AAU Wrestling Club Overcomes Tragedy
Written by: Amanda Szylin
The Cedar Cliff High School Wrestling team traveled from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania to compete in the 2015 AAU Wrestling Scholastic Duals, but this year, they were one wrestler short.
Medard Kowalski was an avid outdoorsman and loved to hunt and fish. On December 1, 2014, he went out hunting with a few of his friends. Kowalski made plans to meet up with a friend later that night so he could go out again the next day. Before calling it a day, he decided to take his canoe out by himself to an island that is known for having a great deer population.
The friend that he was supposed to meet never heard from him later that night.
After Kowalski’s parents were contacted, they reached out to the authorities and the local river rescue to search for him. They searched for several weeks but no one could find him.
Rick Tamanosky, the head coach of the Cedar Cliff High School freshmen wrestling team and a police officer for the Lower Allen Township Police Department in Cumberland County, remembers searching for Kowalski.
“It’s that time frame where we hope we find him okay, because we know that he knows what he’s doing out there, but then it settles in that it’s not going to end well,” Tamanosky said.
Kowalski’s body was found nearly three and a half months later, farther downstream.
The discovery of his body was tough on everyone in the community. While for some it brought closure, for others, like his teammates, it just made them relive the loss all over again.
“They went through a bit of a healing process because of the length of time,” said Tamanosky. “And then when he turns up, you go through that whole process again.”
After Kowalski’s body was found, the Cedar Cliff High School wrestling team decided to hold their scheduled practice to try to maintain some sort of normalcy.
“Coach thought about calling it off, but we all got together and worked hard,” said Connor McGee, a close friend and teammate of Kowalski. “It pushed me through the season. He was definitely with me every step of the way pushing me and making me focus and work harder. Anytime I had any mental weakness I thought of him and how he would push me and how I would want to perform better for him.”
In remembrance of Kowalski, the team had his name put on his singlet and at every meet, they placed it on a chair, so he would still be a part of their team.
Cedar Cliff High School team member Josh Colello credits the support of his team for getting him through the tragedy.
“If it wasn’t for our wrestling team, none of us wouldn’t have gotten over it,” said Colello. “Sometimes, we’ll be having a blast as a team, and I’ll think of him in the back of my mind and wish he was here.”
The outpouring from the community was overwhelming during the tragedy, from strangers donating time to help search and others supplying resources for the searchers to stay nourished and hydrated. Tamanosky is proud of his Pennsylvania community.
“It was a tragedy that shared some good things in today’s culture,” he said. “It really brought a town and a community together.”
At the AAU Scholastic Duals tournament in Orlando, Florida, all of these memories come flooding back.
“He would have been a senior this year so it would have been a trip he had been on,” explained Tamanosky. “It’s a great time. We’re having a blast but we’re missing something.”
Kowalski is described by friends and teammates as the type of person who could light up the room. Tamanosky said he was “a great kid that was just like a part of the family.”
“He was always able to make people laugh and he made a huge difference to the team, on and off the mat,” McGee adds. “I’m happy that he went away doing what he loved. He truly loved being outdoors and being on the river was something he liked to do a lot. I was glad that he was doing the one thing that he really loved.”
The Cedar Cliff High School wrestling squad placed fourth in their pool and Tamanosky was happy with their performance.
“We’ve competed very well,” he said. “In the end, we ended up 4-5, but competed very well. It’s a great opportunity to get to come down here and hang out as a team and get some bonding in.”
And a bond is exactly what this team has. After going through an unthinkable tragedy together, one thing is clear: this team will always have each other.