“Bill Petrina is the Grandfather of wrestling in the Churchill area.” That’s how former Woodland Hills wrestling coach Bob Ladick refers to Bill Petrina, the 2002 recipient of the Dr. Kurt J. Nellis Memorial Award.
“Many of the kids who wrestled for Churchill High School learned the basics from Bill Petrina,” said Ladick. “He made a major contribution to wrestling in this area.
n the fall of 1967, Petrina organized a rag-tag group of 8-10 year old kids, and taught them to wrestle on donated mats in his garage.
I“When my brother Bill (Jr.) was wrestling at Churchill, my father fell in love with the sport,” said Linda Kubiczki, Petrina’s daughter. “He saw the importance of introducing the sport to kids at an early age and started a junior wrestling program.
Despite no previous background in the sport of wrestling, Petrina led his “garage gang” to a surprising performance in the Western Pennsylvania Junior Olympics, by winning several medals.
That began a 27-year coaching career, in which Petrina coached over 1,000 wrestlers, many of whom went on to wrestle in high school at Churchill, Woodland Hills, and Central Catholic.
“Bill Petrina taught me to wrestle,” said John Aiello, a 1987 Central Catholic graduate who is now head coach at his alma mater. “I didn’t get into wrestling until seventh grade and Bill taught me the basics.
“Bill was a pioneer. He was a fixture in Churchill wrestling for close to 30 years. He got me to love the sport of wrestling and 20 years later I still love it.”
Two of Petrina's wrestlers were George Mihalic and Wayne Anderson, a pair of WPIAL heavyweight champions. Mihalic won a WPIAL title for Central Catholic in 1988. Anderson won a pair of WPIAL titles for Woodland Hills in 1989 and 1990.
During his career, Petrina had 12 wrestlers win Junior Olympic state titles and approximately 150 won Area VII titles. He even coached his son Stephen, nephew Nick, and three grandsons.
“I am honored to be chosen as the recipient of the Dr. Kurt J. Nellis Memorial Award,” said Petrina, who is now 76 years old. “I ran across the Nellis family many times throughout my coaching career.
“I can honestly say that I have never met a finer wrestling family. Everyone who came in contact with them remarked on how they displayed talent, discipline and wonderful sportsmanship. I often used them as an example for my own wrestlers.
“I had a lot in common with Kurt because we shared the love of wrestling. It gives me great pleasure to accept this award in memory of Kurt. This award has rekindled my great memories. I am happy to see that so many kids are still involved in this fine sport of wrestling.” Petrina was also the Area VII Assistant Chairman and on the Keystone League Board for many years.
After graduating from Scott High School in North Braddock, Petrina served in the United States Navy for four years. He was self-employed for over 55 years in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning business. Petrina and his wife of 51 years, Helen, reside in Forest Hills.
Dr. Nellis’s widow, Diane, his five children, sister and brothers will join John DeGruffola, chief marketing officer for UPMC Health Plan, in presenting the award to Petrina.
“Kurt exemplified dedication, hard work, and caring,” said DeGruffola.
“He had a lot of compassion. Those are the types of attributes that people admire.
“When you look at the young men in the Wrestling Classic, they all have the same attributes. They all have the same traits. They’ve risen to the top, achieved athletic excellence. It’s fitting that Kurt was a champion wrestler in his day and he gave a lot to the community and Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic.”