Darwin Stalnaker (2016)

For years German Township wrestling was the gold standard in Fayette County wrestling. The Uhlans were built on tradition and family. Several families were the bedrock of German Township wrestling, creating a bloodline of father and son and brother and nephew combinations. The Uhlans were blessed with wrestling clans like the Dugans, the Laverys and the Simons. The Stalnaker brothers added to the German tradition.

Chuck Muncie  

Darwin Stalnaker holds the All-Time record for wrestling victories at German Township with a record of 78-8-3. The Uhlans ace dominated the wrestling mats in the early 1970’s and served as the German captain for three years. He earned four wrestling letters in high school.

“It was very much a family affair in wrestling at German,” Stalnaker recalled. “We all practiced together and one thing about having brothers is you always had someone to practice with, even if it was in your living room. In our family it was me and my brother Donald and we wrestled through the German program and then went on to college together. We had a tight community and we ran around and hung together all the time. Ron Rifenberg started the program. The teachers at German wanted you involved in something and that was important. Kids were encouraged to go out for a sport and take part.”

Stalnaker felt very comfortable under the watchful eye of German wrestling Coach Joe Simon.

“Joe Simon was a very good coach,” Stalnaker opined. “I remember going to practice and he would just drill you and drill you until everything became pretty much automatic. You would drill your moves over and over again and when you went on the mat everything was automatic.”

At 112 pounds Stalnaker did not have to battle weight issues, a common problem with many wrestlers.

“I was one wrestler that never lost weight,” Stalnaker explained. “I always wanted to wrestle up and I actually did that at the Pitt Open one year down at the Pittsburgh Classic. A good friend of mine who wrestled at Jeannette used to say the first time he met was at the WPIAL Tournament and I was eating a sandwich. I never had to deal with a weight issue.”

Stalnaker won three section championships, a WPIAL title and placed third in the state tournament. He was the Pennsylvania freestyle champion and the runner-up in the national freestyle tournament.
“I enjoyed freestyle wrestling much more than the high school and collegiate style wrestling,” Stalnaker offered. “It was mainly on your feet and I had a very good freestyle coach Stan Mositis from Washington, PA.”

German had numbers problems when Stalnaker wrestled and sometimes did not field a full squad.

“We were sort of lean,” Stalnaker said. “We had some individuals, but our teams were not great record wise. With Coach Simon he would not put up with you if you weren’t working. There were times we had trouble filling some of the weight classes. He set a pretty good standard.”

The loss in the state semifinals in 1974 to Carl Lutz of Montoursville is still a bitter pill for Stalnaker, who finished third in the PIAA 112 pound class. After winning two matches, Stalnaker bowed to Lutz in the semifinals, before completely dominating Dale Edwards of Oxford with a third period fall in the consolation round. Lutz went on to win the title on a referee’s overtime decision over Gene DeFillipis of Fort Cherry. Stalnaker had previously beaten DeFillipis for the WPIAL crown.

“The loss to Carl Lutz hurt and I would probably still be tormented to this day if I was not able to have a rematch with him,” Stalnaker stated. “I had a rematch with him when I was at the Wilkes Tournament – they used to call that the Rose Bowl of wrestling. That was when I was at Cal. State in college. Lutz was wrestling for Lock Haven and my first match was a rematch with him and I wound up pinning him. It sort of evened things up for me and made me feel a little better.”

“Winning the WPIAL title over DeFillipis was a big thrill. The school record for wins was great, back then we did wrestle that many matches. The Powerade Tournaments were big events. The AAU Tournaments also were great.”

When Stalnaker graduated from German in 1974, he sifted through 50 college offers before him and his brother Donald decided to attend Maryland.

“There were several schools that were really interested,” Stalnaker recalled. “My mother thought it was a great deal for us to go to Maryland. It was a great deal for us at the time and Maryland had an up and coming program under Coach Sully Krouse.”

Stalnaker was derailed by injury his freshman year at Maryland.
“I got injured in the practice room when we were getting ready to wrestle Lehigh and Iowa,” Stalnaker lamented. “I’ll never forget it; I thought I was done for the rest of my career. We were practicing and I was pushing off on my left foot and the two heavyweights happened to fall on me. When they did, it snapped and I just rolled up in a ball. Gene Ochap who was the starting center for the Maryland football team was our heavyweight and he was from McKeesport. He picked me up and he ran me down to the infirmary; it turned out that I tore all the ligaments in my left ankle. I really missed the sport.

“California State was sending me letters at the time, word got out that I was going to leave Maryland and Coach Frank Vulcano at Cal. State was after me. I had friends at Cal State. Rich Police, my brother Donald and I transferred to Cal. State. I didn’t think at the time that I was ever going to be able to wrestle again. I had to sit out and I then I wrestled in 1975-76.”

Cal State had a tremendous season in 1975-76 posting a 17-2 record, finishing eighth in the NAIA national standings, which capped the best season in Cal State history. The Vulcans were led by Bill DePaoli and Stalnaker. DePaoli from Chartiers-Houston posted 19 consecutive wins during the regular season, with no losses and notched third place at the NAIA Nationals. Stalnaker registered an unbeaten regular season at 12-0 and was a second place finisher at the Nationals and both received All America honors.

“I went into the NAIA Nationals as an eighth seed at 126 pounds and I won four decisions including a pin of Doug Stoll of Anderson College in Indiana,” Stalnaker recalled. “I went through some pretty tough competition to get to the finals. I lost to Glenn Guerin of Taylor University of Indiana in the finals.”

Injuries plagued Stalnaker’s career at Cal State after that and limited his participation.

“Injuries set me back,” Stalnaker said. “Transferring also set me back and I had to make up some time in the classroom and I ended up starting my student teaching. My senior year was pretty well wiped out by injury. Looking back, making All-America was really a big deal for me – highlight.”

When Stalnaker graduated in 1978, he returned to Fayette County and started teaching at Fairchance-Georges Junior High School. Stalnaker started the Fairchance-Georges wrestling program.

“I had a lot of help starting the Runners program,” Stalnaker explained. “Fran Pavlovich actually started that program and I had a great assistant in Joe Sepic. We had some nice teams and right before the consolidation we were picked to win the WPIAL. I became coach of Tri-Valley and then Albert Gallatin and had a real nice run.”
Stalnaker compiled a record of 131-78-2 while coaching Fairchance-Georges, Tri-Valley and Albert Gallatin. He was named WPIAL Coach of the Year in 1986 and coached the WPIAL All Stars to victory over the Virginia State Champions and led the PIAA Wrestling Team to victory over the USA Wrestling Team at the Dapper Dan Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.

“It was great being able to coach some of the top wrestlers in the nation and to see the talent that was out there,” Stalnaker remembered. “The Pennsylvania Team defeated the USA Team 25-17 and that was fantastic, the WPIAL Team beat Virginia 30-22 and that was special. A lot of those guys became National Champs and did quite well.

“I think it’s ironic that I stayed at the same place and coached three different high schools. I had some great kids like Chuck Trump and Chris Pegg, who became my boss, placed two times at the state level. I stepped down as coach after the 1997-98 season. I finished up teaching drivers education at AG. I look at my career, I retired after 35 years and I went from teaching Kindergarten and it’s a good thing I had three certifications. I developed some great friendships there and I have been blessed.”

Stalnaker, 60, and his wife of 35 years Lisa reside in Uniontown.


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