A few years ago, Falconer wrestling coach P.J. Wendel recalled that his Falconer Golden Falcons finished the season with a record under .500, something that hadn't happened in more than 40 years. And, this being the storied Falconer wrestling program, questions arose.
But his squad bounced back during the 2010-2011 season and went 9-1, the only loss coming to top-ranked small school in the state - Fredonia.
Still, the questions remained.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
"At the end of last season there were questions about where we were and where the program was headed," Wendel explained. "So I took the summer, bounced some ideas off some colleagues and decided that we needed some changes."
What emerged soon became affectionately known, at least amongst his wrestlers, as "The Bible."
"The Bible" was really just a manual, and in it were some new policies for the program - some of it included nutritional and dietary information and guidelines. Other sections discussed attendance policies (miss three practices and you're off the team) and still more informed the wrestlers of academic standards - all of it with the goal of getting his team to start thinking more as a team.
"I decided that I was going to do what was right for the program and right for the kids," Wendel said. "I'm a traditionalist and have learned a lot from coaches like Walt Thurnau and Craig Swanson, and wrestling is really about old-fashioned values and work ethic. That's what we brought back."
And the results are hard to argue.
Wendel led his team to a perfect 7-0 record this season, guided them past perennial powerhouse Fredonia, 36-34, to give the Golden Falcons their first victory over the Hillbillies in half a decade, won the first Division 1 title in his five years as head coach and helped his team finish as the 18th-ranked squad in the state according to the New York State Sportswriters Association's final poll.
What's more, they were the top-ranked school in both the Class C and the small school rankings.
The success also earned
Wendel distinction as The Post-Journal's Wrestling Coach of the Year.
"The season was great, and it was a vindication that we did it right and that the changes we made worked," Wendel said. "The key to our success this season was that the kids bought into the new program. No one person dominated - we weren't like a Salamanca or Frewsburg - but we had a lot of good kids and it was a group effort. That's what made this season special, we did it as a team."
The Golden Falcons' success began in late December as they rolled past Cattaraugus-Little Valley. They had a solid showing at the Eisenhower Tournament and then won, for the third time in the past four years, the Falconer-hosted Patrick J. Morales Tournament.
Most indicative that making the changes had been a worthwhile endeavor, however, was Falconer's victory over Fredonia in mid January.
Thanks to key victories from Jimmy Schwab, seventh-grader Jake Peru and heavyweight Javon Newman, the Golden Falcons captured a victory over their north county rivals for the first time in six years and became No. 1 overall amongst small schools in Western New York, a position they have yet to relinquish.
"Obviously beating Fredonia was big," Wendel said. "I joked with my staff because usually the rankings come out on Sundays, but after we won they took a few extra days to come out. We shook everything up and to go up there and knock off Fredonia was great.
"I think it put Falconer wrestling back where it belongs."
The only disappointment for Wendel and his group was when, late in the season, their meet with top-ranked Class D school in Western New York, Ripley, was canceled to due heavy snowstorms.
"I would have liked to have seen our kids wrestle," Wendel said. "I think they would have done well, but it definitely would have been a battle. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do. None of us were happy about it."
Despite that, however, the season was undoubtedly a success. And with a strong cast of assistant coaches and a solid group of wrestlers, Wendel is excited about the program's future.
"My assistants are great," he said. "Drew Wilcox is a student of the game, Danny Morales has been great with the modified team and Jeff Waddington is a Falconer wrestler from the 1980s who has really helped bring back the hard-nosed style (we are after). We're already talking about next season. The drive is there."