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Penn State New Kensington hires former Burrell state champ to lead wrestling program

Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell graduate and former state champion wrestler Joe Makara (left) was named wrestling coach at Penn State New Kensington by athletic director Dave Murray (back) on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.

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Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 10:27 p.m.

If Joe Makara has his way, Penn State New Kensington will become the college destination for Alle-Kiski wrestlers who want to grapple close to home.

“That's the goal,” said Makara, a two-time state champion at Burrell and the new wrestling coach at PSNK. “We'll be looking to bring guys in who are 30 to 45 minutes away and still want to continue wrestling. We want them to be thinking about coming here first.”

Makara, 29, has been an assistant at Burrell since 2004. Initially, the plan was for him to be a PSNK assistant under Derek Caldwell, but Caldwell left to become an assistant at Bucknell.

Makara was the next logical choice.

“We tried to get him to be the coach four years ago and failed,” PSNK athletic director Dave Murray said. “We finally convinced him to be an assistant in May.”

The wrestling program at PSNK was dormant for 35 years until it was revived in 2010. But the team has struggled and has lacked the numbers to fill out lineups.

Makara, who wrestled at Pitt-Johnstown, thinks he can change that and return the team to the respectability it forged in the 1970s. He'll have plenty of support.

“We're in the mecca of (high school) wrestling in the Lower Burrell, Kiski and New Kensington areas,” Murray said. “We feel like we have the perfect guy to bring some of those guys to our program. He's well-connected in the wrestling community.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at

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