A 51-15 home win over Eden on Wednesday night secured for WNY #4 ranked small school Pioneer an eighth consecutive ECIC wrestling dual meet title while extending the area’s longest active league winning streak to eight years and 57 consecutive matches. The 2021-2022 Panthers finish this season with another perfect 6-0 league record with an overall record of 11-2.
The mighty Panthers program boasts one of the oldest traditions in upstate New York with decades of championship pedigree. For fourteen year head coach Chris Edwards, a teacher in the district and a 1991 graduate of Pioneer, the expectation year to year is to win the league title first and foremost. Edwards is only the third head coach in the history of the program that was started in 1969, following in the footsteps of National Wrestling Hall of Fame members Richard Post and Ronald Brunner.
However, this year’s championship team faced challenges unlike any before it.
Only weeks after the spring 2021 wrestling season came to a close – a season in which the Panthers achieved a 7-0 dual meet record and the top ranking amongst all WNY teams – recent graduates and members of the wrestling team Nathaniel Schwartz (18) and Alexander Schenk (18) tragically lost their lives in a car accident on Sunday, August 7th, 2021.
All of the wrestlers on this season’s roster went to class with and wrestled alongside Schwartz and Schenk. They’ve carried Nate’s and Alex’s memories and the pain of loss with them throughout this season. The 2021-2022 wrestling season’s start date was not even four full months after the accident.
“Our kids, at their age, and for a lot of them, that was their first real loss…those two boys,” said Edwards. “It makes our time together and their time with each other more special because now they are more aware of it. This championship is special because our kids understand what it means to lose something important to them, in this case, being Nate and Alex.”
At all of Pioneer’s home matches this season, the team has flown a flag with the unique Panthers Wrestling logo on it in memory of Nate and Alex.
“We have shared a lot of stories…we have spent more time this year than in most reflecting,” continued Edwards. “We have had Nate and Alex in our minds the entire season.”
Friends and competitors across WNY have offered their own tributes of sympathy for the families of Nathaniel and Alexander and all of the Pioneer community in the form of moments of silence before events this season.
For Edwards, personally, the veteran coach is reminded of experiences in seasons past in reflecting on the 2021-2022 season.
“This year’s championship brought up the same emotions as the first time we won one,” said Edwards. “Getting that first championship is really hard, and the emotions that you experience winning for the first time is a big deal. This year, winning with everything that the program has gone through, it feels like winning for the very first time again…very emotion based. It’s not just another year. This one is special…it ranks right up there with the very first championship we’ve ever won.”
The tight-knit, rural Pioneer community has continued to show the utmost support this season for the team and their goals while helping to reinforce the family & community based foundation that has made Pioneer Wrestling a force for 53 years.
“School has provided a lot of support in understanding, that while academics are important, but that the relationships with the kids are first and foremost,” said Edwards. “Parents of seniors that graduated last spring have come back together at our matches to show support. We were very fortunate to have had Nate’s family and Alex’s family come to matches throughout the season as part of our wrestling family.”
Pioneer wraps up the regular season this weekend in Medina at the Gary Gross Memorial Tournament. Pioneer’s postseason begins next Saturday, February 5th with the Section VI Class B Tournament at Charter School for Applied Technologies.
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