Art Weiss, the founder of Clearfield wrestling, died Friday. He was 102.
Weiss, a former basketball player from Nazareth, coached 31 PIAA champions in 25 seasons. Weiss started Clearfield’s program, which has amassed a record 40 PIAA champions, in 1935. He retired from coaching in 1959.
“What a guy,” said John Johnston, a 1952 Clearfield state champion under Weiss who won a NCAA title at Penn State. “He had a tremendous impact on individuals, teams and the sport. He not only helped us as athletes, but he developed character in us.”
Wrestling historian Norm Palovcsik, a 1968 Clearfield state champion, called Weiss the “John Wooden of Pennsylvania high school wrestling.”
“Art Weiss, either directly or indirectly, impacted everyone in the wrestling community,” said Palovcsik, a former Penn State wrestler.
Weiss’s interest in wrestling started while at Perkiomen Prep School in 1928. During breaks from basketball practice, Weiss observed Perkiomen’s wrestling team, Palovcsik said.
After graduating from Albright College in 1932, Weiss started teaching science and math and coaching basketball at Clearfield. Palovcsik said a school administrator apologetically approached Weiss about Clearfield’s desire to start a wrestling program.
To the administrator’s surprise, Weiss not only embraced the idea — he offered to coach the wrestling team.
Clearfield went 0-3-1 in its first season. Weiss then guided the Bisons to 22 winning seasons en route to compiling a
184-37-3 career record. Weiss’s teams owned a 64-meet winning streak and 51-meet unbeaten streak.
“He liked big challenges and he expected to be challenged,” said Jerry Maurey, who won four PIAA titles from 1947-50 under Weiss’s tutelage. “He had that drive to succeed in athletics.”
Once he built Clearfield into a winner, Weiss sought challenges for the Bisons, taking them to wrestling-rich places such as Canonsburg, Greenville and Shamokin for dual meets. But many of Clearfield’s biggest meets were held close to home, with a match against Bellefonte in 1949 attracting 5,000 fans to Penn State’s Rec Hall.
Former wrestler Neil Turner said Weiss approached coaching like a science experiment. Weiss attended numerous clinics and organized practices on 3×5 notecards.
“You wanted to do well for him because you had so much respect for him,” said Turner, who wrestled for Weiss from 1956-57 and coached the Bisons from 1974-79. “He made himself a wrestling coach.”
Johnston said Weiss constantly enhanced the technique he showed wrestlers. Yet Weiss allowed wrestlers to act as individuals.
“We were strong kids, smart kids, different kinds of kids with different styles,” Johnston said. “He presented us with technique that fit our styles. Clearfield teams didn’t have one style like some people might think. His teams weren’t ones where everybody wrestled the same way.”
Weiss molded numerous future coaches.
Homer Barr started the program at Warren High School, guided State College to 61 straight victories and coached at the University of Massachusetts. Jim Maurey coached at Stevens Trade School in Lancaster and Millersville University. Johnston replaced Maurey at Stevens before winning eight Ivy League titles in 20 seasons at Princeton University. John Palmer started Curwensville’s program. Glenn Flegal introduced wrestling at Carlisle.
Jerry Maurey, Neil Turner, Les Turner, Jim Mohney, Mike Flangan, Ralph Clark, Robert Thomas and Gary Thomas are other former Weiss wrestlers who became head coaches. Flanagan coached two state champions at Bellefonte.
Jerry Maurey succeeded Weiss as Clearfield’s head coach.
“He always made a good impression,” Jerry Maurey said Saturday from his Tallahassee, Fla., home. “He didn’t play any dirty old tricks. He was always a gentleman.”
Neil Turner, whose coaching career included a stint as Lock Haven University’s head coach, said Weiss changed his life.
“I would not be in wrestling if it wasn’t for him,” said Turner, the director of the Clinton County-based Mat- Town USA Wrestling Club. “He was teaching my algebra class and I only started wrestling because he asked me. I lived out on a dairy farm and played football and the only reason my parents allowed me to wrestle was because he asked me and they had so much respect for him.”