One of Pennsylvania's most storied high school wrestling programs has a new head coach
Jody Karam enjoyed selling houses as a first-year real estate agent for Morganelli Properties and he still relishes the challenges and responsibilities of being a teacher in the Bethlehem Area School District.
But he was struck with the realization that something was missing in February as he watched the District 11 wrestling tournament at Liberty’s Memorial Gym.
Karam was a spectator for the first time in three decades. He wasn’t crazy about how that felt.
“It hit me hard,” he said Tuesday. “I found my purpose in life. Not to sound profound, but I feel fortunate at 55 to have found my purpose in life.
“I knew I made a mistake in leaving [coaching].”
Karam stepped down after the 2018-19 season as Liberty’s all-time leader in wins (362).
A year later, he returns to Easton — his alma mater — to take over for JaMarr Billman, another Red Rovers alum who was 42-26 in four seasons. Easton is one of the most storied high school wrestling programs in Pennsylvania, ranking second in the state all-time with 968 victories.
The Easton school board approved Karam — with two no votes in Tom Guth and Bill Whitman — on Tuesday night. The board also unanimously approved Blair Academy and Lehigh grad Jordan Kutler as the first head coach of the girls' program that was approved at the previous meeting.
“I had a very short list of schools I’d return to coaching,” Karam said. “Easton and Liberty. It just so happened that Easton opened up.
“My family was sick of having me at home, so they were on board with me applying for the Easton job.”
Not his first try at Easton: This was not Karam’s first go-around with Easton.
After graduating from Lock Haven in 1988, Karam applied for a teaching position and assistant coaching job with the Red Rovers. Young and cocky, he thought he’d get both positions.
Karam got neither one.
He was a UPS driver and volunteered at Easton before becoming an assistant at Phillipsburg. He finally landed his first head coaching job at Delaware Valley Regional, where he spent three seasons after legend Vince Fitz retired.
Karam then spent 26 years at Liberty, the last ending with an EPC title and a third-place finish at the 2019 District 11 Class 3-A team duals.
“At the time , I wanted to know why I didn’t get the job at Easton,” he said. “I thought I was entitled.
“I understand now.”
Karam, who will continue to teach at Liberty and work in real estate, doesn’t have a staff finalized, but said former Easton coaching legend Steve Powell will serve as a volunteer assistant.
Looking for unified culture: The Nazareth resident said his first priority at Easton is to create a unified culture throughout the program. He said it’s crucial, but he’s confident in his ability to forge relationships.
His strength at Liberty was molding tough city kids into a cohesive, hard-working, passion group who often overcame inexperience.
“Everyone realizes there is a problem,” Karam said, “but I’m 100 percent positive in my abilities in bringing unity and putting Easton wrestling where it belongs.
“As a 29-year veteran coach, I’ve seen and heard everything. There will be no surprises."
There was division among parents and administration during Billman’s tenure. He was fired and rehired in March 2018, then had his position opened this spring after a 7-7 season.
As an Easton graduate, Karam understands the community importance of a successive wrestling program.
The way his cell phone lit up the last 24 hours made it that much more real. It also gave him a sense of pride.
“If there were 200 messages,” Karam said, “a third of them were from kids at Liberty. That’s awesome. That goes back to the relationships I talked about.”