As a member of the Vulcano wrestling family, Patsy Vulcano was the least celebrated of the group.
He was a good, solid wrestler who placed in the state tournament as a junior at Chartiers-Houston High School.
Vulcano wrestled in the shadows of his father, the late Frank Sr., an iconic figure on the local scene, and two of his brothers, Frank and Jim – both WPIAL champions and PIAA placewinners while at Chartiers-Houston.
Patsy Vulcano never quite rose to those lofty heights – until the end of his high school career.
He never won one tournament in high school competition.
That is, until his last one – the PIAA Championships in 1984 at Hersheypark Arena.
It was there where he stunned his opposition, the wrestling world in Pennsylvania, and, in some ways, himself by winning the 132-pound championship to finally emerge from the shadows of his wrestling brothers to win the one prize that had eluded them.
Patsy Vulcano, PIAA wrestling champion.
As unlikely as it was 35 years ago, it is engrained in Pennsylvania and local wrestling lore today.
“He put it all together at the right time,” said Tim Mousetis, who was the Bucs’ coach at the time. “Patsy put together a great tournament. I always felt, at any level, in big tournaments there was always somebody who would win that nobody expected them to win.
“We had a plan and Patsy made the plan work.”
Work is the key word. What Patsy Vulcano might have lacked in technique and skill, he made up for it in hard work and 100 percent effort, day in and day out.
He got through the first two rounds of the PIAA tournament with solid decision victories. He defeated four consecutive wrestlers who were district champions.
Awaiting in the semifinals was his nemesis, Tom Haught of Trinity.
Vulcano lost to him the four previous times they had met. Haught was the WPIAL champion a week earlier and PIAA runner-up in 1983.
“Patsy was definitely the underdog,” said his brother Frank. “You lose to someone that many times and you are on the same side of the bracket, you are definitely not the favorite.”
While Patsy Vulcano credits a number people for him being able to win the state title that season, he said it really came down to “wrestling my match and believing in myself.”
He was lifted up along the way by some practice sessions with Phil Mary, a two-time PIAA champion from Chartiers-Houston – who traveled back from Clarion to work out with Vulcano. He also worked out with Phil’s brother, and his teammate, Chris Mary.
“We wrestled and worked out,” Vulcano explained. “I rode him out. I’m not sure he was trying his hardest because I would have never believed I could do that. But he turned around, looked and me and said, ‘You’re ready.’ That gave me so much confidence to do that and to hear that from him.
“Working out with Phil and Chris and being motivated by Mousetis was big for me.”
Vulcano carried that confidence with him throughout the tournament.
He believed in Mousetis’ plan to wrestle Haught with a wide-open strategy.
“He had to go wide open,” Mousetis said. “I like Tom Haught. He’s a good guy and a great wrestler. He liked wrestling in close matches, making a shot or takedown and winning the bout. We wanted to stay away from that. We just told Patsy he had to wrestle wide open, and he wrestled it perfectly.”
Vulcano gained a huge edge by getting the first takedown. He also benefited from penalty points against Haught that Mousetis felt occurred because of Vulcano’s constant movement and relentless pursuit.
“I just wrestled the match I wanted to wrestle there,” Vulcano said. “I felt like I had him beat in a couple of our previous bouts but never got it done. It was always a battle with him. I knew it was win or go home.”
With the chance to do something his brothers could not do, Vulcano didn’t let anyone down. In the finals, he regrouped from two early deficits to defeat Mike Balestrini of Shikellamy, 7-4.
Patsy Vulcano’s big win came on the heels of Chris Mary losing in the state championship bout just before his.
The youngest Vulcano was undaunted.
Trailing 4-2, Vulcano turned Balestrini for two back points in the second period. He gained an escape and late takedown in the third period to win the gold medal.
It set off a wild celebration.
“People forget he placed sixth the year before,” said Jim Vulcano. “Patsy was a tough kid. He wasn’t very flashy. A lot of people received a lot more attention than he did.”
“I remember my brothers Frank and Jerry (Yarcosky) running onto ma side after he won to congratulate him,” Jim Vulca-no said. “We all jumped on the floor. It was a shocker. He peaked when he had to.”
Frank Vulcano, Jr., said watching his brother over the three days at Hershey was something special.
“What he did was unbelievable,” Frank Jr. said. “We all knew he had the potential. It was a matter of mentally doing it and believing he could do it.
“I would imagine beating Haught lifted his confidence sky high. Yes, it was absolutely special for our family. He was the last chance for a Vulcano to win a PIAA championship. Jimmy and I fell short. Patsy got it done for all of us.”
Said Yarcosky: “I ended up on the floor by the mat. I watched from up top, leaning on a rail. As the seconds ran down, I went down the steps just as fast. By the time they raised his hand, I was there. It’s amazing what he accomplished there. I felt that once he beat Haught, he wasn’t going to lose in the finals. He was determined.”
Phil Mary said while Vulcano winning the state title was a surprise it was not “a great surprise” to him.
“Obviously, beating Tommy Haught was big,” Mary said. “Patsy would do real well in wrestling today because he was a great scrambler. He’d get into scrambles and end up on top. You didn’t have a lot of that then. His opponents had to earn everything they could get against Patsy. He had tremendous heart and was a grinder.”
Jim Vulcano said when his brothers, friends and former teammates still get together, Patsy Vulcano’s rise to a state champion is certainly discussed.
While Patsy owns bragging rights, he shies away from using them.
“No, I really don’t,” he said. “I never brag, it’s just not me. Jimmy was the best wrestler out of all of us. Frank was tough and talented. I don’t care that it was me who won. My brothers were better wrestlers than I was.
“It just all clicked at Hershey for me that year.”