Favorite athlete: Jason Kelce
Favorite team: Eagles
Favorite memory competing in sports: Being able to shave my coach’s head/ beard for winning districts and leagues.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: One time during a wrestling match, I looked at the team score not my score, thinking I was winning and ended up losing because of it.
Music on mobile device: Country and Rock
Future plans: Become a Health/ Physical education teacher
Words to live by: “Success is not accident. If you lead a life to do the things successful people do, then you will lead a life of success and happiness.”
One goal before turning 30: Drive from PA to California
One thing people don’t know about me: I love detailing cars and anything to do with them
By Ed Morrone
Mark Thompson remembers the enormity of it all.
He recalls emerging from the tunnel in Hershey’s appropriately-named Giant Center and marveling at just how big the state wrestling tournament looked. The Wissahickson High School senior wrestler, who didn’t even begin competing the sport until he was in eighth grade and lost 21 of his first 30 varsity matches, had come a long way to get to this moment, and by golly he was going to take every single bit of it in.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Thompson said of his state tournament experience. “My only real goal this year was to get to regionals, so just going to states is amazing in and of itself. The atmosphere at the Giant Center was so cool. Walking out of the tunnel and seeing the stands stacked on top of each other, it was a phenomenal sight. It was surreal, seeing all those people and top-notch wrestlers, it got me pumped. All those seats, all those eyes on you, it was a great experience. It showed me that this is where hard work leads.”
Thompson, in the heavyweight class, may have marveled at the environment, but there’s no chance that the moment was too big for him. It didn’t start that way, as it appeared that Thompson would fall to Ridley’s Tom Bramwell, who had beaten Thompson to claim first place at the district tournament.
Bramwell had Thompson on the ropes. Trailing and on his back in a half-nelson, the end appeared imminent for Thompson. Then, something happened that perfectly summed up the career of Thompson, somebody one would be ill advised to bet against in a big situation.
“When you put a heavyweight in a half-nelson, you’re not coming back from that,” said Wissahickon wrestling coach Anthony Stagliano, who saw what happened next from just feet away. “Mark weighs 240 pounds, and some of these heavyweight kids are between 270 and 285, as was the case with the kid from Ridley. And I shouldn’t have doubted the kid, because damn if he didn’t give up.
“He had all the reasons to give up: the kid had beat me before, he’s 285 pounds, he has me on my back - a lot of kids would have given up. Mark pushed his way to his knees and willed his way to pinning the kid. I couldn’t believe what just happened. To win a match at states like that, it signifies his whole career.”
Stagliano said what sets Thompson apart is not only how he is able to absorb information at a rapid rate, but also instantly execute it on the mat. Stagliano used the mantra “listen, learn, absorb, execute,” multiple times in describing Thompson, who went 9-21 as a freshman but still won 85 matches in his career, a startling turnaround that was punctuated by the huge win at states. Although Thompson did not earn a medal in Hershey, he announced his presence in a big way.
“When you lose in a first-second place match as I did to him at districts, it stays with you,” Thompson said. “I started flat-footed and he took me down in the second period. He was about to roll me over for the pin, and then there was just this blank moment of space where I got my hips up, and the next thing I knew he was on his back and my hand was getting raised.”
Thompson may have had a rough start out of the gate freshman year by winning just nine matches, but he stuck with it nonetheless. Thompson said he felt extremely welcomed by Stagliano and the rest of the team despite his slow start.
“I could still tell something good was going to happen,” Thompson said. “By the end of the first practice, I had the basics and I already had the drive, so I knew it would be fun. I hate losing, I really can’t stand it, so I worked on getting bigger and stronger while continuing to put in the effort to compete. Getting stronger helped me mentally as much as it did physically, and as I started to learn more fundamentals — what muscles to use, how my footwork needed to be, how to be quicker — that all helped me going into sophomore year.”
Thompson improved to 20-14 as a sophomore, jumped to 22-16 as a junior before finishing 34-10 in his final campaign as a team co-captain, good for a career mark of 85-61. Despite being almost always undersized in the heavyweight class, Thompson still willed his way to wins in almost 60 percent of his matches.
“When I felt stronger, my mind did too,” he said. “Even if guys were 30 or 40 pounds heavier than me, I still went out there and looked them right in the eyes. I said to myself, no matter how much bigger, taller, stronger or heavier that I can beat these guys. There was never a time in my mind I felt like I was going to a lose a match, even when I did. Just go out and win, that’s what Coach Stagliano taught me to do.”
Being smaller than his competition was nothing new for Thompson, also a three-year varsity offensive and defensive lineman for Wissahickon’s football program. Nor was being stacked against long odds, as in Thompson’s three seasons, the Trojans won just five games total (two each in his sophomore and junior years, and one in his final campaign). That said, the fiery leader never let the losses dampen his or the team’s spirit, as Thompson always made it a point to send the message to give it your all no matter the circumstances.
“I just love the feeling of putting on pads and hitting someone,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “We spent countless hours in the weight room and on the field in 90-degree heat because we knew the harder we worked, the better the team would look. The coaches were so supportive and gave us the motivation to push through. Without that, what really is there?
“As a captain, I always tried to support my fellow teammates. A hello and high five goes a long way. I’d give pregame speeches, organize postgame hangouts, just so guys would feel like they were part of something. It felt like family, it kept us moving and gave us something to come back to every day. When you come to that football field, everyone supports and cheers each other on. It gave us a sense of and security and hope.”
Bruce Fleming completed his first season as Wissahickon head football coach this past fall, but as the defensive coordinator for two seasons with the previous staff, Fleming had Thompson under his tutelage for all three of the player’s varsity seasons. Despite being a smaller center and defensive edge rusher (or tackle/nose guard if his team needed him to be), Thompson still made enough of an impact on the field to earn second team All-SOL as an offensive and defensive lineman as a junior and third team all-league honors as an OL, with honorable mention for his play on the D-line.
“Mark understood we might not get a lot of wins, but if we can say we became better people from start to finish, then that was an accomplishment,” Fleming said. “Mark is a guy who wants to make sure everyone feels a part of it, and he helped develop a work ethic for our team. Younger guys saw him as a two-sport athlete who never backed down and never quit; he could have focused on wrestling where he was more successful, but he knew he wanted to do both. Football-wise, it’s going to be hard for me to find another kid like Mark Thompson.”
As much as Thompson enjoyed his two-sport experience at Wissahickon, his athletic career more than likely has reached the end of the line. Thompson has been accepted to East Stroudsburg University, where he plans on immersing himself in a Health & Physical Education double major, which won’t leave a ton of time for sports.
Thompson said he chose that field because he “really does not like sitting still,” so combine that with his love of working with kids and it seems like a great match.
“I think I’d like to get into kindergarten through fifth grade, but anywhere would be perfect for me,” Thompson said. “I guess there could be potential to play both sports in college, and I see myself more as a wrestler than football player, but sports won’t be the number one thing. I want to focus on academics, build my resume and get stuff moving for what lies ahead of me. It would be cool to wrestle, though; maybe I could become a coach one day and impact other kids’ lives, the same way Coach Stagliano has done to mine.”
Now that he’s done with his high school athletic career and knows where he’s going to school in the fall, Thompson can get to know what it’s like to be something he hasn’t been able to be much the last four years: a regular high school kid. He’s looking forward to the arrival of spring as he really enjoys the outdoors, from mountain biking to his new number one hobby of fishing.
“I love to be out and at one with nature,” Thompson said. “Being out on the water, getting that bite, catching the biggest fish of the season - the whole idea is to enjoy what nature has to offer and put down the technology. During school, you’re always on the computer or phone talking to people; it’s nice to put that down, go fishing with a friend and talk to each other while not talking to other people. You just focus on you and what you’re doing, and that’s big for me.”
Thompson came a long way the last four years. He went from brand new wrestler with raw potential who only won nine matches freshman year to 35 wins and an unforgettable experience at states. On the football field, Wissahickon may not have won many games, but they had more fun than anyone could have imagined being part of something that was special and unique to them, which is really what high school is supposed to be all about.
“The most enjoyable experience was just the camaraderie,” Thompson said. “Inside jokes and things that only certain guys will understand, that’s what I’ll always remember and laugh about the most. One of the greatest things was winning all those high stakes (wrestling) matches as a team. I lost my district match but we won a district title as a team for the first time in 25 years, and I’ll never forget all the smiles on everyone’s faces. Just everyone being super excited and loud cheering for each other, those were the greatest moments of all.”