fall­ing short of a state cham­pi­on­ship in Her­shey, in the end, Rich­ie has no re­grets. Par­ti­cip­at­ing in a sport that re­quires so much phys­ic­al and men­tal dis­cip­line tends to al­low com­pet­it­ors to leave everything on the mat.

“The sport, it ex­poses your char­ac­ter, shows you what you’re made of,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d be do­ing now if not for wrest­ling. It’s the hard­est thing I’ve ever done, and it trans­lates to life. It makes things that once looked im­possible seem easi­er. I’ve done foot­ball, hockey, soc­cer and swim­ming, but wrest­ling just can’t be touched in terms of what it takes to suc­ceed.

“You learn things about your­self you may not have oth­er­wise known. It all trans­lates. It opens your eyes. People try to com­pare it to oth­er sports, but to me, it doesn’t really com­pare at all. All you need is the right mind­set. Once you have that, noth­ing can stop you. You can achieve any­thing you want to.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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