Harer leads Muncy tradition revival

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Muncy head coach Denny Harer gives his wrestler instruction during a match against Southern Columbia last month.

HERSHEY — There were five wrestlers on the varsity team when Denny Harer took over as the head coach at Muncy 12 years ago. He had seven more in the junior high program and fewer than 20 in the elementary program.

Muncy was a guaranteed win on its opponents schedules back then. Harer jokes now that in those early years he could have a match start at 7 p.m. and be home by 7:25.

It made handing a state fourth-place trophy to his Muncy team Saturday afternoon a little surreal. From the ground up, he, assistant coach Ron Hembury and the myriad of parents, coaches and wrestlers who have spent time with the Muncy program over the last dozen years helped make Saturday possible.

The Indians finished fourth in the PIAA Class AA Team Wrestling Championships on Saturday at the Giant Center after completing a 4-2 tournament run. It is the first state duals medal in school history, and it’s the culmination of more hours than Harer can count being invested into a program which was DOA when he took the job.

Muncy wasn’t a destination job when parents asked him to think about becoming the head coach. But growing up in Montgomery where he placed at the state tournament twice for the Red Raiders, Harer knew there was a history there. And it’s been his goal to return Muncy to that history.

Consider Saturday another step toward that goal.

“I think back on all the time we put in to try and start getting kids developed to where it is now, and we’re not done,” Harer said. “This is just a starting point for us to get better. And we’re excited for it. When you look back on 10 years, this is extremely surreal.”

Harer has established Muncy as one of the premier programs in District 4. The Indians have had a placewinner at the state tournament in each of the last 10 seasons, which is tied with Benton for the longest active streak in the district.

Not bad for a guy who never had any intention of coaching. After his wrestling career ended at Bloomsburg University with a blown-out shoulder, he was all but done with the sport. But a few people talked to him about getting involved in coaching and Harer finally said, “what the heck?”

Since then he’s helped guide Muncy to 231 wins. The Indians have appeared in the state team tournament three times since 2010, with its first wins in the tournament coming this season. He helped end Muncy’s 55-year drought of not having a state champion when he coached both Zack Strickland and Ryan Hembury to state gold in 2011.

He’s helped furnish an elementary program which has become the feeder program for the junior high and varsity programs. Muncy is a consistent winner. And if the success in the junior high program this year was any indication, this likely isn’t the Indians’ final visit to Hershey as a team.

“We’re hoping. That’s the gameplan. But we try not to look too far ahead,” Harer said. “That’s always been my motto: What are we doing today to get better?”

A program which once had just one District 4 champion wrestler between 1979 and 2004, has since has produced seven since 2010 and looks poised to add to that list this year. This is the start toward the level of success Muncy once enjoyed in the early days of PIAA wrestling.

Muncy graduate Larry Lauchle became the first District 4 alumnus to win an NCAA Division I wrestling championship in 1961, and he was a three-time finalist for the University of Pittsburgh.

From 1938 through 1958, Muncy produced 34 district champions. That’s the type of tradition Harer has spent his coaching career working toward.

He showed quickly success at Muncy could be attained when he helped guide Matt Johnson to a spot on the podium at states in 2008, which began the Indians’ run of success at the state tournament. And since then, winning at Muncy has gone from a hope to now what is expected.

Saturday, putting that fourth-place trophy on display in front of a statewide audience of wrestling fans, only helped further Harer’s and Muncy’s goals.

“Muncy always had that rich tradition in the early days, and we want to get that back,” Harer said. “That was our gameplan, to get the guys that were before us to set the legacy so we can keep contributing to that. I think we’ve done a good job of buying in and believing that this is to be expected.”

Mitch Rupert covers wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.