HEISER: Coaches help push York-Adams League teams to top of District 3 wrestling mountain

  • Gettysburg beat Dallastown, 33-22, in the District 3 3-A wrestling final Saturday.
  • That gave the York-Adams League its first district 3-A wrestling title in 20 years.
  • Both Gettysburg and Dallastown start PIAA state 3-A action on Thursday in Hershey.
Dallastown head wrestling coach Dave Gable watches his team compete against Gettysburg during the District 3 Class 3-A Team Wrestling Championship at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Gettysburg would win the title, 33-22. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Folks in the York-Adams League wrestling community are walking, and talking, with a bit more pride this week.

There’s good reason for that.

This was a breakthrough season for the big-school programs from the Y-A League — and it’s not over yet.

For the first time in two decades, the local league has produced a District 3 Class 3-A team champion. In fact, the top two schools in the district 3-A field both came from the Y-A League.

In the process, the local league ended the Mid-Penn Conference’s near stranglehold on recent District 3 3-A wrestling championships. Since 2002, a Mid-Penn team had won the district 3-A crown every year but one (Exeter Township’s title in 2017).

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For at least one year, the Y-A League sits firmly atop the District 3 big-school wrestling mountain.

Coaches deserve credit: There are two men who can take more than little credit for that. Their names are Chris Haines and Dave Gable.

Haines’ Gettysburg Warriors (21-0) downed Gable’s Dallastown Wildcats (15-3) in Saturday’s district 3-A final, 33-22. Two of Dallastown's three losses came to Gettysburg, while the other came to Pottsville from District 11. So, neither the Warriors nor the Wildcats lost to a District 3 foe the entire season.

Gettysburg earns a District 3 Class 3-A wrestling title that 'was 10 years in the making'

En route to that district title match, the Y-A teams took out the best teams the Mid-Penn had to offer in the semifinals, namely Mid-Penn Commonwealth champion Central Dauphin (an upset 36-34 loser to Dallastown) and Cumberland Valley (a 43-26 loser to Gettysburg).

Beating those two Mid-Penn powerhouses, which have combined for 14 district 3-A championships since 2002, had to be especially sweet for both Y-A programs.

Reaching such lofty heights culminated an unlikely climb for both teams.

Haines revives Warriors: Haines, a former Warriors mat standout, took over as Gettysburg’s head coach a decade ago. At the time, the program had taken a rather precipitous fall from the Warriors’ glory days under longtime coach Perry Smith, which included a district 3-A team title in 1999.

“This was 10 years in the making,” Haines said Saturday after the win over Dallastown. “Ten and a half years ago, I was asked to come back, and I was hit in the face that we only had nine kids in the program. So, to me, hats off to this community and our administration to backing everything that we did 10 years ago. It wasn’t easy. It’s been a struggle at times.”

Gable returns to Wildcats: Like Haines, Gable returned to his alma mater and helped to rejuvenate the Wildcats program. Gable had previously coached Dallastown for 20 highly successful years, from the 1989-90 season through the 2008-09 campaign. During that time, Gable amassed a career record of 257-84-1, which included 10 Y-A D-I titles and two District 3 3-A crowns (1998 and 2000).

He left head coaching because of family commitments. During his absence, the Wildcats remained a solid program, but Spring Grove became the perennial team to  beat in D-I.

Gable returned in 2017, and by 2019, Dallastown regained the top spot in D-I before relinquishing that crown to Gettysburg this season. The Wildcats have also made the past two District 3 3-A finals. Along the way, Gable picked up his 300th career victory earlier this season.

So there seems little doubt that Haines and Gable deserve more than a little credit for getting the Warriors and the Wildcats to the top of the District 3 mountain.

On to the state tournament: Now the Warriors and the Wildcats get to see how they stack up against the state’s best teams.

Both have qualified for the PIAA 3-A Tournament, which starts Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey.

The competition there will almost certainly be a significant step up in class.

The state team event has never been especially kind to the big schools from the York-Adams League. In fact, since the state team championships started in 1999, a Y-A team has never made a PIAA 3-A title match. The best finish ever by a Y-A team was Gettysburg’s semifinal berth in 1999.

The PIAA openers: Dallastown opens at 6 p.m. Thursday against District 12 champion Father Judge, a team that the Wildcats beat in the 2019 state first round, 40-23. If the Wildcats win, they’ll face either District 1 champion Spring Ford or District 2 champion Delaware Valley in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Gettysburg likely faces an even tougher opening battle at 8 p.m. Thursday vs. Canon McMillan. Yes, Canon McMillan is the third-place team from District 7, but the western Pennsylvania region is one of the top wrestling areas in the state, and Canon McMillan is a traditional state power with two team state titles on its resume.

In the latest Trib/HSSN state 3-A rankings, Canon McMillan was slotted at No. 6. Two other District 7 teams (Waynesburg at No. 2 and Seneca Valley at No. 4) were ranked ahead of Canon McMillan.

Neither Gettysburg nor Dallastown were ranked among the state’s top-10 3-A teams.

If Gettysburg wins its opener, a meeting with No. 3 Bethlehem Catholic will likely loom in the quarterfinals.

If the rankings are accurate, Dallastown should face an easier path than the Warriors, since Father Judge is not ranked and neither is either of the Wildcats’ potential quarterfinal foes.

No walkovers in Hershey: In the state 3-A tournament, however, there are no walkovers. Every team arrives in Hershey with a strong pedigree.

History tells us that Gettysburg and Dallastown are not destined for deep state runs.

No matter what happens in Hershey, however, the Warriors and Wildcats have already enjoyed seasons that won’t soon be forgotten in local wrestling circles.

— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.