‘Team Bruno’ continues to grow

Lori Chase
July 3, 2014

When Bruno Iorfido volunteered to help out at a wrestling camp that former Pitt-Johnstown teammates Isaac Greeley and Aaron Rendos were running in Port Allegany in June 2003, the future seemed set for the UPJ star.

A three-time Academic All-American who finished eighth at that year’s NCAA Division II championships as a junior, Iorfido would shoot for the top of the podium in his senior year before returning to his hometown of Ridgway, where he’d won four consecutive District 9 titles as an Elker, to teach and coach at his alma mater.

“Bruno was at the first camp here. Then I did a camp with him two weeks later, and I remember that camp,” UPJ head coach Pat Pecora said. “They had a national champ who was there in the same weight class from Division I, and they wrestled for about 25 minutes. They were toe-to-toe. Everybody in the whole place was watching them. Afterward, I’m outside and I’m saying, ‘Man, you’re going to win the national title next year!’

“And then, it was the next week…”

Tragically, Iorfido and two friends were killed in an auto accident that July. Soon after, camp organizers Greeley, Rendos, and Sean Lathrop – who had been friends with the Iorfido family since ‘Little Bruno’ started wrestling in Junior Olympics – decided to honor their friend by renaming it in his honor, awarding scholarships in his memory, and trying to pass on the values he lived by.

“I felt and Sean felt that we owed this to Bruno. He was at our camp from the very beginning, and I’ve known Bruno since he was a kid,” Greeley said. “Bruno was like a younger brother to me. I miss him and I think about him all the time.

“He makes me make positive decisions in my life. Whenever I get to a point where I think, ‘I don’t need to do this the right way, I can always just do it the easy way,’ he’s always in the back of my head. I think he follows me around.”

The Bruno Iorfido Wrestling Camp has spread its wings since then, from a dozen or so campers in the early years to 122 this year – Rendos is hoping for 150 next year – and with clinicians making the trek to northern Pennsylvania from as far away as North Carolina, Atlanta, and even California.

“It’s beyond words,” Valerie Iorfido, Bruno’s mother, said at a Thursday-evening cookout that felt more like a giant family reunion.

“It’s amazing,” agreed his father, ‘Big Bruno.’ “Over the last 11 years as this thing has gotten bigger and better, and it’s producing state champions year after year, it so much defines the way that Bruno lived. This was his dream. He went to school to be an elementary teacher because he loved working with kids, and this is exactly his dream. This is his legacy.

“We’re amazed. I’m not good at Facebook, but I see stuff on Facebook about Team Bruno. I’ve seen Team Bruno hats in the Rocky Mountains, I’ve seen Team Bruno t-shirts at Disneyland in California, I’ve seen Team Bruno on a fishing boat in the Atlantic. People, they’re taking this Team Bruno and it’s snowballing.”

Brandon Newill, another Mountain Cat teammate of Iorfido’s who won a national championship at UPJ and was an assistant coach at the University at Buffalo before taking over the Kittanning High School program, brought 13 of his wrestlers to Port this year.

“For me personally, it’s really great to be able to bring that many kids and let them see that family atmosphere – what our team’s all about, what UPJ’s all about, and how we felt about Bruno, why we think this is so important,” he said.

“Really, the motto of the camp is for the kids to see what kind of person Bruno was and to emulate that in their life. That’s what we want. Anybody that knew Bruno, when they got to know him, he was such a warm, loving person that you wanted to be around him. He was such a good guy, such a great role model for kids. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do, make these kids understand why this camp is so important to us, why Bruno is so important to us.”

This year, the BIWC awarded two more $1,000 scholarships to bring the number to an even 20. Open to collegiate wrestlers entering their sophomore year who’ve spent at least three years at ‘Camp Bruno,’ the requirements are simple: Keep a 2.25 average, and write an essay explaining what wrestling and ‘Team Bruno’ have given to you – and how you plan to give back.

“People that are dedicated to the sport and dedicated to a positive lifestyle, people that emulate Bruno,” Greeley said. “We’re really proud to be able to do this. It’s not about money, it’s about helping kids out.”

Nick Budd (Port Allegany, Gannon) and Brian Beattie (Burrell, Mercyhurst) were this year’s winners, with Budd following in the footsteps of his Port High coach, B.J. Greenman, one of the first recipients.

“It’s an honor,” Budd said. “Like they said, it’s a family, and every year it grows. I’m honored to be a part of all of this.”

The ‘family’ theme of the camp was echoed by Pecora, the Division II Hall of Fame member and two-time national Coach of the Year, who noted the UPJ program’s motto of ‘Brothers for life.’

“It’s keeping Bruno alive, not only at Pitt-Johnstown but in this area, where he was so loved and where he lived,” he said. “Bruno was a very special person in my life. He touched a lot of people. That’s what this is about, the people that he touched, and also trying to talk to kids about who Bruno Iorfido was. He was a kid that worked hard at whatever he did. He was an Academic All-American for us. He was an All-American on the mat, he was an All-American in the classroom. He was a good person, he treated people right, he always had a smile on his face.

“The first team meeting we had, everybody’s excited for the beginning of the year and I’m talking about what we’re planning to accomplish, every time I turned I could see his eyes. They were just staring at me. I knew right away, ‘There’s a believer.’ I could see it in his eyes.

“I think what this camp stands for, what Isaac and the rest of the coaching staff are trying to do here, is install the things that we felt were the best of Bruno: The concentration, the hard work, his ethical conduct, his moral standards. I think that’s what these guys are passing on. Trying to tell the kids, ‘When the coach talks to you, look him in the eyes. When the teacher talks to you, look at him. When your parents are talking to you, look at them.’ Just little things like that, the things that Bruno stood for.”

The Iorfidos believe that Bruno still sends them signs, from a rainbow on the first morning of last year’s camp to the 1-in-1,000 odds that younger brother Beau – himself a teacher and assistant wrestling coach at Johnsonburg – would get a Sheetz order ticket with the number 157, Bruno’s weight class at UPJ. Perhaps another one could be found on the mat at Hershey last winter, when four consecutive wrestlers from ‘Team Bruno’ – Jason Nolf (145 pounds, coached by Newill at Kittanning), Steve Edwards (152, coached by Greeley at Burrell), Coudersport’s Kyle Bova (160, coached by Rendos), and Kane’s Evan Delong (170) – won PIAA state championships.

“This camp is a perfect opportunity to get where these guys are,” Greeley said. “I’m proud of these guys. When they won state championships, it’s funny – Aaron and I were in the back hugging. All we said was, ‘That’s Team Bruno out there. Look at that. Team Bruno, another one. Yes. Team Bruno. Boom.’

“When we saw that, we weren’t thinking about Burrell, Kittanning, Kane, Coudersport. We were thinking, we’re a family. This is a true family. This is a team. That’s what wrestling’s all about, being a brotherhood.”

A brotherhood, a family, that helps sustain the Iorfidos.

“It’s just so hard to believe,” ‘Big Bruno’ said. “A lot of people have tragedy in their life. But in a small town like this – and we’re not even from Port Allegany, we’re from Ridgway – how these people go above and beyond and keep his memory alive.”

Valerie added, “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, having their child be forgotten. That is the worst feeling for a parent. Through all this, he will never be forgotten, and that just makes us feel so good as parents.”

“It keeps us going,” her husband said.

And if Greeley and the rest of ‘Team Bruno’ have their way, it’ll keep going for a long, long time.

“Every year it seems to grow,” he said. “It’s only getting stronger, and we have no plans on stopping.”

 

(‘Little Bruno’ would have turned 34 on July 3.)

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