When Hank Williams Jr. wrote the song “Family Tradition”, he probably wasn’t thinking about the sport of wrestling. However, family tradition seems to be more prevalent in wrestling than any other sport. Time and time again when you ask a young wrestler how they got interested they will answer my older brother wrestled or my dad was a wrestler.
In West Virginia, you recognize wrestling families just by hearing their names (e.g., Porters, Archers, Harts, Naternicolas, etc.). One local family, the Elams, is now entering its sixth decade of involvement in the sport of wrestling. Greg Elam didn’t start wrestling until his sophomore year in high school. In the early 1970s there was no area youth or junior high school programs. He wrestled at Woodrow Wilson and qualified for the state tournament two times. He was regional champ one year and runner-up one year. He graduated in 1976. With some brotherly encouragement he officiated wrestling from 1997 until the mid 2000s.
The brother next to Greg was Rodney. Rodney wrestled at Park Junior High where he was an all-around athlete. He wrestled for three years for the Beckley Flying Eagles. He wrestled in the state tourney in 1980 but did not place. In 1981, his senior year, he was undefeated in the regular season, won the Coalfield and regional tournaments and entered the Class AAA 145-pound state championship bout with a 35-0 record. However, he lost his final match by a score of 6-2 to another undefeated wrestler, Steve Daniels of Liberty (Harrison County).
Rodney also loved to referee wrestling. Even as a high school athlete he would volunteer to referee local youth matches with his coach Mike Tyree. After high school, Rodney became one of the top wrestling officials in the state. He called conference tournaments, regionals, the WSAZs and several state tournaments in the 1980s and 1990s. He was good at it.
Rodney’s younger brother, Bobby was a successful youth and junior high wrestler, winning numerous tournament titles. He also wrestled at Woodrow Wilson and lettered all three years. In high school, he was a two-time Coalfield Conference champion and two-time state qualifier. He graduated in 1987.
After high school and the birth of his son, RJ, Bobby helped Randy Daniel start the Raleigh West youth program in the Glen Daniel area. He was also a referee for the junior high and high school levels for 12 years. Bobby coached youth, middle school and high school wrestling for 21 years.
Bobby’s son, RJ, wrestled in the Raleigh West’s youth program, Trap Hill Middle School and Liberty High School. His senior year in high school, he was regional runner-up and was fourth in the state tournament wrestling in the AA-A 152-pound class. After high school, he wrestled at WV Tech.
This season RJ continued the family tradition by taking the head coaching position at Park Middle School (where his dad and his uncle Rodney wrestled). So far, it’s been a season of obstacles for this young coach. Very few wrestlers returned from last season, the gym was condemned at Park, so no home matches and the team is currently quarantined because of Covid. Yet, he stays optimistic.
“The boys are working hard and getting better and I’m happy about that.” Of course, he gets extra coaching from his dad and uncles.
Will the tradition continue? Well, RJ and his wife, Laura, are expecting baby boy Elam on May 4, 2022, so I’m saying the odds are favorable. Congratulations!
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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to 92-year-old Mary Orren, a big wrestling fan and an avid reader of this column.