MEADOW LANDS – When Jerry Seaman purchased an old barn on Route 40 near the eastern edge of Claysville, he planned to turn it into a restaurant that would carry him into retirement away from wrestling, a sport to which he devoted the better portion of his 50 years.
But one of his former wrestlers, Jeff Breese, Sr., had different ideas.
Soon after Seaman purchased what would simply become known in wrestling circles as “The Barn,” Breese called his former coach with a simple question: Where are we putting the wrestling room?
The basement was the perfect spot.
“He said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve got time for that,’” said Breese. “But then it just started to evolve. There was room down there. He got involved with the kids. I was already involved with the kids. It was just an amazing situation at the time. We had some great kids coming in. Jerry is a great salesman. Any kid he ever saw that was good, he would tell them to come down to The Barn. We’d get those kids in there. It was just a great place.”
It was a place where future state and NCAA wrestling champions would visit, hoping to learn a little more, be pushed a little harder, anything to make a difference.
And Seaman, himself a PIAA champion at McGuffey in 1963 who would go on to wrestle at Penn State, was the conduit through which it all ran.
For his lifetime of achievements, including his work at The Barn, Seaman was one of 13 individuals inducted into the Washington-Greene County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Friday night at the DoubleTree by Hilton.
It was an honor a long time coming for the 70-year-old, who is now wheelchair-bound after a fall from a roof in 2010 left him partially paralyzed with a broken neck.
“I’m very proud for this honor,” Seaman said. “I’ve had other organizations approach me in the past and I always told them to give it to the kids. I’m old, I don’t need that. When (Hall of Fame member) Don Zenner asked me this time, he said, ‘Jerry, I want to put you up for the Hall of Fame.’ I thought, ‘Well, there probably won’t be many wrestlers.’ I figured I’d better do this, I’m running out of time with a broken neck, in a wheelchair and at 70 years old. My gosh, there’s five wrestlers in this group. I couldn’t believe it.”
Included in that group of five wrestlers was Breese’s own son, Jeff Jr., one of the star pupils at The Barn and a two-time PIAA champion who went on to compete at North Carolina State.
In fact, it was the success of McGuffey’s four-time PIAA champion Jeremy Hunter and the younger Breese that helped make The Barn one of the hottest wrestling centers in the state, if not the country.
“We had a lot of kickers in there, Jeremy Hunter, I don’t know many nights I spent with him, Jeff, Troy Letters, Vertus Jones from West Virginia,” Seaman said. “All of them came. I had them from all over coming to camps for me, a new guy every day.”
It’s not often somebody will pay another person to physically abuse them. But according to the elder Breese, that’s what happened at The Barn. Wrestlers would go there looking to get tougher. And Seaman was a master at pushing athletes to their limits, even taking to the mat with them - despite a knee replacement surgery - to show them proper techniques well into his 60s.
“He was as tough then as he ever was,” Breese said. “I still tell guys all the time, kids in practice or the college kids, stuff my coaches did. I had him and (Ron) Junko both. They would beat me to death, both of them. They would just beat you up and then laugh at you. He was still like that with the kids.
“They weren’t mean or malicious. It was just, ‘You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to do this.’ They could do that kind of stuff to you in a good way.”
It was a toughness Seaman knew he had to instill if they wanted to become champions.
“I had tons of guys. We really worked them hard,” Seaman said. “We taught them well. They liked it. We had good people in to help them and coach them. I took kids to Vegas. They loved it. They had the World Trials there. So all the coaches got to see my boys. They all got full scholarships.”
Despite his current situation, Seaman still watches wrestling every chance he gets. Though he closed The Barn after his accident, his legacy continues.
The elder Breese is now the head wrestling coach at Washington & Jefferson College after two stints as head coach at McGuffey, while his son recently was hired as head coach at Buena Vista University in Iowa. And Seaman can still turn on the television and watch some of his former pupils on the mat, all part of his lasting legacy in the sport.
“My gosh, I’m just so proud of them all,” Seaman said. “I had three kids on the nationals on TV that I helped bring up. What a tribute that is. I’d look at it, ‘That’s one of my boys. There’s another one of my boys.’ I couldn’t believe it.”