Part of a series on members of the NCAA Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team – an honor recognizing former Division II student-athletes whose lives reflect the core values of the Division II student-athlete experience. Other stories in the series:
» 12/5/13 - Two for the Price
» 11/26/13 - This doctor has potential student-athletes in mind
» 11/14/13 - DII’s balance let Bartlett showcase multiple skills
» 11/8/13 - NCAA selects Today’s Top 10 for 2014
By Erica Rath
Sean Isgan knows how to keep his cool.
In the summer of 2002, Isgan, a Pittsburgh-Johnstown alumnus and former NCAA Division II All-America wrestler, aided rescue in one of the most notorious mine collapses in United States history.
During the second shift at Quecreek Mine in Somerset County, Pa., nine miners became trapped in the two-year-old coalmine after ground water flooded the area. Isgan and his company, CME Engineering, were called to the site shortly before midnight on July 24.
Their task was huge: drill a hole into the mine to rescue the trapped miners.
“We started drilling holes in the ground and got an air hole down there,” Isgan recalled. “We started other holes to drill a shaft so we could lower the cage and get the miners out.”
Isgan played a critical role in the Quecreek Mine rescue. As president of CME Engineering,he was in the position to make crucial calls as to where and when to drill. In the end, all nine miners were rescued safely.
“I remember asking Sean, which was a very eerie question, I said, ‘How did you know they were there in that area of the mine?’ ” said Pat Pecora, Pittsburgh-Johnstown athletics director and head wrestling coach. “His response was, ‘It was one of the only areas that they could be alive.’ ”
CME Engineering used a “real-time kinematic geographic positioning system” to locate the miners and find the right place to drill the 240-foot hole. The pressure-packed situation of helping to save nine lives could have easily gotten to anyone, but not Isgan.
“Heavyweights (wrestlers) seem to be different than the general population,” said Clark Strausser, professor of economics at Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “They don’t panic.”
Isgan arrived at Pittsburgh-Johnstown an overweight wrestler, and during his freshman year he struggled both academically and athletically. At one point during his first year, he even approached Pecora about quitting. However, after a phone call home to Isgan’s mother, Pecora and Strausser convinced Sean to stick it out. What resulted was a transformation into a top-tier engineering student-athlete.
“I knew he had what it took to be a great engineer,” Pecora said.
“After that first year, he just began to propel himself,” Strausser added. “We were all amazed.”
Isgan’s keep-cool attitude played a major part in his wrestling career, too. During the NAIA tournament, prior to Pittsburgh-Johnstown’s transition to NCAA Division II, Isgan and his coaches were under the impression that he had a bye the first round. As the rest of his teammates left for the tournament, Isgan stayed behind in the hotel.
“A call came in from Coach Pecora. He said, ‘Sean’s got to get here now,’ ” Strausser explained.
Isgan was scheduled to wrestle that day. He and his coaches scrambled to get ready and sped through Oklahoma City to make the match in time.
“I’m literally getting dressed in the van,” Isgan said. “He pulls up to the door, I run into the door as they’re calling my name. ‘Last call, Sean Isgan, you’re going to be disqualified.’ I’m pulling my straps up, I grab my headgear, run onto the mat and they blow the whistle to start the match. It happened that quick.”
Isgan ended up winning the match.
“Here again I thought, ‘Sean was just cool,’ ” Strausser said. “So this (mine) crisis didn’t fluster him at all from what I have heard. He just said, ‘All right, here is what we are going to do.’ And then they do it.”
During his four years at Pittsburgh-Johnstown, Isgan went 92-30 and became the first Mountain Cat wrestler to reach the national finals in 1981. He was a two-time All-American and graduated in 1982.
Isgan runs his company that is located just 25 miles from his alma mater. He stays active in his community as well.
“I am definitely not surprised that Sean has turned out to be a great businessman, a great civic leader, an active member of our advisory board and just an all-around good citizen,” said Pittsburgh-Johnstown President Jem Spectar.