Pat Callaghan was leaving the Spring-Ford High gym last Saturday night when a well-wisher shouted, "The power of the 'stache!"
Grinning from under a thin and sparse — but evenly trimmed — two-week old growth on his upper lip, Callaghan acknowledged the fan.
Around his neck, the Marple Newtown senior wore the gold medal that he had just won by capturing the Class AAA District One-West 126-pound title. But in keeping with his low-key persona, Callaghan seemed more at ease talking about his budding mustache than his prowess on the mat.
"We grew out (mustaches) in honor of Anthony Salvino, our 132-pounder, for senior night," Callaghan said. "Most of the other guys shaved, but I decided to keep it. I think it looks good and it must be (bringing me strength), because I've had good results come from it."
Since he ditched the razor, Callaghan's reputation has also grown. At the Central League championships, he won the 126-pound crown and was named the Outstanding Wrestler — a vast improvement on his second- and third-place finishes in previous sectionals. Prior to last week, Callaghan's best showing at districts was a fifth-place finish as a sophomore.
Now 32-2, Callaghan hopes to medal for the first time at the Class AAA Southeast Regional tournament, being held Friday and Saturday at Pottstown High.
Yet he's approaching the experience on less of a personal level and taking more of a big-picture view for Marple Newtown wrestling.
"I think it's good for the program, for the underclassmen on the team to see guys from our school at this level," Callaghan said. "Hopefully, they believe that they can get here too."
Tigers first-year coach Pat Crater has been amazed, and appreciative, to see the impact that Callaghan has had on the program.
"A lot of the younger guys on the team look up to Pat," Crater said. "They see him in the wrestling room, they see his work ethic, they see what he does before school, they see what he does during school with his academics.
"For him to have this whole package and go out there and compete and have a lot of success on and off the mat is just tremendous for all the younger guys on the team."
Crater looked around the gym at Spring-Ford last week and marveled at the support Callaghan has elicited.
"It's not mandatory that the team comes and watches (an individual tournament), but Pat had a whole stand full of JV guys and other people on the team who were already eliminated, but still showed up to see him,' the coach said. "I know some of these guys in particular really look up to him. For Pat to go out and have success will help the program for years after he's graduated. We're proud of him and everything's he's done.'
Marple Newtown isn't the only Delaware County school contending for medals and a coveted berth to the PIAA Tournament this weekend at Pottstown.
Garnet Valley will be represented by seniors Michael Marino (120), Ben Lyons (145), John Dambro (170) and sophomore Ben Tuohey (126). Penncrest's contingent includes sophomore Liam Frank (182) as well as seniors Ryan Dougherty (152) and Austin Jacque (195).
Interboro qualified seniors Joey Gonzales (138) and Steve Phillips (170) and sophomore Eric Thomas (132). Sun Valley juniors Alex Elliott (138) and Steve Okoorian (152) are coming off their District 1 Class AAA Central titles at Oxford.
Radnor has a pair of juniors, Tom Meyers (160) and Zak Taylor (170), and Ridley will be rooting for junior Lawrence Alkins (182) and senior Donte McCarthy (120).
Five other seniors — Penn Wood's Karon Lucas-Tillery, the District One-East champ at 195, Academy Park's Samson Akporotu (160), Strath Haven's Nate Frantz (106), Springfield's Dennis Charamella (138) and Upper Darby's Anthony Petril (106) — are their programs lone standard-bearer with a shot at qualifying for next week's state championships in Hershey.
Joe DePhillipo is looking to return to the PIAA Tournament after the Bonner-Prendergast senior repeated as champion at the District 12 Tournament last week and was awarded the top seed for the 152-pound bracket at this weekend's Class AAA Northeast Regional at Bethlehem Liberty.
Cardinal O'Hara will have a trio of wrestlers in Bethlehem, with seniors Mike Maloney (120) and Tyler Oliver (126) making the return trip along with junior Mike Lewis (138).
Juniors Nick Forman (138) and Jacob Poulos (170) of Archbishop Carroll and Delaware County Christian School senior Scott Pendell (285) are expected to compete in this weekend's Class AA Southeast Regional at Wilson West Lawn.