With the year 2020 finally coming to an end, most people will sadly remember this time as the Covid era or the pandemic year.
In a customary fashion, the media tends to look back at the previous year and recall the names of celebrities and stars who have passed on in that particular time period. I loved watching guys like Tom Seaver, Paul Hormung, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson play ball back in the day, and of course, everybody loved Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) on the popular show “Gilligan’s Island”. However, there were three celebrities who died in 2020 that kind of hit a little closer to home for me.
When I was a kid at home we had a black and white television that would only get three channels (I’m telling my age now). During football season, on Sunday, WSAZ-TV had the Cleveland Browns on the air. Back then the Browns had stars like Frank Ryan, Lou Groza and Jim Brown, but it was halfback Bobby Mitchell who I followed intensely. He just played hard and was very unselfish and when he was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1962, I became a Redskin fan and have remained so to this day, regardless of what you call them. Mitchell died in April.
Another guy I liked was Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. I got to see Joe Morgan play for the Big Red Machine in the mid-1970s. The Cincinnati Reds were loaded with great players back then, but I always thought Morgan was a class guy. He stayed that way until his death in October.
Another athletic star I always admired was Chicago Bears halfback Gale Sayers. If Sayers had not been injured so much, today’s running backs would still be chasing his records. Certainly, if you ever watched the movie “Brian’s Song” and didn’t tear up a little, you can’t be human. Billy Dee Williams played Gale Sayers and James Caan played Brian Piccolo and, more than anything, the story showed a human side of competition and what a good person Gale Sayers was. Sayers died in September.
Locally, in the sport of wrestling, we lost a few guys who may not have been celebrities but their lives were equally as important.
Mike Elmore was one of the first wrestlers to participate in our local YMCA youth program. His coach, Jim Wood, remembered, “Mike loved to wrestle and was never intimidated by anyone. He couldn’t get enough and would wrestle anyone regardless of size. Loved that kid.” Mike passed away in January.
Another wrestler who started at the “Y” was Mike King of Mullens. His dad, Pate, would haul Mike to Beckley several times a week to practice or wrestle in league matches. This was by way of the old road to Mullens, in any kind of weather. Pate also donated his time by refereeing a great number of matches over the formative years of the league. Pate helped reorganize the Mullens High School wrestling program and got numerous athletes involved.
Mike’s high school career was amazing. He finished fourth in West Virginia in 1984, was AA-A 145-pound state champion in 1985 and won the 155-pound state championship in 1986, finishing with a 39-0 record. The memory I have most about Mike was that he never went out on the mat thinking he might lose. Never. Man, he was fun to watch. He passed away in June.
One wrestler I had a lot of fun coaching was Tommy Jarrell. Tommy was not the most gifted athlete but he made up for it with his drive to succeed. He was a two-time state place winner at Woodrow Wilson. Sadly, Tommy passed away in December.
My wish for the families who have lost loved ones in 2020 is that in some way you find comfort and peace. Remember the departed with a smile and hope their brightness will shine for all time.
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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Frank Nett, a big wrestling fan and an avid reader of this column.