From 1981 to 1984, a small school with Class AA enrollment dominated the Class AAA wrestling scene in Pennsylvania. The Chartiers-Houston Buccaneers, led by head coach Tim Mousetis, put a tight waist on teams in the WPIAL and PIAA.
The 1982 edition of the Bucs won the triple crown of wrestling: section, WPIAL and PIAA team titles. The Bucs were loaded with talent and it all started in the wrestling room.
“We had a very good situation and I worked them hard. Our practices were intense,” Mousetis said.
“Coach did some of his best work in the wrestling room,” added Kurt Kesneck, a talented wrestler at C-H at that time and currently the school’s athletic director.
“He prepared us well for the opposing team. Today’s coaches juggle their lineup. Not Coach Mousetis. His philosophy was simple: We will put our best against your best and see what happens.”
Another outstanding wrestler was Phil Mary, who is currently the principal at Chartiers-Houston. He knew expectations were high in 1982 after the Bucs won the WPIAL title and finished second in the state to Easton during the ’80-81 season.
“We worked even harder (in the 81-82 season),” Mary said.
“There were no individuals in the room. Though we lost two matches (Shaler and North Allegheny) during the regular season, losing made us better.”
Phil’s brother, Chris Mary, summed up the team’s success best.
“We always pushed each other, and we were a close-knit team. We always had each other’s back,” he said.
“No doubt we had a unique group of guys,” Mousetis said. “I don’t like to lose, but we wrestled a tough schedule.”
Though only a Class AA school in size, C-H wrestled up in classification and didn’t duck quality competition. The Bucs wrestled powerhouses such as Shaler, North Allegheny, Canon-McMillan, Waynesburg, Trinity, Mt Lebanon, Connellsville and Hempfield.
“That made us better,” Mousetis said.
There were few easy moments in the wrestling room.
“I did work them hard. If I coached today, I would get fired,” Mousetis laughed. “We had a great support group. The parents were very good. They let me coach. The kids always listened.”
Sometimes when practiced ended, that’s when the hard work really started.
“I would keep Phil after practice. He weighed 112. I was about 160. I worked him extra hard. He got tired. He also got tough,” Mousetis said.
“There was a lot of respect for Coach,” Phil Mary said. “Coach was a good wrestler in high school and an All-American at Kentucky.”
Some of the best wrestling in the state took place in the Bucs’ wrestling room.
“Chris, Phil and Jimmy (Vulcano) would wrestle each other. They were so good, so competitive,” Kesnick recalled.
This small double-A school put together some impressive years. In 1981, C-H was the runner-up at the state individual tournament. In 1982, state champion. In 1983, runner-up again. In 1984, fourth place in the state.
“We were all born and bred in Houston, not a single move in. Nobody took it easy. The backup kids worked just as hard. No one complained, no one missed a practice. You miss two, you were off the team,” Mousetis explained.
Vulcano added: “We had great workouts. It really made us good. Brutal practices, from 3 to 5 or 6 o’clock. We never thought of ourselves as a Double-A school. As I look back on those great years, we had a special bond that we still share today.”
This was a not a miracle team that won the Class AAA state title. It was a team loaded with a group of outstanding wrestlers who worked hard under a demanding but fair coach.
In the 1982 WPIAL Team Tournament, Chartiers-Houston routed Connellsville 34-8 in the finals.
At the PIAA Championships in Hershey, Phil Mary (105) won his second consecutive state title and Chris Mary (119) placed third at the PIAA meet. Vulcano lost a controversial bout to State College’s Scott Piper in the semifinals, and Brian Bell (145) was a defending state champion but was upset in the semifinals.
Tim Gump (126), Bob Ammon (132) and Kesneck (138) were solid middlweights for the Bucs, and Rob Castelli (155), Sam Avolio (185) and Bill Wood (heavyweight) gave C-H a tough trio in the upper weights.
It was just a group of guys from a small school in Houston that gave high school wrestling fans something to cheer about during a remarkable four-year run.
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly Sunday column about local sports history for the Observer-Reporter.