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Leland Swafford, top, of Beckley, wrestles Troy Harmon of St. Albans during the inaugural AAU/Friends of Coal Power Nationals on Sunday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

Make no mistake, Jamie Humphrey is a wrestling dad in every way.

But he also is a wrestling fan and ambassador. So, when he was approached with the topic of bringing an AAU event to West Virginia, he jumped at the chance.

“A year ago, I decided I wanted to take on (the responsibility) and try to bring some quality wrestling competition to the boys here in West Virginia, to improve their wrestling (skills),” Humphrey said. “The better the competition, the better you’re going to get.”

Thus, the inaugural AAU/Friends of Coal Power Nationals was born.

Between 350 and 400 wrestlers competed in over 100 age and weight divisions Sunday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Age divisions ranged from three years to open, and awards were handed out to eight placewinners in each category.

Humphrey, the tournament director, has been busy the last several weeks but was more than pleased with the way things turned out Sunday.

“We’ve had teams from virtually every state on the East Coast and as far (west) as Iowa,” Humphrey said as the tournament began to wind down. “We’ve had a lot of support out of the Beckley (area) wrestling teams.

“We had some great wrestlers here today. It went really good. We ran a good, smooth tournament and had some tremendous wrestling. I’m looking forward to doing it next year.”

The idea to bring the tournament to West Virginia came about last year when Humphrey took his sons Caperton, 10, and Paul-Richard, 5, to the AAU World Tournament in Detroit. It was a banner day for the Humphrey family — Caperton won a world championship and Paul-Richard took second in his division.

“Knowing we are from West Virginia and the quality of wrestling my boys did there, they wanted to get in this state,” Humphrey said. “This is the first AAU event in West Virginia, and the AAU puts on a lot of wrestling all over the country. So we teamed up with them and got the Friends of Coal involved.

“We’ve been planning this for about a year. I’m real pleased with the turnout. The quality has been here. I’m real happy with what we’ve seen today.”

Sunday’s event turned out much the same as the Detroit tournament for the Humphreys. Caperton took home first place in the midget 90-pound division, while Paul-Richard was runner-up in the tots 45-pound division.

Caperton says he often wrestles in national events every other week. Getting exposure to that kind of competition makes him a better wrestler.

“You’ve just got to watch and learn,” Caperton said. “If you do lose, you have to learn from the mistakes you make.”

Most wrestlers do not have the opportunity to travel as often as others. That’s one of the reasons Humphrey wanted to start a tournament here.

“My goal was two-fold,” he said. “One is, let’s bring the quality into West Virginia so we can build West Virginia wrestling and make it better for, quite frankly, the kids who can’t get out and travel. And, second, do something for the local economy here in Beckley, West Virginia. I think we have accomplished that today.”

The local economic impact was surely significant, as with any other tournament that brings teams from other cities and states.

“All these teams had to come in and stay somewhere here, eat somewhere, fill up (their cars) with gas,” Humphrey said.

Everyone who wrestled at Sunday’s tournament automatically qualified for the AAU Grand Nationals. The event also served as a qualifier for the 2009 Tournament of Champions.

— E-mail: gfauber@

register-herald.com

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