This is the third in a series of seven articles profiling the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012.
DENVER — There was a time when Jim Walsh looked up to the best wrestlers in Seneca Valley High School history.
He then proceeded to become one himself.
Walsh, a 1985 graduate, won 98 matches in his varsity career, including a WPIAL title in his senior season.
He will be one of seven people enshrined in the district’s Sports Hall of Fame Sept. 8.
“After high school, I went to Duke University and that led me out west,” said Walsh, now a history professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “I never looked back, but being selected for the hall of fame has brought me back. It’s helped me to reflect on my high school days and made me realize how important those years were for me.”
Walsh followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, Doug and Greg, and began wrestling at the age of 10.
“It felt comfortable to follow them,” said Walsh. “I immediately took a liking to it and stuck with it.”
By the time the 1981-82 school year rolled around, Jim Walsh was a 126-pound freshman on SV’s varsity team under coach Ken Lockey. The Raiders won 20 matches that season, with the Walsh brothers (Doug, Greg, Jim and Tim) comprising one-fourth of the team.
To date, no other team in program history has reached 20 wins in a single season.
“That was one of the best teams Seneca ever had,” Jim Walsh said. “My record was something like 10-13 and I may have been the weak link, but I did fill a hole and was very proud to be part of that team.
“I won over 20 matches as a sophomore,” he added. “I took a huge leap from my freshman to my sophomore year.”
But Walsh did not stop there. He turned in a 34-win season as a junior, reaching the WPIAL title bout at 155 pounds.
“I ended up wrestling a kid from North Hills, Mike Tongel,” Walsh said. “I had beaten him in the (regular-season) match and then he beat me in the section tournament. At WPIALs, he caught me in the first period to get an early lead and ended up winning. He placed third in the state that year and was a solid wrestler.”
Walsh’s success was due to a combination of natural ability and a strong work ethic.
“I had great quickness and balance and in wrestling, that’s everything,” he said. “I also enjoyed the preparation that went into it. Wrestling became my identity.”
During his senior campaign, Walsh parlayed his talent and dedication into something that had just eluded him the year before — a WPIAL championship. He won the crown at 167 pounds.
“I think back to my freshman year and even though I lost more than I won, something told me that I was going to get better,” said Walsh. “Winning that WPIAL title was a great thrill.”
At states, Walsh fell in the semifinal round to a wrestler from Nazareth High School and placed third.
“I took an early lead on him, but by the third period, it was tied,” he said. “He ended up getting me late and it was the first time all season that I was taken down.”
By the next fall, Walsh was in Durham, N.C., taking Duke University up on its full-scholarship offer.
“The first time I was ever on a plane was when I flew down there,” said Walsh. “It was a culture shock for me, but I lettered all four years and was a captain my junior and senior seasons. That was big-time wrestling.”
Walsh is quick to credit his upbringing in a working-class family for much of his success.
“My parents, Doug and Lois, are the true hall of famers in all of this,” he said. “They raised seven kids and each of us has a college degree. They led us in the right direction.”
Jim Walsh and his wife, Gabriela Flora, have a 2-year-old daughter, Lily.
Note: Members of the SV Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 will be recognized at halftime of the home football game against Pine-Richland Sept. 7. They will be formally inducted during a banquet and ceremony at the high school, starting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 8. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $20 per person, $10 for children ages 3-12. For more details or to reserve a ticket, call Wayne Roccia at 724-816-0698 or Sue Ennis at 724-679-4019.