Washington’s Riggs begins new chapter

Published 12:48 pm Thursday, July 3, 2014




Daniel Riggs had just graduated from Lock Haven University in 2005 when he accepted a position at Washington High School. A seasoned collegiate wrestler, the young educator was handed the reigns to the Pam Pack wrestling team, a relatively undeveloped program a decade removed from the days of Russ Chesson, a three-time state wrestling champion. In fact, Riggs inherited a team with just two state champion wrestlers in its history, Chesson and Larry Harris (1987, 1988).

It was a program in need of rebuilding.

Nine years later, Riggs is leaving the Pam Pack and taking his wrestling expertise to Pennsylvania, his home state, leaving a legacy and an established program in his wake.

“I think I’ve built a program that is strong and disciplined,” Riggs said. “Grades were always very important to me. I never gave any slack on grades. I always told them every year — at the beginning of the season and at the end — not a single one of them will get to college because of wrestling. They will get there because of their performance in the classroom. I hope they keep that tradition alive.”

Taking an uncompromising approach toward academics throughout hit tenure, Riggs navigated Washington to more than 120 wins in nine years, producing three individual state championships, two state runner-ups and six other wrestlers who placed. As a team, the Pam Pack had three dual-team state championship appearances in nine years.

This season, Washington finished 11-8 and failed to qualify for dual-team states, but five of the team’s wrestlers qualified for the state tournament in Greensboro. And Riggs was in usual form, anxiously patrolling the sidelines and shouting commands to his star wrestlers.

Despite a somewhat prickly demeanor during matches, Washington’s assertive coach garnered respect from his team and area coaches.

“I think they can do a lot of improvement down the line,” Riggs said. “The coaches have built a strong foundation that they can build upon over the next couple years. The guys that are still there that I’ve coached know what it takes to get to the next level and hopefully they can keep passing that along as they graduate through high school.”

As Riggs leaves one program behind, he prepares to strengthen another. He will inherit the Middletown Area High School wrestling team which went 5-10 in last season. In the competitive Class 3-A Mid-Penn Keystone Conference, the Blue Raiders will face teams like Mechanicsburg, Hershey and powerhouse Cedar Cliff.

Unlike North Carolina, where wrestling takes a backseat to sports like football, baseball, basketball, softball and even soccer, Pennsylvania is wrestling country, and even more pressure will be on the young coach to produce a winning program.

Joining Riggs in Pennsylvania will be Devon Van Cura, the Pam Pack’s unofficial captain, who finished second in this year’s 170-pound state championship bracket.

Due to his standout performance on the mats and in the classroom, Riggs’ star wrestler will become a member of the Penn State University wrestling team this fall as a preferred walk on.

About an hour and a half from University Park, Riggs plans on attending the Nittany Lions’ home meets to watch his protégée in action.

The academic success of his wrestlers reflects the core values established by Riggs through tenure as coach. They are values he hopes continue after he departs.

“Some of them are upset that I’m leaving,” Riggs said. “I told the team that if they were wrestling just because of me, they were doing it for the wrong reasons. They need to wrestle for themselves. They not only need to keep working hard, but also love doing it.”