The Redhead must have weighed all of 50 pounds. He was struggling mightily to unseat his dark-haired opponent, same size, who was clamped cowboy-style on his back, hanging on for dear life. They were tumbling on the red vinyl mat in the wrestling room at the Haverford School’s Ryan Gym, grunting and groaning, obviously having a grand time and hopeful that the noise of their struggle would attract the attention of the man sitting on the bench. It did.
“See those kids on the mat?” asked the man. “That’s the age to get them interested in wrestling… interested enough to talk about it at home. Then, by the time they’re old enough to wrestle in high school, the parents are conditioned to the idea that wrestling is a sport instead of the freak exhibition you see on TV all the time. They don’t object.”
The man was Neil Buckley, coach at Haverford and probably one of the most successful prep school wrestling coaches in the business. Since 1951 his teams have won 88, lost 6, tied one and have been perennial winners of the Philadelphia Inter-Academic League wrestling title.
An excerpt from Sports Illustrated Magazine
February 25, 1957 Issue
Neil’s first team
In the Winter of 1947 Neil Buckley, a non experienced wrestler and coach, decides to start a wrestling program at The Haverford School. Wrestling, at this time, was not a popular in the Philadelphia area and at a conservative all boys main-line preparatory school nearly impossible to gain support. His first team included John Newhall, Bill Fortenbaugh, Dick Dillon, John Davic, Larry Dillon and Mike Laws. No one, not even Neil, could have predicted the legacy that was about to be created. Neil is often credited as The Godfather of Wrestling in the Philadelphia Surburban area.
Haverford School’s undefeated wrestling team defeated St. Andrew’s, 36-0 for Neil’s 100th win. Bill Burham, Tag Geer, and Tom Webster won bouts by pin. This team won the Inter-Ac and were the Episcopal Invitational Champions for the 7th straight year.
“The Wrestling team this year had one of its usually successful seasons, for it was undefeated in 15 meets. Invincible Coach Neil Buckley modestly admits that his team is the best in the school and he proved it when this year’s experienced squad showed prowess in both wrestling and sportsmanship.”
– 1957 Haverford Year Book
The 1964 team continued the winning tradition by notching the program its 14th InterAc championship (in a row). By the end of the season the program also continued its streak of winning 51 straight League matches. The varsity team included: Nick Selby, Terry Godfrey, Jack Bentz, Nick Pierce, Jeff Pfaeffle, Dave Johnson, Bob Crozer, Stevens, Taylor and Hunt.
The 1971 team were InterAc champions for the school’s 21st consecutive title. The team also continued the incredible streak of League matches won in a row to 89. Varsity team members included: Chuck Yarnell, Boyle, Rick Schifter, Leig Hopkins, John Middleton, John Lieberman, George Grey, Art Garwood, Bob McCafferty, Peter Mahoney, Williams, Peter Johnson Phil Byrnes and Dick Morsbach.
Haverford Wins a National Title
Inter AC Champions 23 Straight Years
99 Straight league matches won
Combined Inter-Ac Scores: Haverford 253
Rest of the league 33
National Prep Champions
Member of the team included: Dan Perlman, George Grey, Jeff Shaw, Rick Shifter, Leigh Hopkins, Ed Desipio, Brad Barrett, John Middleton, Chuck Yarnall, Andy McGabe, Rob Rovito, Alec Arder.
They were the were the National Prep School Champions
This team was also inducted to the Haverford School’s Athletic Hall of Fame
Neil Buckley became the first wrestling coach on the Philadelphia area to reach 400 career victories, defeating Penn Charter 38-10 on Feb 3, 1979. Neil’s record was 400-36-7.
Starring for the Fords were Charie Ball, Chase McDaniel, Chris Maxey, Kurt Ochs, Hank Berkowitz, David Stokely, Hal Yoh, Brian Mannion, Alex Bruhn, George Borthwick, Rusty Spencer, and John Fosnocht.
In this year, Neil’s team captured the program’s 450th win and the school’s 27th InterAc Championship. The 1983 Varsity team was 15-2-1. Team members included: Matt Micolucci, John Katz, Dr. Rob Ruggiero, Joel DiGiancomo, Alex Yarnall, Tom Harris, John Ploumis, Joe DeSipio, Mark Micolucci, Maurice Glavin, Eri Thal and David Egan.
“We were thinking about this all day. All week. All year, actually,” Dan Newhall said. “He’s the greatest coach around. We wanted to get it today.”
“It feels good. Today turned out the way I hoped it would,” Buckley said. “I’m looking forward to 501.”
Haverford beat Penn Charter 40-20 in their own Auditorium on January 31, 1986. Chanel 6 and 10 news and a huge crowd were in attendance. The match received a lot of local attention, as well as, national attention.
Ford winners were Steve Matarazzo, Doug Davis, Matt Miccolucci, Eric Stetson, Rob Edelman, Gene Glavin and Christian Hoyt.
The Fords beat Episcopal Academy on December 15th, 1988 for Neil’s 550th. Pictured are: Chris Arcuri, Paul Chan, Ross Berger, Dan Stein, Dean Malik, Jeff Conn, Mark Cortese, Dan Glennon, Denis Paranzino, Fred Dewey, Jonesy Lerch, Ralph Geer, Mike and Jonas Micolucci, Tyler Bell and Chris Padula and Manager Leland Vincent.
It was the 1992 team that secured Neil yet another huge milestone. The Fords beat The Hill School 50-9 on January 11, 1992. The Varsity team was 18-4-1 and also Neil’s 35th InterAc championship, which is still a league record. Members on this team included: Steve Arcuri, Will O’Donnell, Nadim Amiry, Ted Harlan, David Burns, Kevin Silva, Chris Arcuri, Kayhan Gultekin, Rich Hoffman, Nate Williams, Rono Ghosh, Dan Glennon.
This was Neil’s last season. His 646th victory was against no other than Penn Charter. In a strange twist of fate, the match was postponed due to bad weather and eventually occurred on February 22, 1994, making it a very fitting victory on the bookend of a legendary, Hall of Fame career.
Neil’s last coached match was at Lehigh University at The National High School Preps. He was in Chris Arcuri’s corner coaching him to victory in the National Championships.
Neil Buckley collapsed in the center of The Haverford School on October 7th 1994. It was an in-service day at the school and most of the students were not on campus. He died peacefully at Bryn Mawr Hospital later that day.