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Mat Chat

February 25, 2009
Larry Richie

When I left my house for church this morning, as I stepped out into the frosty air I gave an audible gasp at the splendor of the sight before me. It had snowed about five inches through the night and it was as though someone had taken a pastry decorator and lined every single twig on each branch of every tree in the woods with a layer of snow-white icing. It gave the impression that all of the branches were connected to one another in a gigantic spider-web type of panoramic collage. I stood staring at it for a long time, grateful for yet another revelation of the powers of creation. Wow!!! Snow can be a nuisance, troublesome, and even dangerous but it sure is pretty!


That being said, I am also very grateful that the snow held off long enough for us to get the Region I wrestling championships completed and get everyone home safely on Saturday. About four years ago Coach McKeever proposed that we hold the Regionals here at TCHS in our home wrestling arena. I will admit, I was not too keen on the idea.

I have run our home wrestling tournament for quite a few years and that is work enough. But it is a far cry from the work involved in holding the Regionals. Plus, a mistake made in the management of a local tournament, while unfortunate, is not nearly as critical as a miscue at the Regional level would be. This is, after all, the qualifier for competition at the State level.

It needs to be done right. Well, eventually I relented. Eric can be very persuasive. He promised that he would handle everything and I would not have to get involved much. And so we applied for, and were awarded the chance to host the 2009 Regionals. And then the fun began. True to his word, Eric took care of most of the arrangements.

We brought Chuck Baker on board as the Tournament Director, and he began the process of sorting out the details and putting the mechanics of the tournament in motion. Mrs. DeVaughn, the Athletic Director was an immense help. She was determined that this was going to be the most organized and best run Regional Tournament in the history of wrestling! I know it must have been frustrating to work with me and my causal and even whimsical approach to life in general and wrestling tournaments in particular, but she stayed cool and pulled it all together.

We tried to arrange the event so that no parent of a wrestler would have any responsibilities. We wanted them to be able to sit in the bleachers and cheer for their sons and enjoy the day. As it turned out we had workers galore. I have no intention of listing names I probably don't even know who all was involved, and it would take more space than we have in this column. So let me just give a sincere and heart-felt 'thank you' to all of you. You did in fact make this a great tournament. It was our first one ever, but because of you it is not likely to be our last.

Wrestler of the week? I don't really have to choose one this week the Region One coaches did that for me when they named Cullen Grover the outstanding wrestler of the Tournament. Congratulations Cullen.

I have never had anyone on any of my teams named 'outstanding wrestler.' It is very gratifying. This award is not necessarily presented to the most skilled wrestler in the pack. Very often it goes to someone who has had the most difficult road to the top and has faced the hardest competition. I think that is what carried it for Cullen.

His competition was extremely toughespecially the Weir wrestler, Derrick Rovira. Derrick was ranked number one in West Virginia, and not without reason. His record was 30-3, and his wins were mostly pins. He is strong, agile for a boy his size, and well coached. Somehow, on this day, Cullen reached down deep and found the means to win.

The two of them might meet again in the State competition. I am not about to predict the outcome. If they do meet it will in all probability be to determine a place, and I think they would both welcome that.

I'll take a moment of self-indulgence at this point. The Regional tournament marked my last coaching moment at Tyler Consolidated. Of course it has been the substance of much reflection on my part. I would have been very content to let it go at that, but someone, and I place the blame on Eric and Chuck, decided that some kind of production should be made of it.

And so, before the finals began, they trotted me out on the mat and Lew Beutner, the announcer, read a "far-too-extensive" list of my 50-some years of wrestling experiences. I will have to admit I was genuinely touched.

For one thing, I had the privilege of walking between two rows of some of the finest wrestlers in the State of West Virginia. And then, here comes the members of my team, arm in arm, carrying my wrestling shoes with them. It is something of a custom in certain levels of wrestling to leave your wrestling shoes in the center of the mat when you have wrestled the last match of your career. That was the meaning of their gesture.

I did lay my shoes down, and start off the mat. But when I thought of the caliber of the people who had actually done that, people such as Olympic champion Rulon Gardner, I thought it would be too pretentious for me to put myself in their league, so I picked them back up. Still, what a wonderful thing for my team to do. I was moved for sure. Maybe I'll take my wrestling shoes and have them bronzed and hang them from my rear view mirror. (I think probably only people over 50 know what I mean by that.)

I wait and wait for Regionals to come every year. The anticipation is intense. And yet, when it is finally all over it is accompanied by a measure of regret. That is because it marks the end of the season for those who did not qualify for States, and the end of a career for those who happen to be seniors.

I have talked at length about seniors Nick and Dustin in a previous column, so I'll limit this moment to a simple good-bye we really will miss you both.

Others who have handed in their gear deserve at least a brief mention at this point. My two freshmen were John Brosky and Zack Robinson. Both of them were as new as green wood this year, and both have improved considerably.

John is fairly aggressive, but he is also small even for the 103 pound class. He will get better as he grows stronger and develops a couple sound moves. Zack was also light for his class. Too heavy for 112, and too light for 119. Zack is fun to have around, and he has shown that he can learn a move or two and make them work for him in a match.

I had two sophomores with me this year. Nathan Bolin was trying his hand at the mat sport for the first time. He truly seemed to enjoy participating, and often asked questions to try to improve his style. He has strength and quickness, but he will need to develop those wrestling instincts that will give him the sense of where his body is in relation to the mat and to his opponent.

Calvin McCune has wrestled a couple years now. He has shown a degree of improvement. He was starting at 135 for us until Dustin Phillips moved down to that weight. Calvin is very dedicated to the sport. He showed up for practice last week even though he was not going to participate in regionals. If he becomes a bit more aggressive and eliminates some of the mistakes that hurt him he will help the team next year.

There were three juniors that stayed the course for us. I am counting Brody Northcraft in that group even though he was sidelined with an injury. Brody still continued coming to practices, just to watch and be part of the team, and he was there at the tournament in that same capacity. At the time of his injury he was leading the team in wins and several other categories.

He easily has more technical ability than anyone on the squad. He was starting to gain a real measure of confidence, and I have to believe that he is going to be a key component in the success of next year's team.

Brandon Grimes is just a hoot. He is simply a blithe spirit looking for a place to land! I really like his attitude and his work ethic. He has a lot of natural athletic ability and he will give us 100 percent all of the time. He needs to refine his moves, and add just a couple more to his bag of tricks.

The last junior is Nate Taylor. Since we haven't closed the book on Nate's season as of yet I will wait until next week to comment on him.

It's a good thing I'm getting out of the game. These articles are getting longer and longer. I think I am really testing the tolerance of the people at the Tyler Star News, and the patience of my readers. (I understand I am up to five readers now!) At any rate, I'm heading for States, along with Coach McKeever, Cullen, and Nate. I'll tell you all about it next week. We'll be wrestling our best, and at the same time we will continue to "Wrestle for Fun."



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