Hunter has McDevitt wrestlers off to promising start

Think about a 6-14 record. That figure, standing alone, screams nothing good. But look at what's behind those digits, and that's when you find something remarkable.

"It's not like I took over a program that was bad or anything like that," Billy Hunter, Bishop McDevitt's head wrestling coach, said. "When I started there in November, every single kid was on their first day of wrestling."

It started with a 14-man roster without a single match of experience, the first wrestling team ever at McDevitt, and ended with six wins. Not only that, but five of McDevitt's losses were decided by one bout, meaning the start-up outfit could have won 11 matches this season.

This is all with Hunter at the helm. A Philadelphia police officer for 20 years, Hunter went to McDevitt last fall after 30 years coaching at North Catholic, which is now closed and from where he graduated in 1979. His mentor and previous coach at North, Pat Manzi, now the athletic director at McDevitt, persuaded Hunter to sign on and inaugurate a wrestling team.

So to break in a crew with zero experience, Hunter, with his own philosophy, found a way to inspire.

"Building character is definitely part of learning the sport and becoming more competitive," Hunter said. "The hardest thing is getting 14- or 15-year-old kids, who are weekly getting their face raked across the mat, and somehow you talk them into coming back week after week.

"Not only are they coming back, they're trying harder, and you're convincing them it's going to pay off eventually. You're going to get better."

Hunter also credits the natural athleticism of his wrestlers in accelerating the learning process.

When North closed, Hunter thought he was done coaching. His allegiance had long been to his alma mater and with his police career, he saw wrestling as a hobby. But in a short time, he has driven novice wrestlers to a respectable record, revealing great upside in a program that will return 11 members next season.

Hunter has adopted the role of a parent, stressing values of resolve and respect as cornerstones of his program. And his impact has been felt beyond the mat at McDevitt.

"One parent said to me, 'He's home cleaning his room and shoveling neighbors' sidewalks right now,' " Hunter said. "And she said, 'Whatever you're doing, keep on doing it.' "

Family ties. When Shane Longstreth grabbed career win 117 a couple weeks ago, he said he felt relieved, happy, that it was a "pretty big accomplishment."

Number 117 isn't a monumental wrestling milestone. But for Longstreth, a senior at Council Rock North, it's one more win than his big brother Earl, who graduated from C.R. North in 2006, won. It's long been a goal of Shane's to surpass Earl for one reason.

"I wanted to have the most wins out of anyone in my household," Shane said.

North head coach Tom Vivacqua said he enjoys being a part of the Longstreths' lighthearted rivalry.

"If you've been around as long as me," Vivacqua said, "you get a chance to see a lot of different families that you become close with, not just as wrestling families but just as people."

The Longstreths are just one recent example.

When Vivacqua watches Shane, he's often reminded of Earl, though at times their styles differ. Other families have a lineage at North, such as the Callender boys. Jamie Callender was a state champ last season before graduating, and his little brother, Tyler, is a freshman on this year's team.

"You become very close with the Longstreths, the Callenders," Vivacqua said. "And you kind of work your way through all their tough battles . . . the highs and the lows, and the next one will come in."

Shane Longstreth, who is 20-6 overall this season, considers Earl his mentor. He said Earl was glad for him to pass his mark, that "he was just happy to see his name in the paper again."

For Vivacqua to witness it was gratification enough. "It really makes it special when you're dealing with families," he said.


Contact Evan Burgos

at rallysports@phillynews.com.