Fans of the Southmoreland High School wrestling team are cheering for heavyweight Jake Beistel for more than the obvious reason this season.
Beistel, a freshman competing in the highest weight class, has come up with a unique way of raising money for a good cause.
"Jake came to me and said he wants to raise money for Southmoreland School District's autistic support program," said Ryan Shaw, Southmoreland's rookie head coach. "His idea was to line up sponsors who would make donations that depended on how well he wrestled."
Beistel came up with the idea after hearing that his younger brother, Caden, was chosen to help with Southmoreland Elementary's autistic support program.
"Caden is in second grade," Beistel said. "He was chosen to be a 'buddy' for an autistic kid at his school. I found out that funding for that program had been cut, so I decided to raise money for them. I wanted to do something to give back to the local kids."
Shaw loved the idea but wanted to make sure Beistel didn't do anything that would put his eligibility in jeopardy, because high school athletes are not allowed to accept money through sponsorships.
"I immediately talked with our athletic director, Charlie Swink, and he checked with the WPIAL," Shaw said.
WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley had never heard of an athlete raising money in this way, but pointed out it could be done if Beistel and his parents followed the rules.
"It's a very positive thing he's doing, but the family cannot accept any of the donations," O'Malley said. "The source of the donations must be clearly identified, and the checks must be written out accordingly. If the family follows those rules, they should have no problem."
With that in mind, Beistel's parents, Kurt and Stacey, contacted two members of Southmoreland's autistic support program.
"Leah Govi is an autistic support teacher at the elementary school," Stacey Beistel said. "And Kelly Most is an autistic support teacher at the primary center. They will be handling any donations. The checks must be made out to the SES Activity Fund. The donations will be divided between the elementary school and primary center."
She said the donations will be used to purchase interactive online books, books on CD and light filtering shades for the classrooms. The specialty shades are very beneficial to children with sensitive sensory systems.
"Sponsors can donate in one of two ways," Jake Beistel said. "They can make a flat-rate donation, or donate so much for each win or match I wrestle in this year."
Shaw and his coaching staff were among the first two to declare their support.
"My varsity assistant and I and our two junior high coaches have combined to donate $10 per win and $1 per match," Shaw said.
Beistel is off to a 5-0 start in his varsity career, which includes four victories and a title at the Chartiers-Houston tournament to open the season.
"That means we're $55 in the hole, and we love it," Shaw said. "It's a good cause that we all want to support."
Beistel is actually a bit surprised by his early success.
"I never expected to win the Char-Houston tournament," said Beistel, who also started at middle linebacker and center for Southmoreland's varsity football team. "It was a pleasant surprise."
The response to Beistel's fundraising effort has been a pleasant surprise as well.
"Larry Newcomer, the chairman of Pennsylvania Youth Wrestling, has pledged to contribute $50 per win," Jake Beistel said. "A local gentleman who wrestled at Southmoreland, Dave DePalma, has pledged $10 per pin and $5 per win."
The Beistel family is also sponsoring Jake.
"Our other sons, Kyle and Caden, are sponsoring their brother at $2 per win, $1 per match," Stacey Beistel said. "Every little bit helps!"
And that's just the start.
"Becky Kitta, the mom of Jordan Kitta, who wrestled for Southmoreland and graduated last year, sponsored him at $3 per win. We've also had people want to give flat donations. I got word from Ms. Most and Mrs. Govi that a local woman wrote $50 checks to both programs. So Jake has a variety of support from several people for this great cause, for which he is grateful.
"We're anticipating gaining even more sponsors, thanks in part to coverage in the newspapers."
This is actually Beistel's second fundraising effort.
"Last year, a Latrobe wrestler, Zach Colucci, died in a car accident," said Beistel, referring to a September 2011 accident. "I read about a mentally challenged kid who was crying when he heard about Zach's death. They asked why he was crying and he said that nobody would stick up for him anymore because Zach always stood up for him and others like him.
"When I heard that, I wanted to do something for Zach's family."
Beistel raised $500 and donated it to Greater Latrobe High School's learning support group.
"That speaks volumes of this kid," Shaw said. "Always thinking of others."