Curtain Call

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

  • 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

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:


“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.” ••

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