HERSHEY — Tom Hontz couldn't have scripted a better end to his coaching career.
The chance to guide one more wrestler through a state tournament, and to hang a medal around his neck during the awards ceremony.
That's how Hontz got to close out his 24 years at the helm of the Upper Perkiomen mat program this weekend. He and his coaching staff were on the corners of the mats at the Giant Center as Dustin Steffenino navigated his way through the Class AAA 113-pound weight class.
Hontz previously announced his intention to step down from the wrestling post to become the school's head football coach. But he indicated a plan to continue heading the UP mat program as long as there were team members still in action.
"My first year, we had a guy medal at states,' Hontz said. "It's a big thing to be wrestling on the last day of the year ... to get ready for that last match.'
Steffenino became Hontz's last link to one more extended stay at Hershey. The Indian junior placed third in the PAC-10, District 1-West and Southeast Regional tournaments to set up the storybook scenario that would be Hontz's swan song.
"I was just sitting up in the stands, thinking I'd take one more walk around the floor,' Hontz said prior to Saturday's medal session, "It's definitely going to be weird leaving.'
Among the highlights of Hontz's 24-year tenure were the state champions he coached: Chris Sheetz in 2005, Zack Kemmerer and Brent Fiorito in 2006, and Kemmerer again in 2007. He also remembered wrestlers like Derek Zinck and Darren Kern who, like him as a senior wrestler for Quakertown High in the mid-1980s, missed standing on the top step of the medal podium.
"It's been an emotional roller-coaster,' Hontz said. "There was the joy of Chris Sheetz winning a state championship, and Zack winning two. Then there was the heartbreak of Kern and Zinck finishing second. Those are things I'll never forget.'
Steffenino had an up-and-down — make that "down-and-up' — run in the bracket. He suffered a technical fall at the hands of Franklin Regional's Spencer Lee at the start, but rebounded in wrestlebacks with a 3-0 shutout of Central York's Dylan Chatterton.
Steffenino got his ticket for the medal round punched Friday when his scheduled opponent, Chris Thompson of Phillipsburg-Osceola, was forced to forfeit their second-round consi. Thompson dropped out due to medical issues stemming from a quarterfinal-round loss to Owen J. Roberts' Derek Gulotta.
Steffenino made a valiant run to medal as high as third place, extending Northampton's Michael Scheetz to overtime after they traded escapes in regulation. But Scheetz prevailed in OT, 3-1, sending Steffenino to a seventh-place final against Spring-Ford's Ryan Hayes.
Steffenino and Hayes met during the teams' regular-season dual, in a 120-pound bout Hayes won, 11-5. This time, Hayes won by a considerably-closer 2-1 margin.
"I really would have liked to go out with a win,' Steffenino said, "but it is what it is. I was happy with my effort. It's a great accomplishment.
"Next year, I'm going to work to improve.'
Steffenino became the 20th Upper Perk wrestler to reach the state tournament during Hontz's time at the helm. He finished his junior campaign with a 33-10 record.
"Indescribable,' was how Steffenino defined his time under Hontz's coaching. "It was a great honor to wrestle for him, and get him another medal finisher.'
And he will hold that special place in the books as the last UP wrestler on whom Hontz presented a state medal ... in keeping with a personal tradition of his.
Follow Jeff Stover on Twitter at @MercuryXStover.