One of the least celebrated holidays in our country is one of the most anticipated in our household. My grandparents were married on Groundhog’s Day and on their anniversary, we’d crown them King and Queen Groundhog for the day and have some good-natured fun with the multiple events. To the rest of the nation, Groundhog’s Day marks the mid-way point of winter. Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not, the fact remains that the Vernal Equinox does not occur until March 20th, signifying the first day of Spring, sorry Phil. To wrestling junkies like myself, Groundhogs’ Day signifies the home stretch of the wrestling season. Conference Tournaments takes place all over the state and regionals and the state tournament are just around the corner. To wrestling widows like my wife, Groundhog’s Day is when they start seeing light at the end of the tunnel and soon their spouses will be returning to them. Yet to the Jr. High/Middle School grapplers, Groundhog’s Day marks the conclusion of their scholastic season.
In its first year of existence for wrestling, the Central West Virginia Athletic Conference kicked off the conference tournaments with their championship tournament in Spencer on January 10th. The State’s #3 ranked middle school, Braxton County, won the dual style tournament defeating 8th ranked Spencer 47-39 in the championship match. Both schools crowned five individual champions and Clay crowned three individuals with Calhoun chipping in with two champions.
Spencer and Braxton County have had promising seasons this year and were recognizable forces in the tournaments they participated in. With no youth feeder program, Braxton really came into their own in 2001, conquering and pushing some of the best Jr. Highs in the state and finishing second amongst middle schools at the large WSAZ tournament.
They say the third time’s a charm, but for Edison Jr. High, it took five tries. After three dual losses and a narrow defeat at the WSAZ tournament to the State’s #1 ranked team, Edison finally gained the victory at the County Tournament with a two point, nail-biting triumph. After a two-year absence, Edison reclaimed the Wood County Title that they had won for seven straight years from 1992 through 1998. Enroute to their county championship, Edison claimed six individual titles and the tournament’s co-Outstanding Wrestler in Kyle Walters. Number 1 ranked Blennerhassett followed with five champions and was led by three-time winner and co-Outstanding Wrestler Felix Osuna-Cotto. Hamilton, Jackson, Ritchie County and Williamstown had one champion each. Wood County lived up to its moniker as the toughest place to win in the state. Blennerhassett and Edison have been 1-2 in the polls all year. Jackson and Hamilton Jr. High join in the top 15 at #8 and #13 respectively. Ritchie’s Willie Broce becomes only the fifth grappler and the first Ritchie Countian to win a Wood County crown since the inclusion of non Wood County teams in 1993. Edison had pushed Blennerhassett all year before their final triumph, losing by one point in their first encounter, losing by criteria in their second match-up, losing by four points during the regular season and then by twelve points at the WSAZ.
The state’s #5 ranked team, Beckley-Stratton, claimed their second straight conference title with 12 finalists and six champions. The Bulldogs’ Jay Thomas made history by becoming the county’s third three-time champion and Beckley-Stratton's first. Park Jr. High, ranked 18th, finished second with four champions and #7 ranked Shady Springs finished third with three champions. Independence claimed the other two county titlists.
The Bulldogs had an up and down year, starting off hot before injuries took their toll on their line-up. Beckley-Stratton revenged all of their losses except to the states top two teams by season’s end to maintain their #5 ranking. Beckley-Stratton easily overcame the six-point deficit to Shady Springs at the WSAZ to win their Conference Title. Park Jr. High also leapfrogged past Shady Springs at the County after being smothered by Shady Springs at the WSAZ. With several quality individuals, Shady Springs competes well at large tournaments but suffers without a full lineup and wrestles with a handicap in duals and small tournaments. One thing I like about the Raleigh County Tournament is it is a true county championship by allowing reserve wrestlers to participate. Reserves spend as much time as the starters in the practice room and deserve an opportunity to see how they measure up at the end of season contest. Swimming and Track and Field is the only other sport where a school is allowed more than one entry per event. I think where possible, wrestling should follow suit to encourage participation.
After seven years of dominating the Kanawha County Championship, McKinley Jr. High stepped aside as the tournament went to middle schools only. An impressive Andrew Jackson, ranked ninth amongst state’s middle schools, ran away with the team title and crowned seven champions. Second place Sissonville had two champions and third place DuPont had three. Elkview, Horace Mann and Stonewall Jackson had one champion each. Kanawha’s McKinley finished the season ranked 20th overall. Andrew Jackson was one of the more enjoyable teams to watch this past season.
BMAC and JR. OVAC
Number two ranked middle school Oak Glen took top honors at the Buckeye-Mountaineer Athletic Conference and runner-up honors at the Jr. Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Tournament. Oak Glen crowned three champions at the BMAC and Brennon Chambers was voted Outstanding Wrestler. Follansbee was the next best placing team from West Virginia at the BMAC finishing in seventh overall with two champions. Wellsburg came away with one champion and Weirton also participated in the BMAC.
At the Jr. OVAC Championship, West Virginia teams fared much better claiming titles in seven of the seventeen weight classes. Oak Glen finished second in team competition behind Martins Ferry from Ohio. Oak Glen crowned two champions, Follansbee finished in eighth place with two champions. Ronnie Green was Wheeling Middle School’s only champion and was voted the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. Triadelphia and Union Local had one champion each. Cameron was the third best West Virginia team finishing twelfth overall in the thirty-one team field. Ten West Virginia teams participated in the tournament.
Similar to Blennerhassett and Edison in the Jr. High division, the state’s best Middle School battle was occurring in Cabell County with Beverly Hills and Milton Middle Schools. Setting the stage for this epic encounter, Milton and Beverly Hills had traded positions in back-to-back tournaments early in the season, finishing 1-3 at the Cabell Huntington Hospital Tournament and then switching to 2-3 at the Trojan Invitational. The following week, Beverly Hills surprised everyone but themselves with a dual victory over heavily favored Beckley-Stratton at the Raleigh General Tournament. Milton matched this accomplishment one-week later, also defeating Beckley-Stratton at the Point Pleasant Olympic Pool Tournament. Beverly Hills and Milton did not help the matter when a dual was cancelled and then at the WSAZ, Milton narrowly finished ahead of Beverly Hills by three and a half points. The state pollsters then voted the two schools tied for fourth in the Middle School balloting setting up the classic match-up for the County Championship.
After day one, Beverly Hills led the two-day county championship by a slim one and a half points. Both teams had nine finalists with six head-to-head match-ups. The finals went back and forth with the teams splitting the head-to-head, three apiece. Milton finished their scoring, leading the tournament after the 165-pound championship and crowning six individual champions. Beverly Hills still had two finalists left and cut into Milton’s lead when Aaron Ferguson claimed the 190-pound crown. Trailing by four and a half points, Heavyweight Trevor Washburn would need a tech fall or better to win the team title for Beverly Hills but Cammack’s Kaleb Price had other plans by winning his first County Title. Beverly Hills finished with five champions, followed by Cammack with three, and Barboursville with one. With sixth graders competing for the first time, a couple of them could make history by becoming the County’s first three-time champion. Like Raleigh County, Cabell County also allows reserves to participate in their County Championship.
Fayette County held their County Championship on Jan 31st at Collins Middle School. Host Collins walked away from the event with eight individual champions. Meadow Bridge crowned three champions and Fayetteville had two victors.
PAC-8, MASON-DIXON and INDEPENDENTS
At press time, there have been no full reports from the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship, the Mason-Dixon Championship or the Harpers Ferry Duals Tournament. The PAC-8 consists of teams from Ohio and Marshall counties and features #4 ranked Moundsville. The Wheeling papers have recorded nothing on the tournament for the past two weeks. The Mason-Dixon Conference includes teams from the north-central portion of the state. The Tournament was held at Lewis County High School and won convincingly by #4 ranked middle school Buckhannon-Upshur, 197.5 points to 115.5 points for runner-up East Fairmont. Cameron finished in third place, just one half points behind East Fairmont. No Individual report has been made available.
After the conclusion of conference tournaments, #6 ranked Harpers Ferry has hosted independent schools from the eastern portion of the state in a duals tournament for the past several years. Warm Springs, a feeder school to Berkeley Springs, finished second to the host, Harpers Ferry. In its second year of fielding a team, Warm Springs has become very competitive with an overall 11-2 mark this season.
Western Greenbrier, ranked #9 amongst Jr. Highs, has been one of the state’s more surprising teams from this past season. Western Greenbrier had strong outings at the Scott Brown Memorial, the Independence Super Duals, and was in the running for third place for much of the tournament at the WSAZ. Victories have come at the expense of established programs such as McKinley, Park, Braxton County and Cabell Midland. They lost a heartbreaker to Harpers Ferry by three points and had fourteen point losses to both Beckley-Stratton and Point Pleasant.
Another independent team making a name for themselves is Charles Town. Charles Town is ranked 8th overall and finished a strong fourth in Jr. Highs at the WSAZ. They have been hitting the road against tough competition from Pennsylvania and Virginia.
One other major independent team is 3rd ranked Point Pleasant. Voted as the top middle school in the state, Point Pleasant is a force to be reckoned with. Though a good dual team, the quality wrestlers on this team was able to overcome the holes in their starting lineup to make them one of the top tournament teams in the Mountain State. With a growing small fry program, Point has the groundwork laid to be a competitive program for years to come.