Well, the week we've all been waiting for is now upon us. The regionals went as expected, with a few surprises thrown in here and there, but now it's time to separate the men from the boys. Oops - can't say that now. Congratulations to Amy Alvero from Weirton Madonna for becoming the first female to qualify for the West Virginia State Wrestling Tournament.
Shame on me for not providing more detailed regional reports last week. Judging from the good-natured chastisement I received, I must try harder next year to do a better regional preview for each region.
What a tournament this should turn out to be! Never before have so many teams qualified all 14 wrestlers. While no AA/A team qualified their entire team, three AAA teams are bringing the whole crew. However, the team with the most wrestlers may not be the biggest threat to the title. At the risk of upsetting fans in both region 1 and region 3, I must say that I think North Marion wrestled in the toughest regional tournament this year, which allowed Cabell Midland, Huntington, and Parkersburg South to qualify their entire teams. That isn't to say that those three teams aren't a threat for the state title, because they most definitely will be. However, if these teams lose one or more wrestlers in the early rounds of the tournament, it would put them on an even playing field with North Marion, who is "limited" to 12 wrestlers. From there on out it could be a dogfight (no pun intended, Husky fans).
After looking at the brackets, it looks like North Marion could have an outside shot at as many as five finalists, where Cabell Midland has an outside shot at as many as five. Parkersburg South could put anywhere from one to five wrestlers in the finals, although four of those are outside shots, and it will take some great wrestling on the part of the Patriots to get their wrestlers through the semifinals.
Oak Glen once again appears to be in the driver's seat in AA/A, but there are enough quality wrestlers spread throughout the state who could make things tough for the Golden Bears. Depending on how everyone wrestles, Oak Glen could send anywhere from four to seven wrestlers to the finals. Wirt County has a good shot at placing five in the finals, and since so many points are scored for each win in the semifinal round, these two teams could pull way ahead of the pack on Friday night. If Oak Glen has an exceptionally good first two days and Wirt doesn't, then it could be all over on Friday once again this year.
As we all know though, this is a tournament full of upsets and surprises. While placing as many wrestlers in the finals is important, it's how the remainder of each team wrestles in the consolation bracket that makes or breaks that team.
For every wrestler on the mat this weekend there will be a number of family members there to cheer their hearts out. Some of the dads at this year's tournament have the distinction of being former state champions. I'm sure there are several of whom I'm not even aware, but among the state champion dads who will be cheering their sons on are: Steve Bosley ('73,'74) - father of Mike Bosley (Parkersburg South); Tim Byard ('77,'79) - stepfather of Adam Gorby (North Marion); Mark Delligatti ('80) - father of Jonathon Delligatti (Fairmont Senior); Marvin Pickens ('71) - father of Wes Pickens (Parkersburg South); and Dave Reed ('75) - father of Matt Reed (Lewis County). Cory Gamble may be the son of Mike Gamble, but I haven't been able to locate a source to verify the information. If you are a former state champion who has a son in the state tournament, or if you know of anyone, please let me know. We'll update this page.
While we're on the subject of families, last year Mike and Jason Miller of Wirt County became the seventh set of brothers to win state championships in the same year (although I could be wrong on this). If the Miller brothers are both victorious again this year, it will be the first time that two brothers have ever accomplished the feat in back to back years.
Parkersburg South is aiming to be the first four-time AAA team champion in state history. (Cameron won the AA/A title from 1991 to 1994.) The Patriots managed to qualify their entire team for the fourth year in a row - something that, as far as I know, has never been accomplished at the regional level.
Should Jason Johnson win his third state title, he will become the sixth Parkersburg South wrestler to accomplish the feat. No other school has crowned more three-time state champions. Spencer leads the pack of four-time champion producing schools, with three.
If Mike Miller and David Drennen (both of Wirt) win their third state titles along with Johnson, it won't be the first time three different three-time state champions have been crowned. It's happened at least four other times in the tournament's history.
Joe Handlan hopes to keep alive a little streak that he's got going for himself. The coach of the Parkersburg Big Reds has coached at least one individual champion for 22 consecutive years. He also leads the list of "active" coaches with 46 individual state champions to his credit. Parkersburg High School also holds the state record for number of individual champions, number of team championships, and most individual champions in a season.
Wrestling has been a sport in West Virginia since 1922, and we're about to convene at our 51st annual state tournament. A lot of positive changes in the tournament's format have come about, even in recent years. I remember when a wrestler would not advance in the tournament if he lost his first match and the man who beat him failed to win his second match. I also remember that when the tournament was split into two divisions, the top four finishers in each AAA region advanced to the state tournament while only the top two AA/A placers advanced. I never understood the reasoning behind that. But one of the best moves in the history of the tournament was moving the AA/A finals to Saturday evening with the AAA finals. When the tournament first had two divisions, the AA/A finals were contested on Saturday afternoon. In 1979, numbers of people failed to see Matt Ashley make history as the first four-time state champion, simply because his championship match was going on while a lot of folks were enjoying their dinner. It's good to see the AA/A teams and wrestlers receiving equal treatment.
As I'm writing this, the tournament is a day and a half away. Once again I find myself wondering what the outcome will be, who the Cinderella stories will be, what heartbreaks will have to be endured, and what history will be made. I just hope we have a tournament with no major injuries and plenty of good sportsmanship and outstanding wrestling. Have a safe trip everyone, and best of luck to all of this year's participants.
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Updated February 26, 1998