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Top wrestlers transfer from Forest Hills to Bishop McCort | Sports


Top wrestlers transfer from Forest Hills to Bishop McCort | Sports

The long-term balance of power in District 6 – and possibly in the PIAA – might have shifted on Wednesday, as several of Forest Hills’ top wrestlers announced that they have transferred to Bishop McCort Catholic.

Erik Gibson, a junior who has committed to Cornell, is the only one with varsity experience. His younger brother Mason Gibson, who has been ranked as the top freshman nationally at any weight, is joining him, as is their younger brother Melvin Miller, who is still in junior high.

Bo Bassett, a six-time Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling champion who is in seventh grade, also transferred, according to his father Bill Bassett, who is an uncle to the Gibsons and Miller.

Tom Smith, Bishop McCort Catholic’s principal, confirmed the moves.

“I’m a believer in school choice,” said Smith, who noted that Brennan and Myah Miller, sisters to the Gibsons and Melvin Miller, also transferred. “We have two families that wanted an alternative option. They felt that they would be a good fit at Bishop McCort for a lot of different reasons. They’re going to college and felt that a college preparatory school would be the best option for them, so they enrolled at Bishop McCort.”

Bill Bassett coached the Forest Hills junior high program to an undefeated season and top ranking in the state last season, but was forced out of his position amid disputes with the Rangers varsity coaches and school administrators.

Bill Bassett, who had previously been linked to the Bishop McCort varsity job, said he has no plans to coach this season and that several other junior high wrestlers who transferred from Forest Hills to Bishop McCort will not wrestle for any PIAA team this season.

Erik Gibson’s eligibility for the 2021 postseason could be in jeopardy. PIAA rules state that any sophomore, junior or senior who transfer schools could be determined to be ineligible for the postseason, although exceptions have been made in some cases.

“My concern is that they come into the school and fit in well and feel comfortable,” Smith said. “The athletic side will work itself out.”

Forest Hills Athletic Director Joe Gironda did not return a text message asking if the school would challenge the transfers but varsity coach Jake Strayer released the following statement: “The Forest Hills coaching staff is excited for the 2020 wrestling season to start. We are grateful for our team and will be working hard to compete for the regular season and district title. We are thankful for all the support from the parents and community members of Forest Hills School District.”

Erik Gibson tweeted news of the transfers on Wednesday, saying, “Everything we do, we do it as a family” in a post that included pictures of him and his brothers with Bishop McCort and wrestling club logos on each photo.

Mason Gibson tweeted a picture of himself as well as one that appears to show a group of Ranger Pride Wrestling members with a Bishop McCort logo and “Our New Home,” superimposed on the photo. His tweet reads “We came to a turn in our journey and change is necessary for growth. I’m ready to embrace this change and take it as an opportunity to better myself. Remember the name… Bishop McCort!”

Bo Bassett and his younger brother Keegan, another standout wrestler, created a Twitter account on Wednesday and posted a picture of them wearing Bishop McCort shirts with the message “We are excited for a fresh start and beginning. Definitely was never the plan but everything happens for a reason!”

Forest Hills, which captured the District 6 Class AA dual meet title last year and won a match in the PIAA tournament, was projected as one of the top teams in the state for 2021 and beyond. Strayer’s squad had a record four PIAA medalists last season, and all four were returning. Ryan Weyandt, who has been drawing interest from Division I colleges, is a senior while Jackson Arrington – a state champion in 2019 – and Noah Teeter are each juniors.

In July, Forest Hills School District placed all activities involving the wrestling program on hold for at least 30 days and hired an independent investigator “to review the wrestling program’s practices, procedures, and protocols.”

That stemmed from an incident in December 2019 when a then-member of the wrestling team allegedly used a racial slur toward Erik Gibson, who is Black. Gibson’s parents, John and Ashley Miller, were upset that Strayer did not inform them of the incident and that members of the school administration did not meet with them about it until several months later.

Bishop McCort has not yet announced who its varsity coach will be this season. Paul Myers said in June that he was stepping down due to time constraints after serving as the Crimson Crushers’ head coach for the past two seasons. Smith said Wednesday that Myers has agreed to return as an assistant coach and that the new head coach will be announced as soon as his clearances are approved.  

The Crimson Crushers made a splash when they launched a wrestling program in 2016, with Shad Benton, who won a Division II national title while wrestling for Pitt-Johnstown, as head coach and a lineup that featured four Division I recruits. Bishop McCort finished third in the PIAA Class AA tournament in that first season, but things went south quickly. The program was placed on probation by District 6, which found evidence of recruiting violations, and Benton was out before the start of the second season, replaced by Smith and co-coach John Rizzo on an interim basis. Anthony Walters won the school’s first state title under Smith and Rizzo but the lack of an established feeder program at the youth levels hurt the program the past two seasons, when it went 1-20 in dual meets while giving up multiple forfeits.