Athletic director steps in to head troubled Latrobe wrestling program
Tuesday, May 19, 2020 | 12:01 AM
Greater Latrobe School Board went to the top of its athletic staff to set a new course for the district’s troubled wrestling program.
The board this week named its athletic director Mark Mears to also serve as wrestling coach, taking leadership of a program rocked in January by hazing allegations resulting in criminal charges against several junior high wrestlers and two former coaches.
Mears, who plans on serving as the school’s athletic director for another season, was installed to the coaching post at Tuesday’s board meeting. He will receive additional supplementary pay of $8,145.
He replaces Mike Ciotti, who resigned after the season. Under Ciotti, Latrobe was making a comeback after a couple of down seasons.
Freshman Vinny Kilkeary won the PIAA title in March, and Gabe Willochell placed third.
“I’m excited about coaching again,” Mears said. “We have a good program here, and I want to continue to build it. I’m bringing in an experienced staff to help me build what could a very good team.”
Mears coached at his alma mater Mt. Pleasant from 2000-2008, where the Vikings won three WPIAL Class AA team titles, and had 11 individual WPIAL champions and 12 PIAA medalists, including one state champion.
Mears, whose coaching record is 121-38, was a WPIAL Class AAA champion in 1985 and graduated from Lock Haven.
Mears is retaining Chad Schmeling as one of his assistant coaches and bringing in former Mt. Pleasant assistant Eric Newill and Greensburg Salem grad Mike Reinhart. Mears said he hasn’t yet defined the roles of his assistants.
School board member Steven LoCascio, who serves on the athletic committee, said Mears was selected as the coach from four applicants. He cited Mears’ experience and his familiarity with district wrestlers and their parents.
“We know there are a lot of things we need to address,” LoCascio said of the wrestling program.
Board president Dr. Michael Zorch thanked Mears for taking on the extra duty and expressed hope he can “heal our program and make us proud of it again.”
One thing Mears plans is having the varsity and junior high school teams in the same room.
“The junior high wrestlers won’t be practicing with the varsity. They’ll be in their part of the room,” Mears said. “There will be times I’ll be coaching the junior high wrestlers at practice while my assistants will be with the varsity.
Every athlete that arrives will be there with every member of my staff.”
State police charged junior high coach Cary James Lydic, 29, of Greensburg and assistant David Francis Galando, 44, of Youngstown with child endangerment and failure to report hazing incidents that were recorded on surveillance video.
Four 15-year-old boys were charged with hazing and possessing an instrument of a crime, according to police, who additionally accused two of them of stalking.
According to court documents, video footage showed wrestlers restraining fellow team members and apparently using a wooden stick to assault them. A parent told the coaches about the assaults and some footage showed the coaches in the same room when wrestlers were being restrained, police said.
Two exhibition wrestling tournaments and an exhibition match were canceled as an investigation began into the incidents.
Lydic and Galando are scheduled to appear before District Judge Michael Mahady for arraignment July 30 and for a preliminary hearing Aug. 10.
According to police, several juveniles told investigators the assault with the stick was a tradition, but Mears said it has not been a historical practice among district wrestlers.
“There are a lot of great kids in the program,” he said, indicating all district athletes now are briefed to make sure they understand what constitutes prohibited acts of hazing and bullying. “There are some issues we’re working on.”
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