Friday’s dual between Penn State and Bucknell was 14 years in the making for former Bison wrestling captain Bill Graham. The 1962 graduate and BU trustee always wanted to see the Bison host a sellout.
And that’s exactly what happened Friday night against three-time defending national champion Penn State, as a record crowd of 4,279 — the largest crowd ever at a Bucknell wrestling match — watched the Nittany Lions defeat the Bison 42-3.
Graham, whose $5.6 million donation helped kickstart the program in 2006 after it had been dropped by the university in 2001, soaked in the crowd, and the match, first from his box in the arena and then matside, thrilled to see such a huge turnout.
Graham had worked hard with administrators and coaches to bring top wrestling teams to Sojka Pavilion, and Penn State was a crowning achievement. “To call this night gratifying would be an understatement,” he said. “I’m absolutely thrilled. And to think this is the first time Sojka has been totally sold out for wrestling is exciting to me.”
Ever the fan, Graham said he would like to see some Bucknell wins. “But I know how good Penn State is.”
In the Wrestling Alumni room, Carl Chambers, of Wellsboro, who wrestled for Bucknell from 1985 to 1989 and Ian Ferguson, who came from the Pittsburgh area to watch the dual, were also both vocal in watching the crowd file into the arena.
“I never expected to see this,” Chambers said.
Fans rooting for Bucknell and Penn State dressed in Bison colors of orange and blue and Nittany Lion blue came with families from across the Valley and beyond.
Brian Watshaw, of Sunbury, said he came with family “for the spectacle of it all.” He also noted that he went to the same high school as former Penn State wrestler and two-time national champion Zain Retherford.
Jeff Balestrini, of Sunbury, was thrilled to see the national champions here in Lewisburg. “We came to support this program,” he said. “When you can see wrestling of this caliber come to Lewisburg, that’s really something.” His son is in a wrestling program at Shikellamy.
So, too, Robert Seely and his son, Liam, 8, of Sunbury. Seely, a chiropractor in Sunbury, agreed that “having Penn State come to Sojka was amazing.”
Liam, who wrestles in the 50-pound class in Muncy, said “I’ve seen Penn State wrestle. It’s great here though.” Liam Seely wrestled one of Bucknell coach Dan Wirnsberger’s sons during intermission.
“This is a beautiful arena,” Seely said. “And this is a terrific night.”
The attendance was the third largest in Sojka history, right behind men’s basketball games versus Villanova and Wake Forest.