McDevitt's Hunter stepping down

Bishop McDevitt wrestling coach Bill Hunter (left) with 120-pounder Joshua Velez-Arce.           RICK O'BRIEN / Staff
Bishop McDevitt wrestling coach Bill Hunter (left) with 120-pounder Joshua Velez-Arce.           RICK O'BRIEN / Staff
Posted: January 30, 2014

Bill Hunter's passion for wrestling began when he was a rail-thin freshman at Northeast Catholic in the mid-1970s.

"The moderator at the time, Father [John] Green, spotted me in the hallway and asked me if I was interested in coming out for the team," Hunter said. "I was a bit nervous, but I showed up. That's how it all started."

Hunter developed into a standout at North, which closed in 2010. In 1979, as a senior, he excelled at 132 pounds and was named the outstanding wrestler in the city championships.

Returning to his alma mater a year later as an assistant coach, and later taking over the Falcons for two seasons, Hunter has had a major impact on the city wrestling scene over the last three decades.

Hunter, who guided North to Catholic League titles in 1998 and 1999, is stepping down as head coach after achieving success for the second time, though. He started Bishop McDevitt's program in 2010, and this season led the Lancers to the playoff semifinals.

As was the case when he left North, the Fox Chase resident is leaving because of career and family commitments. In his 23d year with the Philadelphia Police Department, he is part of the District Attorney's Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit (DDOU).

"I'm a competitor," Hunter said. "In order for these kids to get better, they need someone that can be with them 12 months a year. If I can't do that, then I'm cheating them."

Hunter's impact in the sport has gone beyond North Catholic and McDevitt, where he has been in charge the last four years.

In 1980, he and former teammate Tony Conway helped establish a youth wrestling club at a Police Athletic League center in Port Richmond. It was the first of its kind in the city.

"We went to five or six different places, and no one would take us," Hunter said. "PAL gave us that chance. That was a big thing."

Hunter also was involved in the creation of the Junior Falcons, another feeder program that played a key role in North, which steadily made ground on traditional powers Archbishop Wood and Bishop Egan, winning 13 Catholic League crowns.

"We were tough before that, but we weren't winning," said Hunter, 52. "The kids on the better teams were wrestling before they got to high school."

McDevitt athletic director Pat Manzi was Hunter's wrestling coach at North.

"Outside of my parents, he's been one of the most positive influences in my life," Hunter said.

McDevitt, which fell to host Father Judge in Monday night's league semifinals but continues in the District 12 Class AA tournament Thursday, has been competitive, despite low numbers. This season's team has 18 members.

For Hunter, who still has a chiseled physique gained from his days on the mat and as a powerlifting competitor, coaching has been about teaching teamwork, discipline, and accountability.

"He wants us to be better wrestlers, but he also wants to make us better people," said McDevitt's Joshua Velez-Arce, a 5-foot-5 senior who competes at 120 pounds.

Like Hunter, who speaks fluent Spanish, Velez-Arce did not start wrestling until high school. The 17-year-old, who has posted 100-plus career wins, is considering Holy Family and Villanova to study criminal justice or psychology.

"Ten years from now, when I have a full-time job, I'll have to be on time and responsible," Velez-Arce said. "Those are the things Coach Hunter teaches."

Hunter greatly benefited from his days at North, including the regular practice pins dealt to him by teammates Ed Miranda and Jack Hengy.

"I still thank those guys for beating me up," Hunter said with a laugh.


robrien@phillynews.com

@ozoneinq

www.inquirer.com/ozone

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