Legend Bruno Sammartino Headlines 'Deaf Wrestlefest'
This annual fundraiser rocks the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf with a wrestling extravaganza.
Six key words can easily define the excitement surrounding this year’s Deaf Wrestlefest fundraiser—Bruno Sammartino is in the house.
Organized by Ken Jugan, a longtime pro wrestler who has competed in the World Wrestling Federation and promotions across North America, the event has been going strong at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf since 1994. Jugan is better known as "Lord Zoltan" in the ring.
This year the event is being held at 6 p.m. April 29 in the school's gymnasium.
Jugan has a personal investment in the school’s success as he has two deaf sons, now ages 19 and 22, who have been involved at WPSD since birth.
“They had an early intervention teacher come to the house from the time they were two weeks old,” Jugan said. “I joined the parent staff organization over there and one of the parents knew I wrestled and suggested doing something for the school. I wanted it to be more of a social event to raise awareness and get the families together with the outside community that sometimes doesn’t get involved with WPSD.”
Last month, Jugan was inducted into the KSWA wrestling Hall of Fame. He said this year, he is especially excited for the fundraiser’s star—Sammartino—a Pittsburgh resident who has headlined cards all over the world during his career and is the longest reigning champion in the history of the WWWF, now known as WWE.
Between 1963 and 1977, Sammartino held the world title on two separate occasions spanning a total of more than 11 years. He is a member of the prestigious Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame—regarded as wrestling’s “real” hall of fame.
“We tried years ago to get him and there were schedule conflicts or something would happen,” Jugan said. “He said he’d love to come and he’s donating a championship belt to raise money for the school and he is getting inducted into the hall of fame. This is one of his last appearances—possibly his last local appearance.”
Jugan said this particular wrestling event has a little bit of everything for the whole family, with more of a carnival atmosphere. Balloon animals and food will be available in addition to wrestling.
“I love seeing everyone get together and letting people know the deaf are like everyone else.” Jugan said. “Even today as my sons look for jobs, a lot of places are afraid they won’t know how to communicate and never call them again. A lot of the wrestlers have been coming for years because they love making the kids happy and doing something for the school. This raises money for field trips and other things on campus.”
Another legend of the squared circle appearing at Deaf Wrestlefest is Bushwhacker Luke, who will be wrestling at the event. Regarded as one of the top tag team grapplers in history, Luke starred in the WWF, NWA and AWA during the 1980s as a member of Bushwhackers (also widely known as the Sheepherders).
Dominic DeNucci, another Pittsburgh wrestling icon who will be inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in May, will also be in attendance at Deaf WrestleFest as will former WWF star Big Bully Busick.
Gregory Iron will also be wrestling at the event. The 25-year-old Iron is afflicted with cerebral palsy, yet he, too, has achieved stardom in the squared circle.
Former WWE star Zach Gowen will make his return to Deaf Wrestlefest to take on Jason Gory in a rematch of last year’s epic battle. The 29-year-old Gowen lost his left leg to cancer when he was just 8, yet he displayed remarkable courage and determination as he overcame his physical limitations to become a standout high school wrestler and, ultimately, a top-flight professional wrestler.
General admission tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Limited front row seats are available for $25. Due to limited seating capacity at the gymnasium, tickets for this historic night may sell out. To reserve tickets, or for more information, visit deafwrestlefest.vze.com.