The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 28, 2013

Looking back on an eventful year for the sport of wrestling

By Wayne Bennett
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — As the year 2013 comes to an end, I want to take a moment and reflect just a bit.

The sport of wrestling was tossed a curve when the Olympic committee had recommended that wrestling should be eliminated from the Olympics. Fortunately, the public spoke up, enthusiasts got to work and that decision was reversed. Wrestling, with some changes, will remain an Olympic sport.

In February, our local teams did quite well in the high school state tournament. In the AA-A classification, Greenbrier West won the state championship, followed closely by Independence. West is ranked first in the latest coaches’ poll and Independence is second. Looks like another great season ahead for the local guys.

On a sad note, James Ray “Spud” Mills passed away on Dec. 13. Spud wrestled at Sophia High School, and in 1960 he won the state championship in the 138-pound class. His brother, Jimmy, had captured two state titles for the Bluehawks in 1958 and 1959.

When Spud captured the title in 1960 our area was well represented in the state tournament. Besides Mills, Beckley had two state champions in Racine Thompson (103) and Russ Walls (165). Hinton’s Eldridge McBride won the 145-pound class, and Richard Jolley gave Sophia another champion, winning the 127-pound class.

Sophia was coached by Jim Lowry that year.

Spud Mills returned to the 138-pound class in 1961 and captured his second state title. His coach that year was Jess Lacey.

Spud and Jimmy Mills were members of the first class of inductees in the Raleigh County Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1981. Other inductees that year were Shady Spring’s David Farley, Dix Manning, Mason Epperly and Frank Rakes. Beckley was represented by Vic Peelish, Thompson and David Friley.

Richard Patterson was also inducted that year. He wrestled at Woodrow Wilson and coached for many years at Sophia High School. Lowry and Walls were inducted into the Hall in 1982.

Mills was 70 years old when he died. He will be missed.

Let us hope for the year 2014 that wrestling will continue to grow and prosper.

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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Richie Wooton, a big wrestling fan and an avid reader of this column.