The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 17, 2012

Tigers off to a good start in AAA debut

By Wayne Bennett
For The Register-Herald

— Timing can mean a great deal when you talk about sports. The Shady Spring Tigers have a good wrestling squad and recently defeated five Class AA-A ranked teams in the Greenbrier West Duals tournament.

The only problem is that this year Shady has moved up to the AAA classification and did not even get a mention in the latest coaches poll. It will be interesting as the season progresses.

One Shady Spring wrestler from the past whose name might bring out some memories for the old-timers is Howard Lester.

He was a member of the first wrestling team at Shady Spring High School. Marvin Wetzel started the program in 1955-56 and Lester wrestled three years for the Tigers. He was the team captain his senior year. He was the regional champion in 1958 and his only loss was to Parkersburg’s Gene Auvil in the state finals.

After high school, he went to WVU and was captain of its freshmen team. He then was awarded a wrestling scholarship and in 1961 he was runner-up in the Southern Conference. In 1986, he was inducted into the Raleigh County Wrestling Hall of Fame.

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When Bob Simile started the wrestling program at WVU Tech, he knew it was going to take a few years to get established. Sam Gardner took over as head coach last year under the assumption that he had an adequate number of athletes to coach.

Actually, the numbers had dwindled to a handful and have not quite recovered. There are only eight names on the roster.

However, the talent is evident. Three wrestlers for the Golden Bears recently qualified for the NAIA championship tournament. Chance Smith (157), Brad Ponchak (165) and John Walters (149) finished high enough in the Southern University Invitational to qualify for the nationals. Smith and Ponchak won their weight classes and Walters was runner-up.

Smith, a North Carolina native, pinned all of his opponents at that tournament and was named the USCAA Player of the Week. A sophomore, he is the first Golden Bear wrestler to ever win that recognition.

The Golden Bears will continue their season at the Washington and Lee Invitational on Jan. 13.

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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Eddie Smailes of Loops Road, an avid reader of this column.