When the NCAA Division I wrestling championships begin Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, there will be one official from Pittsburgh among the 20 picked to work the event.
John Hnath, a former Pitt wrestler and Mt. Lebanon graduate and resident, will be working for the 10th consecutive season.
Hnath, 51, wrestled in the nationals when he was at Pitt. A three-year captain of the Panthers, he made it to the blood round in 1985.
But you won’t see him working a Pitt bout. No home cooking here.
“If a Pitt wrestler appears on the mat, I simply walk off,” Hnath said. “It’s quite an honor to be selected for the nationals.”
Hnath started officiating on the college level 18 years ago.
One weekend, he worked the PIAA Class AA finals in Hershey in the morning, and that evening he got a call to report to Bloomsburg to officiate in the EWLs because one of the officials got sick.
He has been working big college tournaments ever since.
One of his most memorable events was the Penn State-Ohio State dual in 2018 when Penn State won a classic 19-18 decision. He had the Myles Martin and Bo Nickal final at the 2018 nationals.
“I was nervous for that dual meet,” Hnath said. “The nationals are different. You’re working hard every day. You just have to treat it as another match. It’s physically demanding.”
Hnath said officials have to be at the top of their games because they always are being evaluated.
“There are a lot of good officials out there waiting for their shot,” Hnath said. “There isn’t a big turnover, but there are some other local officials that deserve a shot.”
Hnath wrestled for the Blue Devils and qualified for the PIAA tournament at 119 pounds in 1981. His record was 28-3-1. He graduated from Mt. Lebanon in 1982.
He said officials Clem Wandrisco, Fred Ambrose, Mel Tourney and Jim Sterner influenced his decision to officiate and helped him advance.
Now he gets a chance to officiate in front of a home crowd.