The Pitt-Johnstown wrestling program’s magic number was 500 on Saturday night.
Actually, “500 & Beyond.”
A special reception recognized UPJ coach Pat Pecora for becoming the first coach in NCAA Division II wrestling history to reach 500 wins.
UPJ also officially launched the “500 & Beyond” fundraising campaign with a goal of having 500 donors contributing in support of the Mountain Cats’ wrestling program.
“For us at Pitt-Johnstown, Coach Pecora is so many things,” said UPJ President Dr. Jem Spectar. “He’s much more than a coach. He’s a friend, a mentor, an inspiration.”
Pecora actually reached the 500-win milestone during UPJ’s 39-3 victory over Shippensburg on Feb. 14 last season. Including Saturday’s 47-0 win over visiting Ohio Valley, Pecora has a career 503-135-5 record in 37 seasons with the Cats.
Among his lengthy list of accomplishments as UPJ’s coach, Pecora has led two Division II national championship teams (1996 and 1999) and coached 10 individual national champions who have combined to win 17 total titles.
He’s had 134 All-Americans and nearly 100 Academic All-Americans.
“You look at what Pat has done over the years, being here when he first started and seeing where it’s gone in all those years, it’s all him,” said Sean Isgan, UPJ’s national runner-up at heavyweight in 1981. “It’s 100 percent him. You look at other programs and say, ‘What’s the difference?’ It’s Pat. It’s that simple.”
Isgan was the first UPJ wrestler to reach a national championship bout. The Somerset native believes Pecora’s family-first approach is key to success on and off the mat.
“He’s genuinely concerned about every single person that walks into that wrestling room,” Isgan said. “He’s made it a family. It stays a family. It continues to grow every year.”
The “500 & Beyond” committee hopes UPJ’s past and current success under Pecora will lead to a successful campaign that will impact the program’s future.
Through Friday, 41 donors had already contributed more than $10,000 before the campaign officially was announced.
“Coach Pecora has become a pillar, not just in our campus community, but in our athletic landscape locally and nationally,” said former Mountain Cat Greg Grimes, who also is on the committee. “Pat is the guy we want to be like.
“He’s a great leader and provides the best direction for the road map for us as we leave here,” Grimes added. “It’s so much more than wrestling. He’s growing a community of young – and now that he’s been here so long – older men, and he uses wrestling to do that.”
The current Mountain Cats did their part to make the milestone night even more memorable for Pecora.
UPJ shut out Ohio Valley, 47-0, to improve to 3-2.
Sean O’Connell (197 pounds) and Gary Lantz (174) each had pins. Joel Paolo (157) and Evan Link (125) had major decisions.
Ben Rager (141), Jack Bachman (149) and Josh Duplin (heavyweight) also had wins, with Duplin providing the most drama in his 4-3 overtime win, which took six extra periods, against Blake Lucas.
Ohio Valley (1-2) also had three forfeits.
“When I think back to when it all started, a lot of people in this room had something to do with it,” Pecora said to a gathering of family, friends and former wrestlers at the Pitt-Johnstown Athletics Hall of Fame room prior to the match against the Fighting Scots.
“Our first win was actually on the stage of the old gym (at the former Student Union Building),” Pecora said. “I used to have to grab guys out of the cafeteria because we didn’t have enough guys on the team. I was literally taking people’s trays and saying, ‘What do you weigh?’ ”
UPJ has had winning records 34 times in Pecora’s previous 36 seasons.
“We’ve come such a long way since then,” Pecora said. “500, it seems like it went by just like that.”