Two things have been synonymous with Pitt-Johnstown wrestling the past 37 years: Coach Pat Pecora and winning.
In fact, no wrestling coach in Division II history has won more matches than Pecora.
When the Mountain Cats defeated Shippensburg, 39-3, on Feb. 13, it gave Pecora his 500th career victory. He became just the fifth coach in NCAA history (all divisions) to reach the milestone. HIs 503 career victories makes him the all-time leader in Division II.
For Pecora, known as much for his passion and caring attitude as his coaching wins, it’s always been more about the names than the numbers.
“I just think about all the young men that have come through our program,” Pecora said following his milestone victory. “I’m just so proud of them. I’m so proud of the kind of young men the program produces. Because after you’re here for five years, you’re a good one.”
Pecora’s had a lot of good ones during his tenure, which includes 34 winning seasons in his first 36 years.
He’s coached two Division II national championship teams (1996 and 1999) and 10 individual national champions who combined to win 17 titles.
A total of 134 All-Americans have wrestled for Pecora at UPJ, as have nearly 100 Academic All-Americans.
It’s safe to say the program is in far better shape than when Pecora arrived.
“Our first win was actually on the stage of the old gym (at the former Student Union Building),” Pecora said. “I used to have to grab guys out of the cafeteria because we didn’t have enough guys on the team. I was literally taking people’s trays and saying, ‘What do you weigh?’ “
Not long after Pecora reached win No. 500, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“It was weird at first,” Pecora recalled. “It was like, ‘Get out of here. I work out five days a week. I never smoked. I’ve never been sick a day of my life.”
Pecora approached his battle against cancer the same way he prepares his teams – aggressively. Pecora, who is also Pitt-Johnstown’s athletic director, underwent surgery to remove the cancerous mass and part of a lung, on a Monday and was back to work by Thursday.
Pitt-Johnstown honored Pecora before the Mountain Cats’ 47-0 win over Ohio Valley on Dec. 8. A special reception recognized the legendary UPJ coach and the school officially launched the “500 & Beyond” fundraising campaign, which has a goal of having 500 donors contribute in support of the wrestling program.