And while I’m dusting off the blog, I’ve been promising Sean Lathrop this story for about a month now. Finally…..
July 13, 2017
They’ve reached the heights of their sport: NCAA champions and All-Americans, Hall of Fame college coaches, jiu-jitsu black belts, mixed martial arts fighters who’ve entered the UFC and Bellator cages – and, for a select few, even representing their countries in Olympic and world championship competition.
And for a week every June, they gather in the northern Pennsylvania mountains to remember a fallen comrade by sharing their knowledge with the next generation.
The 14th annual Bruno Iorfido Wrestling Camp, held from June 19-23 this year, once again combined top-level instruction in the sport with a variety of off-the mat activities for campers and clinicians alike.
“It’s a great experience. Some of these kids have never seen hills like this, or even put a fishing pole in the water, until they come here,” said Al Beattie, whose son ‘Little Al’ was one of three collegiate scholarship winners along with Port Allegany alumni Mac Tanner (Clarion) and Casey Vollmer (Gannon), bringing the total amount awarded to the $30,000 mark.
But while there’s time for fun and games, the main focus is to remember Iorfido, the former Ridgway standout who went on to become an All-American at Pitt-Johnstown before dying in an auto accident in 2003. The idea is to not just teach wrestling moves, but Bruno’s work ethic, dedication, determination and moral values to the young campers.
“We talk all week about leaving a legacy: What kind of person are you going to be when it’s your time? Are you going to be someone that’s going to be remembered for the type of person that you were, the type of person that was there to help people? Someone that someone would want to do something like this for you? That’s exactly why we have this going in Bruno’s name,” said Isaac Greeley, one of the camp’s co-founders along with Sean Lathrop, Aaron Rendos and Jared Kuleck.
Greeley, a Port High alum who went on to earn All-American status on UPJ’s 1999 national-championship squad, was an assistant coach when Iorfido was a Mountain Cat, while Rendos, a Brockway native, was both Bruno’s teammate and roommate.
“You’ve heard it year after year that a lot of the new kids don’t know what he was all about and what he meant to all of us,” Rendos told the young wrestlers. “We kind of want to instill that with you. I try to do that with my own kids, try to get them to grow up like Bruno, the type of person Bruno was. We miss him every day, but he’s here in spirit. Things that happen in my life, I’m always thinking of him and he’s with me.”
That mindset has stayed the same for the last decade and a half, witnessing the camp’s growth from a couple dozen kids to one which draws clinicians from around the country – and now the world.
“We’ve got a lot of younger kids coming here just to train, especially some of the fighters. Wrestling might not be their thing, but if you come to this camp you can roll around with some of the best guys in the country. It’s a special thing. I think a lot more people are coming from the outside, wanting to come in, which makes it easier for us to expand the camp and bring in some of these top guys,” Rendos said at one of the camp’s traditional events, a Thursday-afternoon picnic.
“I mean, yesterday we had a four-time All-American, two-time national champ (Penn State’s Quentin Wright) in the morning, and then in the afternoon you get an Olympian (Uzbekistan’s Bekzod Abdurakhmonov) that beat one of America’s best in the world at Rio. He showed some really cool stuff.
“It’s been amazing to see the growth of this, especially in the last five years. Kind of the Bruno spirit, bringing that back to where they got it from.”
Abdurakhmonov, an All-American at Clarion in 2012, claimed bronze at the 2014 world championships before stunning USA star Jordan Burroughs at Rio, knocking him out of the 2016 Olympic tournament.
“It’s good to have him. He’s part of the Bruno family,” Rendos said. “He came, I want to say, about five years ago, then took a couple of years off. Now he’s coming back and helping us out again. He brought one of his buddies, his countrymen, who’s going to Paris to wrestle the under-21 world trials. And Flo (Temengil, a two-time Olympian for Palau) brought one of his boys that’s going to wrestle in Paris as well.
“That’s cool to see, two world team members not even from the United States that are coming to Port Allegany to share what they have and train alongside some of the best kids in the country.”
So where does the camp go from here?
“We need more mats,” Rendos said, chuckling. “We bring in around the 120-140 range, and we’re pretty packed with the mats we have. We have our steadfast clinicians, the college kids that come in every year, but then we get the feature ones and the Olympians. We’re just kind of building on that, trying to give the kids a different variety during the week so they’re not seeing the same thing every year.
“On Wednesday, (Bekzod) had every single, not only camper, but clinician and coach saying ‘Holy cow’ and bringing back what he shows. He coaches at Harvard right now, so he’s showing us some things he shows his college kids and what he’s learning there. I was captivated by that. I thought it was pretty cool, stuff I don’t see on a regular basis. The sport evolves so fast it’s hard to keep up.”
While the mats are set up in the Port Allegany High School gyms, the real camp headquarters is the Lathrop house, where Laurie and daughters Becca, Allison and Hannah keep everything running smoothly.
“They all put us up every year. It’s amazing, what they do. Those four right there are the reason this camp actually works,” said Jon-Marc Burdick, a former scholarship winner who wrestled at Smethport and Edinboro and is now a board member. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. They make it work. They mean a lot to us. They’re like sisters.”
According to Allison, the feeling is mutual.
“It’s one big support system,” she said. “We’ll go watch them wrestle, and they came to some AAU games for Becca. A few of them, when I was in Shippensburg for states, they came to watch me jump, they’ve watched Hannah play softball. We’re their sisters, even if they have sisters. They call Mom ‘Mama Lathe’.
“Everything they say is, ‘Laurie is such a saint.’ Some people think Dad’s the boss, and then they meet Mom and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s definitely her.’”
Working with the camp even helped lead to a career choice for Allison. Following in the footsteps of Greeley, a successful chiropractor who also happens to be her godfather, she’s now a licensed massage therapist at the Charles Cole Memorial Hospital Wellness Center.
“I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of what he does, and this was the next best thing,” she said.
Like Lathrop, ‘Little Al’ Beattie plans to pay his Team Bruno experience
forward. Now a redshirt sophomore heavyweight at UPJ after winning a PIAA championship at Burrell High School, he’s working toward an education degree to become a teacher and coach.
“I love this camp. I’ll be coming here as long as I’m able to physically. When I’m 60 years old, I hope I’m able to do this,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s great for the kids, and it’s great for the person that Bruno was. Bruno was an exceptional person, he was a good wrestler, he did everything the right way.
“The tragedy that happened to his family and to our community… I feel like I knew Bruno, and I never met him. I feel like he’s there. Every single person that comes here that believes in the system, the lifestyle, doing everything the right way, is what Bruno would want. What we want to put onto the younger kids, and what we try to have the kids see in us. It’s just incredible.”
As usual, Lathrop posted a list of people he wanted to thank to the BIWC Facebook page after the event (with apologies to anyone he missed):
“John Caden, Barry and Donna Sauers, Perry and Jon-Marc Burdick, Mick and Sue Greeley, Ray and Janet Howard, my wife Laurie and my daughters, Pam Fischer, Lori Chase, the Port Allegany School District, the Carlson’s, Port Shop and Save, Port VMI, Isaac Greeley, Aaron Rendos and all board members.”