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HOLLIDAYSBURG — Mitch Johns has strong ties to the Hollidaysburg wrestling program dating to 1968.
That’s when he quit basketball to join the wrestling team.
A year later, while a member of the junior high squad, Johns got an up-close view of the Golden Tigers’ golden boy, Wade Schalles.
The Hollidaysburg senior pinned 21 of his 23 opponents that season, including Trinity’s John “Bimbo” Chatman, in front of a raucous crowd of 8,000 fans in the 154-pound PIAA championship at Penn State’s Rec Hall.
Then, in 1971, Johns watched one of his varsity teammates, Dan Brenneman, capture the Tigers’ third PIAA crown at 165 pounds.
As a senior in ’72, Johns claimed a Section title at 127 and advanced to the District 6 tournament.
Less than 10 years later, he opted to return to the Hollidaysburg wrestling program as an assistant coach under Jim Rhodes for the 1980-81 season. Then, after taking a few years off, Johns joined John McDonald’s staff in the same role, and has held the position ever since.
Johns is in his 40th season as an assistant coach for the Tigers, working under seven different head coaches during his tenure.
“He’s a very unique assistant coach,” Hollidaysburg athletic director Homer DeLattre said. “He loves his role and he plays it perfectly. He has a background from the 1960s and ’70s as a wrestler, and all the way through to now as an assistant coach. He’s had an impact on a lot of kids in our wrestling program.
“Coaches have bad days. People have bad days. I’ve never seen Mitch in a bad mood or in a bad way. He’s 100 percent for the kids, and that’s his main focus. Those are the kind of guys you want in your athletic program.”
Bryan Ott was a senior 167-pounder when Johns was in his first season as an assistant. Ott still credits Johns for his success and development.
“I was terrible on my feet as a senior and he taught me what to do,” Ott said. “Coach Johns worked with me and got me (to be) a district runner-up in 1981, a regional runner-up and I advanced to states. I got beat in the first round at states, but he still helped me get there. I owe it to him — everything.”
Hollidaysburg has produced several outstanding wrestlers during Johns’ tenure as an assistant, but the number of losing seasons far outnumber the winning ones.
That hasn’t deterred the 68-year-old Johns, who plans to keep coaching for the foreseeable future.
“I think what I’ve enjoyed most is the relationship with the kids,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve had those relationships from the time the kids were 7 or 8 years old until they’re high school kids. I think I take more out of wrestling than I give. That’s how I look at it.
“I love to see kids who are not very good wrestlers get their first win after going maybe 0-30. That probably feels as good as watching kids win a district final. Those kids are already good. Our goal is to try and make all the wrestlers better.”
Johns said work obligations through the years prevented him from pursuing the head coaching job, but he is happy with his role.
“I’ve been pleased with every head coach that I’ve worked for and it just seems to get better and better as the years move ahead,” he said. “There’s been a lot of good moments.”
Two current wrestlers who were Northwest Regional Class 3A qualifiers last year — Carson Krupka and Mitchell Baronner — said Johns is always willing to go the extra mile to benefit them.
“If any of us needs help, he’s right there for us,” Krupka said. “He’s always in my corner, our corner. If we ever need a ride to practice, he will drop what he’s doing and come and pick us up.”
Baronner said Johns “loves the sport of wrestling and he loves helping people learn about it. I’ve gone to his house on weekends when we don’t have practice, just so he can work with me. He’s even offered to come into school during study halls to help me get better. He’s just a great person.”
In addition to being the top assistant to head coach Christian Harr for the past five seasons, Johns also runs the school’s elementary wrestling program. He took over that job in 2019 after selling his software development company and retiring.
“Mitch takes the lead role in a lot of things,” said Harr, who won 112 matches and a district title at Hollidaysburg, then went on to wrestle four years at Penn State. “He offers a lot of knowledge. Obviously, he’s been around enough coaches and had enough life experiences, they just blend really well with what we are trying to project with kids in our program.
“He brings good energy to the room. The kids have fun with him. He’s always willing to teach and learn and mix it up and still wrestle with guys. It’s hard to beat that energy, that fire. He does have a special relationship with all the kids. There’s not one kid that’s different from another.”
DeLattre said Johns also makes many valuable contributions outside of the wrestling room.
“He gives donations to the booster club in order for the kids to have what they need,” DeLattre said. “He has the kids over for dinners, and meals and sets up fundraisers.”
Johns said he used the wrestling program through the years to recruit workers for his business, including Harr, who worked for him in sales for 10 years.
“Mitch has a good business sense and he has run a fundraiser golf tournament here for the last 30 years,” Harr said. “That fundraiser gives us the majority of our funds for the wrestling program every year.”
Johns just so happens to be one of the area’s better amateur golfers, having won club championships at both Sinking Valley Country Club and Summit County Club.
“I play competitive golf, so that’s my March to November gig,” he said. “I love that. And then in the winter, I turn to wrestling. And it’s been a good gig, too.”
Hollidaysburg has crowned four PIAA champs since starting its wrestling program in 1944, including the aforementioned Schalles and Brenneman. Not surprisingly, Johns has a connection to the other two state champs as well.
Van Walter, the son of Hollidaysburg’s first gold medalist, Julius Walter at 154 pounds in 1948, was the one who convinced Johns to leave basketball for wrestling in junior high.
“In eighth grade, I was 75 pounds and Van said, ‘You’re never going to play basketball, you ought to come join us, and I did,'” Johns said.
Johns and head coach Joe Baranik helped guide Central transfer Eric Frick to the Tigers’ last PIAA gold medal at 130 in 1999.
Charlie Brenneman, nephew of Dan, won three district titles, and was a two-time regional champ and two-time PIAA runner-up during the 1990s. He compiled a 116-13 career record with the Tigers, then wrestled at Lock Haven University before turning to mixed martial arts and Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor.
Brenneman now serves as a motivational speaker and assistant wrestling coach in the Lower Dauphin school district near Hershey.
He said Johns has played a large role in his life and career.
“Mitch kind of lives life on his own terms,” Brenneman said. “He does his own thing, and I’m like that, too. Aside from being a great wrestling coach, he’s been a mentor for me, starting with early on. He has really been a big help to me in business and life decisions.
“His longevity, the various official and unofficial roles he’s held with the wrestling program, is really incredible.”
There is a big board hanging on the wall in the Hollidaysburg wrestling room. It lists the names of the school’s four PIAA champions, 15 regional winners and 34 District 6 titlists.
There also is a section for the school’s three NCAA champs. Schalles won a pair of Division I titles at Clarion University in 1972 and ’73, then went on to capture a world title and become one of the most decorated wrestlers ever while earning a spot in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Troy Gardner was a Division III champ at Lycoming College in 1990.
Perhaps they should consider adding Johns’ name to the board next in a special category, given his significant contributions to the Hollidaysburg wrestling program in his four decades as an assistant coach.
“Every single kid that has ever wrestled for Mitch or worked with him has nothing but tremendous things to say about him,” said Mike Moore, who previously guided the Tigers’ wrestling program for 15 years and still works as a health and physical education teacher at the school.
“There’s not many kids around that you can find who have wrestled for Hollidaysburg who haven’t been impacted in some way by Mitch.”
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Dr.Marueen D.Letcher Assumes Leadership of State Principals Association
We will no longer be taking transcript requests by phone, fax, or mail. We are using Parchment Exchange for our transcript service. Whether you are a current student, alumni, or a third-party account your request will need to be made through Parchment Exchange. You will be able to make unofficial transcript requests for yourself or official transcript requests for colleges, employers, or any other destination.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recognized the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2021. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
The coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content. Now in its 39th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed approximately 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools. In 2021, a total of 325 schools (302 public and 23 non-public) were recognized in 45 states plus the District of Columbia (D.C.) and Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA). Of the 302 public schools awarded, approximately 15% were recognized at the high school level.
“To receive this award is a true honor. There isn't one person in this building who hasn't contributed in helping to make this happen. Mr. Harrington and I are truly blessed to work with a dedicated group of educators, along with so many talented students. We also are appreciative of the parents and community for the support they provide our students and staff at the Senior High School. Go Tigers!” Dr. Maureen Letcher, Senior High Principal
“We are very proud of the hard work that Dr. Letcher, Mr. Harrington and their dedicated staff have invested into making Hollidaysburg Senior High School a warm and friendly learning environment where all students have the opportunity to excel. Our students have made the best of the wide array of opportunities to excel in academics, the arts and athletics. We are grateful to the school board and our community for their continued commitment to the education of our youth.” Dr. Robert Gildea, Superintendent of School.
“Awards of this caliber are only achieved by the hard work and cooperation of all individuals involved in the education process. The board is very proud of all who have helped achieve this reward.” Dr. Ron Sommer - Board President
The Department recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:
- Exemplary High-Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
- Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.
Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year. The Department invites National Blue Ribbon Schools nominations from the top education officials in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools are nominated by the Council for American Private Education.