“I started in the fifth grade,” Dugan stated. “I would go to practice with my cousin Bobby Dugan who was a runner-up at the state championships in 1961. Bobby would take me to practices and I would polish his shoes and he would take me to practice.
“I had a lot of coaching within the family. I had some of the best coaches I believe.”
German had competition amongst the elementary schools at that time and that helped Dugan progress.
“At that time we have the different schools which are now all consolidated, but at that time McClellandtown would wrestle Gates or Edenborn and you would have inter-school competition. Not a lot of matches like today’s standards – you would only have three or four matches in a season,” said Dugan.
German always had a strong tradition in high school wrestling.
“Ray Rifenberg started the tradition,” Dugan recalled. “He built a pretty good program and it just kept evolving over the years.”
Dugan wrestled for head coach Joe Simon when he was in high school.
“He was a very nice guy,” Dugan said of Simon. “He was really a conditioner. That was his number one thing – he was a conditioner and the practices portrayed that and when you got into matches that were really hard fought – you kept your wind and you kept going. That was probably his best trait as a coach.”
Dugan trained hard for a wrestling career and that included pushing himself away from the dinner table.
“We had to diet,” Dugan explained. “When I was a senior I went from 150 pounds down to 127 pounds because you knew where your best wrestling weight was. Probably I didn’t have a Christmas meal from eighth grade until after I graduated.
“There is a lot of sacrifice, but it’s all worth it when you get to the end of the road. When you take a state championship it’s an honor that stays with you your whole life.”
Dugan wrestled at 95 pounds as a freshman. He wrestled at 103 as a sophomore and 120 as a junior and finally 127 as a senior and won section championships as a freshman, junior and a senior.
“Right from the start as a freshman you had your goal set on being a state champ,” Dugan offered. “The only thing about it is there was one boy from Trinity High School named Ron Junko and he was a state champ. In fact when I wrestled the first and second place guys didn’t go. I met him at regions every year and he was one year ahead of me in school. When he graduated I wanted to send him a graduation card. I was glad he was gone. He was runner-up one year and he was a state champ another year and he was very good.”
1968 was a great year for the Uhlans wrestling squad.
“We were co-section champs that year,” Dugan said proudly. “We tied with Waynesburg and I think we had four section champs that year – possibly five. We had Donny Sterbutzel, Chucky Woolridge, Matt Radinsky – my brother Terry Dugan and Andy “Ace” Palko our heavyweight.
Dugan went through an undefeated season as a senior.
“I had one real tough match against Dave Wiley from Avella,” Dugan recalled. “He was probably my hardest match up until the time I went to the state championships. I beat him during the regular year and in the region finals I beat him in overtime.”
At the state championships you only had to wrestle twice, but in 1968 in the 127-weight class that year all four wrestlers were unbeaten.
Dugan has vivid memories of the state wrestling championships at Recreation Hall at Penn State.
“It was a place that you had dreamed about all your life,” Dugan remembers. “I went up to State College to see my cousin when he was in the state finals and remember the place as being really huge and I remember it was huge and there was a lot of excitement in the air.
“The first match I went up against the guy who was predicted to take it – Rod Irwin from Erie McDowell. He was the favorite and he was probably the roughest kid I faced all year long.”
Dugan advanced to the finals when he out-pointed Irwin 3-0 in double overtime. The regular periods and the first overtime ended in a stalemate and then in the second overtime, Dugan gained two points for a reversal and a point for riding time to gain the nod.
“That’s where the conditioning that coach Simon put us through paid off,” Dugan stated. “He had me going 24 minute matches to prepare for a six minute match. When I got into overtime you look over to the other corner and you see that kid sitting down and you’re standing there and you’re ready to go.”
Dugan defeated Bill Paecarella of Cumberland Valley by a 6-4 margin to walk off with the state crown in the 127-pound class. Dugan picked up his margin in the final match with two points for a takedown and one point each for an escape and riding time.
“ This match wasn’t as close as the match with Irwin,” Dugan explained. “I was in control most of the match. I remember we went off the mat with nine seconds left and this is a dream that you wanted all your life and we were walking back to the center of the mat and I looked up at the clock and I saw nine seconds and I said I’m going to be a stated champ and it was just like a dream come true.”
The Uhlan grappler was undefeated in 25 straight bouts and became German's first and only state wrestling champion. Dugan carded an overall mark of 70 wins, 10 losses and one draw in four years of varsity competition.
Following his graduation in 1968 Dugan wound up attending a junior college Boyce Community College in Pittsburgh. He placed fifth in the Junior College nationals his first year. He transferred to California University of Pennsylvania and wrestled for two years and then quit wrestling.
“Basically after high school I was just about done at that time. It was a long grind.”
Dugan went to work in the coalmines until 1980 and then he went to work at Hatfield Power Station.
Dugan, 64, has been married for 35 years to his wife Emeline and they have one son George III and reside on a farm in German Township.
Looking back on it Dugan feels his wrestling career was a job well done.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Dugan gushed. “Right now I’m honored to do an interview for something that I did 45 years ago.”