By Wayne Bennett
For The Register-Herald
As the 66th annual West Virginia High School Wrestling Championship Tournament gets set to begin on Thursday in Huntington, the excitement is greater than ever.
First of all, Huntington High School will present a legitimate challenge to Parkersburg South for the Class AAA team title. The Highlanders (called Bystanders by South fans) have been ranked first in the state all season long and have done well with an extremely tough schedule.
However, Southhaters (people who root against Parkersburg South) know the Wood County boys won’t go down easily. Their lineup at the state tournament could be the best one they have had all year.
In addition to that, Parkersburg’s Big Reds have come on strong lately and could (unintentionally, of course) help their chief rival beat the Cabell County grapplers.
Wood County has dominated the big schools state tournament since 1948 and has won 13 of the last 14 championships in the AAA class. Parkersburg South has won four titles in a row. For over 50 years, Wood County has been the envy of the rest of the state because of its success at the youth, middle school and high school levels. Even if Huntington can take the title this year, it probably would be a temporary stay. As my old friend Ric Flair would say, “Whether you like it or you don’t like it, learn to love it because it’s the best thing going today.”
It doesn’t matter who the best team is, it will have to go through Wood County to get there.
The AA/A state tournament promises to be just as exciting. First of all, Point Pleasant has moved to AAA, so there definitely will be a new team champion. Secondly, East Fairmont, Fairmont Senior and North Marion have dropped to the AA class and have made a huge presence. East Fairmont is tied for first in the state, while Fairmont Senior is sixth and North Marion is seventh.
Add Greenbrier West and Wirt County, along with an improved Independence team, and this tournament has wrestling fans drooling for the competition to begin. Every match will be important.
Locally, on the AAA level look for some vast improvement from area teams. Shady Spring and Oak Hill have moved to the AAA class and Shady has consistently been a top 10 team. The Tigers’ top performers have been Logan Robertson, Johnny Forren, Tyler Kosut, John Duncan, Nick Farley, Brandon Stump and Cody Richmond.
Oak Hill’s only ranked wrestler is Marc Williams.
Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East hope to improve on last year’s team performance. East’s top performers are Jasiel Kinder, Josiah Solak and Davis Solak, and Woodrow’s ranked wrestlers are Leland Swafford and Cole Williams.
In the AA/A class, some of last year’s state placewinners who are returning are Indy’s Colton Ward, Ted Stover, Chris Clark and Zach Fleshman. Liberty has Tristan Harvey and Mathew Bailey, while West has Tyler Parker, Malik Boatwright, Ben Alderson and Dustin Yoakum. Bluefield has Brandon Eldridge returning.
Southern West Virginia has not had a team state wrestling championship since 1996, when the Independence Patriots took home the gold. Our area has not had an individual champion since 2008, when Liberty’s Nick Hylton and Mike Carpenter won their weight classes.
I think this year will be different. Our area has two teams with a legitimate shot at a title and at least four individuals who could win.
This reminds me of another Ric Flair quote: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
It’s time! Good luck to all the teams and wrestlers.
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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Anthony Wayne Byrge Jr., a big wrestling fan and avid reader of this column. He also likes Ric Flair quotes.