The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 9, 2012

Collins’ Harris carrying on family’s deep wrestling tradition

By Wayne Bennett
For The Register-Herald

— It was a special privilege for me to watch Tanner Harris of Collins Middle School wrestle last weekend. Years ago, I watched his dad, Joel, and his uncle, Chad, in their formative years wrestle in junior high and high school. Both were quite good.

Tanner’s grandfather, Toby Harris, started the wrestling program at Greenbrier West High School in 1968. He also started the junior high program in Rainelle as well as the youth program. To my knowledge, he was the first person to host a summer wrestling camp in the southern part of the state. It was in the mid 1970s when he brought in Rob Waller and Tommy Cox for a week of instruction.

In his 23 years of coaching at West, the best performing team he had was in 1977. That wrestling season was hampered by lots of snow and extreme cold weather. School cancellations were common and it was difficult to have a wrestling practice with a full squad. Tournaments and matches were canceled or rescheduled and most wrestlers had a difficult time maintaining their weight.

To top off those problems, the state tournament was delayed a week and rescheduled to be held in Parkersburg instead of Fairmont where it was originally scheduled. Fairmont was experiencing severe water problems so the site had to be changed.

Greenbrier West took only four wrestlers to the state tournament that year. A few of the guys I can remember who did not qualify were C.E. Stroud, Johnny Walker, Keith Eagle and Charles Surbaugh.

All four of the qualifiers placed high in their respective classes. Mike Golden won the 98-pound class and Rod Stidom won the 167-pound class. Dean Jones was second at 126 pounds and Steve Lindsey was fourth at 105 pounds. Remarkably, those four wrestlers scored high enough to enable the Cavaliers a second-place finish among teams in the AA-A classification and reward Coach Harris with the AA-A Coach of the Year award.

In 2006, he also received the Lifetime Service to Wrestling honor from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

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In 1977, I was the head coach at Woodrow Wilson High School and we had a respectable top 10 finish in Class AAA. Kenny Bradley was second at 119 pounds and Richard McGraw was fourth at 185 pounds for the Flying Eagles.

Also, Richwood crowned its first state wrestling champion in Steve Cvetnick at 132 pounds, and Donnie Ray won the unlimited class, giving Independence its first state champion.

One very rare occurrence took place in the tournament when Shady Spring did not score a point.  Of course, they corrected that situation later by winning state titles in 1980, 1981 and 1987.  They were runner-up in 1986.

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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Kim Dotson, a new wrestling fan and avid reader of this column.