In December, the thought of seeing Freedom senior Tommy Bonilla or Liberty senior Carlo Perugini even on the District 11 3A wrestling tournament medal stand, even on the lowest rung, would have not have occurred the most partisan Patriot or Hurricane fan.
“When Carlo came out for the team, I told him he’d probably not be on varsity, he’d probably just be a fill-in,” Liberty coach Jody Karam said. “I’m an idiot.”
Freedom coach Brandon Hall was about as categorical.
“I’m not an idiot,” said Hall with a laugh, “but there was no question we had concerns about Tommy in mid-December. Did we see him as a district champion? No. The way he was wrestling, we didn’t think he’d get out of districts.”
But in remarkable twin conclusions to remarkable stories, Bonilla and Perugini not only got on the D-11 medal stand advanced to next week’s PIAA Northeast Regional, but they did so in real style Saturday night.
As District 11 champions, standing proudly atop the medal stand in the Lehigh Valley’s hallowed “Cathedral of Wrestling”, Liberty’s Memorial Gym.
Bonilla, the No. 5 seed at 152, defeated Bethlehem Catholic senior Ryan Zeiner 6-1 to win at 152 pounds and Perugini topped Easton’s top-seeded Max Viduszynski 4-2 at 195 to claim two of the more improbable district titles seen in a while in 3A.
“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t even sure I was going to wrestle,” said Perugini, who used a punishing ride and a key third-period reversal to prevail in the final; he had topped Bethlehem Catholic senior Jody Crouse 9-7 in a wild semifinal Saturday morning. “Winning this is an emotional moment for me with what I have been through, my (from birth) hearing loss and three ACL tears.”
Bonilla hit Zeiner with a left-handed Peterson roll in the second period for a five-point move to account for the winning margin. He, too, has been through some rough times, raised by a single mother, Enith Martinez.
“I judge myself by how well I make the people I love happy,” Bonilla said. “I love my coaches, they couldn’t have done more for me. I love all my teammates and I especially love my mother. She is my hero.”
Perugini and Bonilla were the heroes of the night for their Bethlehem fan bases. There’s a lot of celebration any time anybody wins a District 11 championship – and there should be – but Memorial Gym was filled with a distinctly richer sense of warmth and thrill and delight when Bonilla and Perugini won. That extra emotion made the moment much more intense – the image of Bonilla hugging his mother afterwards generated enough power to light the gym – and proved how special their triumph was to their ardent fan bases.
“Carlo is the nicest kid in the world,” Karam said.
And one of the hardest working, too.
“Carlo is one of six guys on our team who never missed a day of practice,” Karam said.
Bonilla, who knocked off Easton’s No. 1 seed Hayden Keleher in his Saturday semifinal 7-4, would fit into the same category, and if he had had a little more success than Perugini over their careers – Perugini did not wrestle as a sophomore or a junior – he was still not the first wrestler fans would think of as a district champ.
“I always dreamed of being a district champion,” Bonilla said. “But with Carlo and I winning, especially him with his three knee surgeries, shows what anyone can do if you do things right and battle injuries and lack the element of experience. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it.”
It turns out that Bonilla and Perugini had wrestled each other as freshmen and split a pair of matches.
“It was really nice seeing Tommy win.” Perugini said.
“Carlo is a great kid,” Bonilla said. “I am so happy he won.”
It was joy all around for Carlo Perugini and Tommy Bonilla all around Saturday night. Joy no one could have anticipated just a short while ago – which made their District 11 championships, always special, even more so.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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