New Latrobe wrestling coach comes full circle
To say Tad Harbert is ready to take over as Latrobe High School's head wrestling coach is an understatement.
Harbert has had the education of a lifetime as the son of Pennsylvania State Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Tom “Legs” Harbert and then serving 11 years as an assistant under another Hall of Famer and recently retired Wildcats coach — Marc Billett.
“I couldn't give enough thanks to my dad and Coach Billett. They are two of the most major positive influences in my life,” Harbert said. “They've given me all of the core values and the tools that are necessary to be a good head coach.”
A 1986 graduate of Latrobe, Harbert naturally took to the mat at a young age. In junior high, he wrestled for Billett before his father coached him in high school. During that time under his father, Harbert won three Westmoreland County championships and two section titles.
His career as a wrestler ended after one year at Millersville. Then, his father retired in 1991 only to be replaced by Billett. In a fit of fate, Harbert took up coaching and, in 2001, received a call from Billett, who just so happened to be looking for an assistant.
“It's funny how things come full circle,” Harbert said. “It's been kind of a neat cycle with the way things panned out.”
After 40 years of coaching, 21 as a head coach, and posting a 218-104-4 record with four section titles among numerous other accolades, Billett retired at the team's annual banquet this past year. Latrobe athletic director Mark Mears and the school board made the obvious choice in replacing the Wildcats lifer.
“He's part of a wrestling family from Latrobe.” Mears said. “He's a fiery young guy.”
Harbert takes command of a Latrobe team that finished 9-9 last season and won a second straight Westmoreland County Coaches Association title. Despite losing Eric Shaffer, who placed seventh at the PIAA tournament at 189 pounds, and WPIAL runner-up Ty Lydic (130), Latrobe has talent coming up the ranks.
“I do have a good crew coming in,” Harbert said. “They have their goals set high and they're just great kids. I expect us to be competitive.”
The returning group includes PIAA qualifier Zack Zavatsky, WPIAL qualifier Tyler Mears and rising freshman Luke Bletcher, who defeated a PIAA champion this summer.
“I don't have any expectations except to just focus on the team and the kids, make sure I can do everything to help them achieve their goals on and off the mat,” Harbert said. “If I can do that, I know everything's going to be all right.”
The passing of the torch couldn't be more seamless, or fitting, for Latrobe as the storied wrestling program looks to continue the legacy of winning established by the passion and dedication of two legends — legends that taught the newest Wildcats' coach everything he knows.
“I think our program will be in great hands,” Mears said.
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.