On March 29th, 1976, the Polish Jr. National Team invaded Parkersburg in what was billed as the first international wrestling match in West Virginia. Coaching the West Virginia All-Stars was Huntington High School’s Bill Archer, Parkersburg High School’s Joe Handlan, Jr. and Parkersburg South’s Rod Oldham. This was the first of three foreign exchanges brought into the Mountain State. The others occurring in 1978 and 1979 . In 1984, a group from West Virginia toured Germany but there was no return from the foreigners.
The 1978 exchange brought a bit of Olympic atmosphere when West Germany’s Freiburg Wrestling Club made a four city tour within the state’s boundary. The pre-match ceremonies at their first stop in Parkersburg included a stirring parade of participants behind a member of each team carrying their national flag while their anthem blared over the P.A. system. The pre-match introduction also included a cultural exchange of gifts between the combatants. The matches included both Greco-Roman and freestyle competition. Other tour stops in 1978 occurred in Nitro, Huntington and Wheeling.
The 1979 exchange opened new doors as the West Virginia teams were no longer High School seniors and graduates, but were made up of local AAU club teams, therefore, allowing underclassmen the chance to wrestle in the events. The 1979 guests were from West Germany’s Berlin Wrestling Club.
The 1976 All-Star Team was represented by eight high schools. Mike Cain at 191.5 pounds, a Fairmont State wrestler and John Marshall graduate, and 165 pounder, Mike Winters from West Liberty and former Parkersburg High letter-winner registered the only victories for the West Virginia team. Other wrestlers were: Stan Johnson, Warwood, 105.5 lbs.; Tom Lumadue, Nitro, 114.5; Jim Duncan, Parkersburg South, 121; Mike Doonan, Parkersburg Catholic, 132; Steve Howard, Point Pleasant, 143; Bill Lowers, Parkersburg South, 154; Jodi Eafrati, Weir, 178; and Sheldon Grace, Weir, HWT.
A follow-up article in the “Parkersburg News” by Dave Grande in 1976 has some interesting comments form the Polish Wrestling Federation’s General Secretary, Jerzy Troicki. He is quoted as saying the Americans are more organized as doctors do not allow boys in Poland to begin wrestling until 12 years old. A tutor usually accompanies the team as academics are strongly emphasized on the athletes. A photo of the arena in Puzan, Poland, where the “European Championship” was to be held, is said to make the WVU Coliseum look like a High School fieldhouse. The “European Championship” was a tune-up the 1976 Olympics.
Dave Poe’s 1978 article has quotes from German wrestlers being in awe of the American atmosphere. A state tournament like crowd of over 1500 fans were on hand to witness the match instead of the typical 200 that the Germans are use to. The Germans were also impressed with the media coverage as German papers is said to ignore wrestling.
One of my earlier articles brought out barbershop talk of what is the oldest wrestling league in the state. Williamstown’s Pat Peters has traced the Little Kanawha Conference and the Wood County Pee-Wee programs back to 1964. These leagues are two years younger then the Wood County Jr. High League which was established in 1962. The only league that might be older than these three could possibly be the OVAC. It would be interesting to know when the older leagues around the state were founded.
Two other schools that need to be mention in the list of state dominate teams are Pt. Pleasant and Jackson Jr. Highs. Jackson Jr. High was unbeaten in the first four years of sporting a team, winning the Wood County Championship from 1962 to 1965 and crowning 25 individual county champions out of 48 possible titles.
Pt. Pleasant dominated the Jr. High circuit in the 90’s, climaxing during the 1995 season when they won the WSAZ Tournament for the second consecutive year and setting a tournament reord of 268 points. Point’s B-team finished third at the WSAZ that year, showing the depth of their program. After finishing third in 1996 at the WSAZ, Point went to a middle school system and continue to dominate, claiming three Middle School crowns at the WSAZ from 1997 through 1999. Overall, they claimed five WSAZ titles in six years within the two divisions. During their two year in 1994 and 1995, they combined for a dual record of 50 and 1, going undefeated in 1995 with a 25-0 clip and their one loss in 1994 was to Charles Town Jr. High.
Allowing sixth graders in Middle School systems to compete athletically was long overdue and should make the Middle Schools more competitive with the Jr. Highs. Though some programs have no trouble in filling weight classes, making sixth graders eligible should help fill the vacancies that other schools have in the lighter weights. Why then, would the rules committee eliminate the 75 pound weight when they just made a positive step to fill it is beyond me. Hopefully the rules committee can correct this oxymoron before the season starts. If not, I would encourage tournament directors to include the 75 pound weight class as exhibition to prove that there is enough participation and interest to sanction the weight class.