I must admit there’s a certain mystique about the big guys in the sport of wrestling. They may not always be the best wrestlers in the world, but the fans like to watch the heavyweights face off.
Our area has historically produced some good high school heavyweights. We have also had our share of “characters” in the big boys class. Here’s a look at a few.
In 1948, Beckley’s Zernie Wickline, wrestling in the heavyweight class, won the first ever West Virginia state wrestling tournament. Beckley’s regular season consisted of a match with the Virginia Tech freshmen and the WVU freshman teams. Later, the Flying Eagles lost to Parkersburg in a dual match which was considered the first state championship.
In 1951, Lewis Webb of Beckley lost in the heavyweight state championship 1-0 when he locked hands in the final period. That loss was tough, but even tougher in 1958, Beckley’s Duke James finished the championship match tied with Parkersburg’s George Nedeff 2-2. There was no overtime back then and it came down to the referee’s decision. He picked Nedeff. Nedeff went on to wrestle and coach at West Virginia University. James wrestled and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Shady Spring’s Neil Cochran made it to the state finals as a heavyweight in 1963 and 1964. Unfortunately, he lost both times, but in 1964 it was by a close score of 1-0. In 1977, Donnie Ray became Independence High School’s first state champion by capturing the AA-A heavyweight title. They have had a bunch of champions since.
Our area was well represented in the state tournament in 1981. Shady Spring won the AA-A team title and the two heavyweights in the finals were from our region. Richwood’s John Komorowski defeated Shady’s Cletis Harmon 4-1 and finished the season with a 28-1 record.
A rule change destroyed Shady’s Chris Beaver’s chance of winning a state title. He placed fourth in the unlimited class in 1983 and was considered the favorite in 1984. However, the WVSSAC decided to restrict the weight limit for heavyweights to 285 pounds and Chris was too heavy to wrestle. His career ended.
Certainly, one of the best heavyweight wrestlers to represent our area was Joe Heath of Greenbrier East. Heath captured the big boys AAA state title in 1999 and 2000. He later had a stellar wrestling career at West Liberty University.
Once again, in 2008, our region had two prime contestants in the 285-pound state finals. Mike Carpenter of Liberty and Adam Barnette of Independence swept through the competition to qualify for the championship. Barnette had won the state tournament as a freshman in 2005. Carpenter had been the state runner-up in 2007. So in 2008 Carpenter defeated Barnette 2-1 in an overtime thriller. After graduation, Barnette wrestled at Oklahoma University and finished his career at George Mason University. Carpenter was a four-year letterman for the Hilltoppers of West Liberty and currently serves as an assistant coach at that university.
In our next column we will discuss several more of the area heavyweight wrestlers from back in the day.
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This week the squeeze of the water bottle goes to James Bostick, renowned podcaster and huge wrestling fan.