Thursday, December 02, 2021


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Catching Up With ...
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

Hannah Wood

            Hannah Wood pioneered the creation of the Upper Perkiomen girls cross

Hannah Wood

country team. As a sophomore, she was the only girl on the boys team. The next year, she and four female teammates competed officially on their own team. By Wood's senior season, the girls squad ballooned to a dozen members.

            "It was excited to get people to enjoy and appreciate the same things I did," she said.

            Wood, a Hereford native, parlayed her interest in the sport into a solid college career. She ran all four years at Moravian College, competing each season in the NCAA Division III championship race.

            A 1997 graduate of Upper Perkiomen High School, Wood credits English teacher Vince Leskusky for inspiring her to come out for the team. Wood, who participated in track and field in middle school, learned of the school's cross country program in Leskusky's ninth grade class.

            As a sophomore, she went out for the boys team. Wood never scored for the Indians, often running by herself. When possible, she was permitted to run with girls from other teams.

            "I received a lot of support from local coaches," Wood said. "I appreciate their willingness to allow me to participate."

            According to the runner, Leskusky – the team's head coach – thought she would give up after the first race. However, Wood enjoyed the challenge of attempting to get faster.  "I was trying to figure out how I was going to do it better," she said.

            As a junior, Wood recruited four other girls for the sport, prompting the school to create a girls team. During her senior year, the number of female runners more than doubled. She said the experience allowed her to build character, develop leadership skills and build meaningful friendships.  "I'm just glad it continued," Wood said.

            In the spring, she competed for the Tribe's track and field team. Wood participated in 400 yard dash, the two-mile run as well as the high jump and a triple jump. Occasionally, she would anchor the team's 4x400 meter relay.  "I liked chasing other people," Wood said.

            At Moravian, she became a consistent scorer for the cross country team. She also completed on the Greyhounds winter and spring track teams. In 1999, she ran the relay leg of the distance medal relay race at the Penn Relays that set the school record.

            The Philadelphia resident, who earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English at Moravian, went into teaching. She's been teaching English at Souderton High School for 19 years. Wood described Leskusky as an influence.

            For the last four years, Wood has received an apprenticeship in Folk and Traditional Arts, from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, to practice and preserve the folk art of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of martial arts, games, music, and dance.

            "The first time I saw it, I couldn't sit still," said Wood, who was exposed to it while she was taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania. "I wanted to try it."

            Volunteering at a school in Race Street in Philadelphia known as a Project Capoeira, Inc., Wood helps to organize and teach the art, which promotes intercultural understanding and a sense of community through arts education and social outreach as well as Brazilian culture in the Philadelphia area,  to children.


Mark Smith Jr. 

            Mark Smith Jr. discovered the headlock while wrestling with the Upper Perk

Mark Smith, Jr.

Braves. A few years later, around the age of 8 or 9, Smith was reintroduced to the move. He says the message from Coach Brian Berlanda resonated: if you can control the head, you can control the body.

            "The wires started to connect," Smith said. "It really worked for me."

            The Upper Hanover native's name became synonymous with the headlock. He parlayed the move into a prolific career for Upper Perkiomen's wrestling team. In four seasons, Smith posted a career record of 161-19. He graduated in 2002 with the all-time state record for pins (124).

            Smith, known as Marky during his years with the Indians, won three medals at the PIAA Class 3A Championships and captured three Southeast Regional titles at 125, 135 and 140 pounds. He won at least 40 matches in three of his four seasons, relying mostly on the headlock. He learned to throw the move from the neutral position and even when he was on the bottom.

            Relying on powerful hips and overall strength, Smith learned to manipulate opponents' heads in order to grab them. A right handed person, the Palm native said he has been told be applied the move with the technique of a lefthander.

            Smith, who credited former head coach Tom Hontz for making him resilient and practice partner Derek Zinck for keeping him humble, suffered only one major decision defeat. Four of his losses came against John Antonelli, a three-time state qualifier from Norristown.

            Smith also credited his success to multiple years of training with the Talon Freestyle Wrestling Club, housed at Bethlehem Catholic High School. Smith said he ended up competing with several eventual state championships.

            "Turns out I was in a room full of killers," said Smith, who was inducted into the District 1 Hall of Fame in 2012. "I knew I was a pretty good wrestler because of them. Learning to master the headlock was the icing on the cake."

            Smith, who originally just hoped to finish over .500 as a freshman, credited Hontz for making him a polished performer and setting his career on the proper path. As a ninth grader, during the 1998-99 season, he went undefeated until the district tournament at 125 pounds and finished seventh at states.

            The following year, he rallied from a quarterfinal round loss at states to finish fourth at 135 pounds. As a senior, he reached the semifinals at 140 pounds, and repeated his fourth-place finish.

            During his freshman season, Smith help lead the Indians to the championship round of the PIAA Class 3A Duals Tournament. Though the Tribe lost 53-0, Smith said he felt honored to play a crucial role in the growth of Hontz's program.  "Early on, I didn't expect to be a significant piece of that puzzle," he said.

            At East Stroudsburg University, Smith said he was prepared for any challenge he might face in the wrestling room. He said the individual challenges were continuous.  "I wrestled a high school state champion in every meet," said Smith, who posted a 99-42 career record for the Huskies, including a school record 60 pins. "After a while, I just stopped asking when it came to who I faced."


            Smith, an East Greenville resident works as a process engineer at American Millwork & Cabinetry in Emmaus. His responsibilities include writing the software for the machines that produce cabinets.





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