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Reitz vs Mater Dei, Thursday Night at 6pm

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The annual Reitz/Mater Dei football game has been recognized as the greatest rivalry among Indiana high schools.  West-siders will tell you the Panthers and Wildcats also enjoy the best wrestling rivalry the Hoosier state has to offer.

Ask any wrestler who has donned the Red & Gold or Blue & Grey and he will tell you about his greatest glory—or nadir of agony—and how it related to the annual Reitz/Mater Dei meet.  For nearly three-quarters of a century, young wrestlers on the west side have grown up with the dream of wearing his school colors and having his hand raised, signifying a win over his arch-rival.

For the series history, Mater Dei has beaten Reitz 69 times, lost eight times and tied once.  Seldom short on excitement, and never short on fan interest, for more than 60 years, the Mater Dei/Reitz dual continues to attract the largest crowds of any high school meet in Indiana.

Fans and coaches circle this date on the calendar with a red pen.  For the coaches and spectators, there are only two outcomes:  euphoria or misery. 

For the combatants, the evening always carries special importance.

A lot of the boys are neighbors and friends off the mat, the conviviality ends when the grapplers toe the line.  This is the night to perform.  For many of the athletes, this will be the biggest stage on which they will ever compete.  Any wrestler, who grows up on the wrestling-mad west side, has daydreamed about delivering his team to victory in front of a packed, raucous house.

At stake is a lifetime of bragging rights.  This is the night for dreams to come true.

A brief history...

One-year-old Mater Dei got a head start on the Panthers, fielding its first team in 1950.  Three years later, Reitz followed suit.

Mater Dei hosted Reitz on January 15, 1953, in what would be the first wrestling dual of the series.

The Wildcats were led by volunteer coach and ex-Chicago Bear, Gus Peters.  Reitz legend Allan Horn coached the Panthers.

Both would later be elected to the Indiana High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“The Mater Dei and Reitz rivalry was in full swing,” said Bob Drone, Mater Dei class of 1953.  “There were about 150 fans showed up for it.  No one knew much about wrestling, but they cheered for their team.”

“Reitz had some big-name football players on the wrestling team,” said Tom Scheller, Mater Dei class of 1954.  “But, we were so fired up, it didn’t matter.  This was wrestling, not football.  Everyone was very determined.”

The pre-match tension was palpable.  The match was nearly underway when Coach Peters discovered that Don “Ape” Scheller was missing.

“Where’s Scheller,” barked Peters.

“He was just here, Coach,” replied the boys.

“Go find him,” ordered Peters.

The search party quickly found Scheller in the locker room smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette.

“I’m really nervous,” Scheller declared.  “This will help calm me down.”

Cigarettes aside, the Wildcats’ experience and pluck proved to be too much for their Westside opponents.  The Panthers succumbed, 51-2.  Reitz’s coach, Allan Horn, became very frustrated during the match.

“He was mad because we were beating them so bad,” said Ed Bergwitz.  “He said to Ape, ‘Scheller, if you didn’t smoke so much you’d be a helluva wrestler.’  That made Gus Peters mad.  So Gus said, ‘He beat anybody that you had, didn’t he?’”

The Wildcats’ experience and pluck proved to be too much for the Panthers and Allan Horn’s grapplers succumbed, 51-2.

By the mid-1960s, wrestling had taken a firm foothold in Evansville and was spreading to neighboring counties.  Harrison, North, Bosse, Central, Reitz and Mater Dei had full, or nearly full, varsity, junior varsity and freshman rosters. 

Reitz and Mater Dei had established themselves as local powerhouses and players in the State wrestling scene.  Mater Dei claimed two State Champions, Fred Happe and Bill Trainer, while both schools boasted several State Placers. 

The rivalry entered its golden era.

Fan interest was sky-high for January 23, 1966 dust up.  Reitz coach Don Henry tapped Reitz’s pool of athletes to field a physical and tough team.  13 years into its program, Reitz, an owner of only two wins and a draw against the Wildcats, had made enormous strides.  The Hilltoppers felt that this could be the team to defeat the ‘Cats.  Henry put the match into perspective.

“If a person who doesn’t know a thing about wrestling can go out and sit through a Reitz/Mater Dei match without getting excited, he’s just not a competitor,” he said.

On the heels of pins by 95 pound Larry Barchet and 103 pound Steve Jarboe, Reitz jumped out to a 10-0 lead.  The Wildcats clawed their way back in and took a 21-16 lead when Bill Hausmann turned in a pin at 154 pounds.  Reitz’s Larry Merritt and Bill Hape claimed back-to-back decision victories to post the Panthers a one-point lead. 

The meet came down to the heavyweights.  Mater Dei’s Bill Pfister took the mat to face Reitz’s Dan Labhart.  To the screams of 1,100 rabid fans, Pfister wasted no time, going after Labhart and getting the fall at the 3:04 mark.

Big Ten referee Bill Bruce officiated the match.

“You know,” he said.  “I’ve never seen as big a wrestling crowd as this anywhere in Indiana.  Not even in the sectional or regional.”

Final score:  Mater Dei- 26, Reitz- 22.

The following season, Reitz and Mater Dei, both undefeated in City play, met on January 19, 1967.  Don Henry was bullish about his team’s prospects.

“This is one of the best teams we have had in eight or nine years,” he declared.

Reitz hit Mater Dei hard, early and often, opening the match with wins by Larry Barchet, Steve Jarboe, Tony Trammel, Randy Hahn, Bill Majors and Dick Metz.  Only Mater Dei’s Gary Martin stopped the Panthers from claiming all of the first seven bouts.

The Wildcats won some matches in the upper weights, but the damage was done as the Panthers turned in a dominating, 26-13 victory in front of 1,000 delirious Panther fans in Reitz’s gym. 

The defeat marked the first City loss for Mater Dei since 1959 and earned Reitz the City title.

In 1968, Harrison dominated the local wrestling scene.  Although Harrison had already clinched the City title, interest was extremely high for the Reitz/Mater Dei dual. 

On January 25, 1,500 fans filed into Mater Dei’s gym to witness a classic.

Reitz jumped on Mater Dei early, getting pins from Bill Steiner and Larry Barchet to grab a 10-0 lead.  Mater Dei dominated the middle weights, getting wins from Greg Kempf, Art Happe, and Tom Schapker.  Reitz answered with their own run, posting wins by Randy Hahn, Bill Bish and Dick Metz. With three bouts remaining and a 22-13 lead, one more win by the Panthers would guarantee a win. 

Mater Dei narrowed Reitz’s lead when Mike Forche beat Reitz’s Bill Hewig, 6-4.  At 180 pounds, the Wildcats’ Steve Pfister got a first period takedown and never trailed, holding on for a nail biting, 4-2 win.  With Reitz clinging to a 22-19 lead, the dual would be decided by the heavyweights.

Frank Buerger immediately attacked Walter Carr and scored a first period fall, sending the Mater Dei Nation into hysterics.

Final score:  Mater Dei- 24, Reitz- 22.

“These guys have overcome a lot of adversity,” praised Mater Dei boss Joe Gossman.  “To come in here and win a match like this, well, it just means a lot.”

In 1969, 2000 fans, a new attendance record, gathered in Reitz’s gym on January 30 to witness the annual donnybrook. 

The Panthers came out on fire, opening with six wins in the first seven weight classes.  The strong start ignited Reitz’s fans making the Wildcats task even more desperate in hostile territory.

Despite winning matches in the upper weights, the deficit was too large to overcome and the Panthers prevailed, 26-16. 

“To those who understand wrestling,” said Don Henry, “It would be the winning in our lower weight classes, because we’re weaker in the heavier divisions.  If we hadn’t won those at first, we could have been in trouble.”

A frustrated Joe Gossman agreed.

“You can’t come out and lose like we did in the beginning and expect to win,” he said.

Reitz’s Gil Barchet, Larry Barchet, Bill Steiner, Craig Deig and Charlie Cook all turned in wins to maintain their unblemished records.  Mater Dei’s Art Happe and John Cartwright also kept their unbeaten seasons intact.

The see-saw series continued, with Reitz grabbing a 23-15, 1970 verdict.  Mater Dei returned the favor with a 34-8 victory over the Panthers in 1971 and claimed victories, by comfortable margins in 1972 and 1973.

Reitz claimed a hard-fought and bitter win in 1974, beating the Wildcats and spoiling their undefeated season.  Winning the match 36-18, it was, and remains the largest margin of victory over the 'Cats.

In the 1974-75 season, Joe Gossman knew his Wildcats would be hard-pressed to win the Thursday night dual.  The ‘Cats entered the affair with a 2-0 record; the Panthers were 5-0.

 

Joe Dewig and Tom Mayer were standouts for the ‘Cats.  The Panthers were led by Marlon Fleming.  Fleming, a 350 pound giant would win the State shot put title in the spring and later star on the gridiron at Indiana University.  Fans on both sides of Division Street had done the math; this match was going to be close.  2,000 fans were on hand in Reitz’s gym to see it.  The hostilities began before the wrestlers took the mat.

“Somebody was setting the videotape up when Latham came over to me and said we couldn’t do it,” said Gossman.  “I had gotten permission, so I told our people to go ahead and plug it in. Then Reitz’s principal turned off the power.  They said the only place we could videotape was from way up in the crow’s next.  We moved everything up there.”

At 5:45 PM, Marlon Fleming was not in the house.

 

“The Reitz coaches were climbing the walls,” said Jerry “Buddy” Parkinson.  “The weigh-in was over at six.  ‘Papa Joe’ (Gossman) was sitting in a chair, against the wall, peeling an orange with an exacto knife.  He had his chin down and didn’t say a word to anyone.  Just peeling that orange, chomping down on his cigar and glancing up at that clock.”

6:00 PM came and went; Fleming missed the weigh-in.  Eventually, Fleming arrived.  Much to the consternation of Reitz coach Jerry Latham, Fleming had “Missed his ride.”

Roger Wathen and Dave Buckman got the ‘Cats started right, offering decision victories at 98 and 105 pounds.  Reitz won at 112 pounds to tighten the score.  Ron Mayer, in his varsity debut, came up huge beating Reitz’s Jolly, 6-4.  Reitz’s Alvey stopped the slide, beating Jeff Helfrich at 126.  Bob Barnes scored an escape that held up for a 1-0 win over Dickinson that initiated a four-match run by the Wildcats.  Mike Schmitt, Dave Cartwright and Joe Dewig offered decision victories that put the ‘Cats in the driver’s seat.

The Panthers, however, had ideas of their own and scored a hat trick of decisions over Mike Vessels, Keith Hartz and Tim Fisher.  With Mater Dei on top, 21-20, the heavyweights would decide the match.  Mike Rupprecht, Mater Dei’s undersized heavyweight toed the line across from Rick Baylor.  In a nip-and-tuck affair, Rupprecht fought Baylor to a draw.  Final Score:  Mater Dei- 23, Reitz- 22. 

“It was a dandy match, and I’m happy as a lark,” Gossman chirped.  “I thought the key matches were at 105 pounds and 119.  I knew we had to win at 105 to have a chance.  Marlon came walking over to me, looking like King Kong and said ‘Why did you not let me wrestle?’  I told him we were just following the rules and hoped that he wasn’t too mad.  He could have eaten me alive.”

“Joe was very calm speaking to Marlon,” recalled John Schroeder.  “Very polite and using all of his Dale Carnegie skills.”

Rupprecht would have had his hands full with the behemoth Fleming.  A miserable Jerry Latham reckoned that the miscue likely cost his Panthers the match.

“He could have rented a Greyhound bus, and I would have paid for it,” he lamented.

For Mater Dei fans, the night was a smashing success.  And the impromptu videotape?

“We got the best pictures we ever had,” said Gossman.

Reitz won the 1976/76 match which ended a decade with 5 wins for the Wildcats and 5 for the Panthers.

Nine of the ten contests between 1966 and 1976 were the highest-attended wrestling meets in Indiana.


The November 29, 1979 featured unexpected heroes, bombastic coaches, a boisterous crowd, lead changes and superstar wrestlers.  The 38th meeting of Reitz and Mater Dei is considered the greatest-ever dual between the Westside powers.

Jerry Latham, a future Hall of Fame coach, was in his 11th season as the Reitz skipper.  Latham, Reitz’s golf coach, leveraged a strong staff of assistant coaches and Reitz’s reservoir of athletes to field successful teams.  Latham’s teams were known for their physical and punishing wrestling style. 

“(Reitz assistant coach) ‘Porky’ Nau was tough,” said Reitz alumnae Joe Schweizer.  “He hated it when the guy on bottom wouldn’t move.  If you were lying around during practice, Porky would jump on you and rub his beard scruff on you.  It hurt.  Porky would say ‘See there?  You can get out.’  He made us mean.”

 

Any great conflict requires a villain; Jerry Latham was Mater Dei’s perfect foil.  Quotable and outspoken, Latham gave the Wildcats plenty of bulletin board material.  His distaste for Mater Dei was palpable.  The situation came to a head in the 1977 SIAC qualifier when Latham got into an ugly confrontation with graduated Mater Dei wrestler and referee Mark Schnur.  The near-donnybrook led to Latham’s ejection, accusations, finger-pointing, and denials.  Young Mike Goebel was in his second year at the helm of Mater Dei.  Short on years and long on intensity, Goebel had no intention of ceding anything to the Reitz Panthers.

 

Outsized firepower dotted both line-ups.  For Mater Dei, Tim Boots would win a State Title in 1980, while Chris Wildeman would win in 1981.  Future State Qualifiers, Larry Boots, Jeff Parkinson, Tom Zenthoefer, Dan Burch and Joe Bassemier rounded out the line-up. 

 

Reitz was led by Jeff Harp.  Harp is considered to be the greatest wrestler ever produced by Reitz, as he won back-to-back State Titles.  Roger Reisz was a two-time State Runner-up, losing the title both times to Delta’s David Palmer, an Indiana wrestling legend. Tony Morrow completed his career with a fourth-place showing at the State Meet.  The 1,200 gathered in Mater Dei’s gym that Thursday evening knew it was going to be a tight match.  Although Mater Dei owned a 30-8 series advantage, recent meetings had been close.  Mater Dei eked out a one-point victory in 1977 and lost to Reitz in 1976. 

 

Young Mike Goebel, in his second year at the reins of Mater Dei, knew that the going would be rough.

 

“It’s going to be a very tough meet,” he commented.  “I think our kids are ready.”

 

“I’d rather beat Mater Dei than eat,” said Jerry Latham.  “Having been a psychology major, I don’t want to say anything to fire Mater Dei up, but I do know they’re going to have to wrestle hard to beat us,”

 

“Tom-Tom” Zenthoefer opened the match and limited the damage, losing to Jeff Harp, 11-2.  Tony Morrow followed with a 7-0 win over Mater Dei’s Lindsey Kempf.  Dan Burch got the ‘Cats on the scoreboard, scoring a first period takedown and defeating Joe Schweizer, 2-0.  The Panthers made it three of four when Bruce Backes pinned Dave Morris in the third period.  The Wildcats seized the momentum by winning the next two bouts.  Larry Boots pinned Mike Rippy at 126, followed by a tight, 4-2 decision by Tony Head over Ken Camp.  Reitz’s Mike Barchet returned the favor, beating Dave Weaver, 4-2.  Trailing 16-12, Chris Wildeman gave Mater Dei its first lead of the evening, pinning Mark Schweizer in the first period.  Roger Reisz initiated the second lead change, beating Jeff Parkinson, 6-4.  Parkinson gave Reisz all that he wanted.  With a few seconds left on the clock and the scored knotted at four, Parkinson tried an escape that resulted in a near fall for Reisz, accounting for the final margin.  Dan Lomax and Stan Gerard battled to a tie, freezing the match differential. 

 

Enter sophomore Joe Bassemier at 177 pounds.  Bassemier, starting his varsity first match for the ‘Cats, had no small task.  Reitz senior Joe Shrode was a standout athlete, excelling on the football field and wrestling mat.  Particularly galling to the Mater Dei Nation was the fact that Shrode had grown up in the Mater Dei feeder league.  Bassemier gave up the opening takedown to Shrode but scratched his way back into the match in the second period, to knot the score.  Both wrestlers began to tire and were penalized for stalling.  Bassemier grabbed his first lead of the match with an early, third period reversal and was on his way to the win when Shrode scored a reversal, with 20 ticks remaining, to tie the score.  The match was poised to go to overtime when Referee Jim Shannon raised his fist a moment before the buzzer, calling Shrode for another stalling penalty. 

 

Reitz Coach Jerry Latham went ballistic, stormed the scorer’s table and demanded that Shannon reverse the call.  The cocksure Shannon had nothing to do with it; the decision stood.  When Bassemier’s hand was raised, bedlam ensued, as Mater Dei fans clapped, screamed and jumped.  189-pound Tim Boots took the mat and pinned John McCullough to put the Panthers away.  Dan Winiger’s win over Mater Dei’s Ted Boarman was academic.  Final Score: Mater Dei- 29, Reitz- 27.  After the match, Latham was still fuming.

 

“That (The Bassemier/Shrode match) was the turning point,” said Latham.  “A ref can take it away from you.  He (Shannon) came over to my practice Monday and visited Mater Dei this week, too.  He told us what he was going to do.  He said he was going to call stalling, he told me I’d better sit down and he was going to watch for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The rules all cover that and we know it.  It was not ethical of him and we did notify the assistant commissioner of the IHSAA.”

 

“I was not expecting a penalty point at the end,” said Mike Goebel.  “When you are on top you can’t just lay there, you have to go for the fall.  Shrode did not.  He (Bassemier) was scared to death before the match,” said Goebel.  “Give him credit for his guts.  That was the turning point.”

 

“I guess I had a few butterflies in my stomach,” Bassemier conceded.  “Everybody figured I was the underdog.  But the guys had faith in me and I knew we needed it.”

 

The 1980 match was also a thriller; it ended in a tie.  Although the match was deadlocked, Latham saw victory in the dust-up claiming “They tied us, we didn’t tie them.”

 

1980 was the last time Latham got close.  In his career, Latham beat Mater Dei twice.  For the following 28 years, Mater Dei dominated, averaging 55 points per contest while holding Reitz to 9.

 

In 2010, the Panthers broke through, beating the Wildcats, 36-21 in front of 2000 fans in Mater Dei's gym.  It marked Mater Dei’s first loss to a City team in 34 years.  The win was especially significant as this was the first Reitz class to win a state football title and defeat Mater Dei in wrestling.  It was a huge win for Reitz's Scott Ferguson--This represented the first time as an athlete, assistant or head coach that his team had defeated the Wildcats.

 

Two weeks later, the hits kept coming as fifth-ranked Reitz defeated Mater Dei for the SIAC title, Reitz's first since 1976. 

 

Third-year coach Greg Schaefer had plenty of stomach acid leading to the sectional as it seemed inevitable that Mater Dei's 34-year of sectional dominance would end on his watch.

 

However, Reitz's dream of a Team State appearance ground to a halt in the semifinals as the Wildcats picked up steam and the Panthers faltered.

 

John Sims summed up the day:  “Being the first team to lose to Reitz in 35 years hurt,” he said. “Our main concern today was just to win.  We’d been losing close matches, which just isn’t like Mater Dei. We really stressed being more aggressive, really trying to pile up extra points. This was our little payback.”

 

Neil Hammelman put an exclamation mark on the day, pinning his Reitz foe for the sectional title.  It was Hammelman's first victory over him in four tries.

 

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With the exception of Ferguson a couple years ago, Reitz has been down since the days of Kuhn, Moody, Reuger and VanHook. 

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On 1/11/2018 at 10:35 PM, 1prouddad said:

With the exception of Ferguson a couple years ago, Reitz has been down since the days of Kuhn, Moody, Reuger and VanHook. 

A few short years ago, Reitz was a perrenial top ten team.

Two great matches at 182 and 195 last night, but MD wins an otherwise straightforward affair, 64-6.

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Hook, why doesn't MD provide individual results when reporting duals on here?  Or report any results when they leave the state?  As a fan no longer in Evansville, it's frustrating not being able to find out who wrestled who and who won/lost.  MD isn't the only school  like this, but outside Team State and the MD Classic, it's damned near impossible to follow MD wrestling from afar.  If I am wrong and there is another way, please let me know.  All that said, I know it's not your responsibility to do so....  Thanks for your $.02 

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7 hours ago, SWINfan said:

Hook, why doesn't MD provide individual results when reporting duals on here?  Or report any results when they leave the state?  As a fan no longer in Evansville, it's frustrating not being able to find out who wrestled who and who won/lost.  MD isn't the only school  like this, but outside Team State and the MD Classic, it's damned near impossible to follow MD wrestling from afar.  If I am wrong and there is another way, please let me know.  All that said, I know it's not your responsibility to do so....  Thanks for your $.02 

MD faces, even at a youth level, high levels of hostility wherever it completes.  Virtually every MD parent has a host of stories of offensive enlightenment by a total stranger.  There is a certain bunker mentality.  

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Castle is notoriously bad when it comes to team results, let alone individual results.  It’s the coach’s philosophy in their case. It sucks but it is what it is. 

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On 1/13/2018 at 12:00 PM, backtothemat said:

Castle is notoriously bad when it comes to team results, let alone individual results.  It’s the coach’s philosophy in their case. It sucks but it is what it is. 

Maybe it's because the kids spend way to much time "listening" to what is said as opposed to going out and doing their jobs?   Call it what you want...Bulletin Board Material?   Whatever.   Could be a case of coaches understanding their kids and the negative effects reading various sources of propaganda or what have you can have on a kids mind.

One other factor may very well be the complete and total lack of media coverage given our sport, especially in the Southwestern corner of the state.   Seldomly does one see as much as a mention in the local fish wrap about our sport.   But give a kid an orange ball and let them chase it all over a gym and how could we ever live without 50 articles a day about that????

Schools like Mater Dei, Castle, and Memorial will get a mention now and then, but try being a Bosse, Boonville, North Posey, or Heritage Hills...I seriously doubt the local sports editors are even aware they have programs.  Is that the coach/School AD's responsibility?   Not entirely.   If the media was worth a crap they would ASK about various sports..you know, take an interest in Lacrosse as well as Soccer...Wresting as well as Basketball...etc etc..

 

 

 

 

 

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