WV-Mat, Mat Lines ...

West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for February 23, 2005

It won't be long before thousands of screaming fans converge upon the Big Sandy Arena in Huntington to cheer on their favorite wrestlers at the 58th annual WVSSAC State High School Wrestling Tournament.

After this year, three gentlemen will be able to sit back and be a part of the masses as one official and two coaches are retiring at the end of the season.

The phrases "West Virginia wrestling" and "Dr. Bill Welker" are almost interchangeable, as Dr. Welker has been probably the most prominent contributor to our sport in the state's history. Although he grew up in Pennsylvania and became a Pennsylvania state champion, he has dedicated his professional career to West Virginia wrestling, having coached at Wheeling High, Wheeling Central Catholic, and at Wheeling Park. As a result of his many years of officiating and sports writing, he has been recognized for his work with countless awards. He is currently the Rules Interpreter for the WVSSAC, and he authors such columns on WV-Mat as "West Virginia Mat Thoughts" and "Making the Call". And might I add that he recently got to celebrate the safe return home of his son Sgt. Daniel Eric O'Keefe Welker, who is now back in Germany with his family after spending a year in Iraq!

At the beginning of the '90's, Coach Jim Potts' Cameron Dragons were among the most feared programs among the West Virginia small schools. Of all the West Virginia schools that have wrestling programs, Cameron is the fourth smallest with less than 200 students, yet year in and year out they produce some of the state's best wrestlers. Coach Potts has a 363-96-3 dual meet record and 82 tournaments to his credit and has captured the Single A team title at the OVAC tournament for 16 of the last 17 years (Bellaire St. Johns briefly interrupted the run in 2004). That's not too bad for a man who started his scholastic career at Buckhannon as a basketball player and ended up a wrestler! Coach Potts holds the distinction of being the first coach in West Virginia to guide his team to four straight state championships. He has coached 32 individual champions, among them 4-time champion R. C. Anderson. With wrestlers Tim Cumpston (119), Jeff Pettit (145), and Jeff Cumpston (152) all top-ranked in their respective weight classes, it's a good bet that we'll see Coach Potts out on the mat one final time this Saturday night.

Coach Potts has always been one of my favorites, and I remember my brother-in-law Frank Burton and I were sitting with him and Matt Ashley at the LKC tournament a couple of years ago. As a shy girl who grew up a sports nut in awe of anyone who was an athlete, let alone a noted sports figure, I never would have believed it if someone told me that one day I'd be sitting there at a wrestling tournament shooting the breeze with one of West Virginia's best wrestlers of all time and one of West Virginia's best coaches.

One other coach who will be coaching at this final state tournament is Coach Steve Daniels of Robert C. Byrd. Dubbed the "father of wrestling in Harrison County" by his assistant coach G. N. Janes, no individual has done more to promote wrestling in Harrison County than has Coach Daniels, who incidentally was Harrison County's first state wrestling champion in 1981 when he wrestled for Liberty (Harrison) High. He founded the Clarksburg Jr. Wrestling Club in 1987 and has helped produce three state champions. He has coached at South Harrison High as well. And his influence has reached beyond the walls of the schools where he's coached, as both Bridgeport and Lincoln have started their own high school programs since the inception of the junior wrestling program. Daniels was recently honored with a citizenship award by Bridgeport booster Rob Brunswick at the dual meet between Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd. I wish Coach Daniels and his eight state tournament participants the best of luck this weekend.

And speaking of Harrison County schools, Bridgeport doesn't seem to have been affected by the move from AA/A to AAA this year as they still were able to qualify nine wrestlers - an all-time high I believe - for the state tournament, including Region 3 119-pound Champion Heath Haws.

Three of Lincoln's state qualifiers have the fourth one to thank that they're even wrestling in high school. In 2004, then-junior Elijah Paugh wanted to bring wrestling back to Lincoln High School after a 19-year hiatus. The program had been dropped in 1986 due to a lack of interest, but Paugh had wrestled in middle school and wanted to continue his wrestling career at the high school level. He approached the high school principal about starting a team and told his dad (Tom Paugh - a former Lewis County wrestler who believed his son would never get the team off the ground) that if he'd have to coach the team if one was started. Well, the rest is history as the Cougars have made steady improvement this season, culminating in their first home match and their first representation at the state tournament in over 20 years.

Although Poca High School doesn't have any wrestlers in this year's state tournament, I want to commend Coach Rex Nelson for reinstating the wrestling program at Poca High School this year. Coach Nelson has done a tremendous job this year and gets and A+ for submitting results. Keep up the great work, Coach, and I'm sure we'll be seeing some of those Dots on the mats in Huntington in future years!

A few of this year's regional tournaments ended in runaway victories for the team winners, but at four of the tournaments the winners won by five points or less, producing some of the tightest regional results in years. The Region 3 AAA and Region 4 AA/A team titles weren't decided until the 171-pound class at each tournament, and the fans got their money's worth at the AAA tournaments in Regions 2 and 4 as the team title at each tournament was still in question going into the final bout of the night. The Region 2 team title wasn't decided until East Fairmont's Gaynon Bunner's 1-0 decision over Fairmont Senior's Matt Bosley prevented the Polar Bears from overtaking eventual champion North Marion, whose wrestlers, by the way, became Bunner's biggest fans of the night after his win. And Alex Neal gave his Cabell Midland team their first regional title wince 2000 when he won a nail-biter overtime rideout decision over Huntington's Ryan Cook. Congratulations to all the regional winners!

Five young men have been fortunate enough to have claimed four straight regional wrestling titles. Shady Spring's Justin Chapman and Derek Scarbro, Nitro's Anthony Easter, Huntington's Chad Nelson, and Ripley's Mitch Smith all became four-time regional champions this year. Congratulations, guys!

The aforementioned wrestlers are among a large group who have qualified for the state tournament all four years in high school. In alphabetical order, the are:

Justin Chapman, Shady Spring (4-time regional champion)
Chris Conner, Martinsburg
Chad Crookshanks, Greenbrier West
Tim Cumpston, Cameron
Brandon Demastes, Buckhannon-Upshur
Anthony Easter, Nitro (4-time regional champion)
Kevin Efaw, Grafton
Perry Ellis, Wahama
Spencer Ford, Fairmont Senior
Micah Gerasimovich, Morgantown
Josh Grim, Hedgesville
Josh Jones, Shady Spring
Andy Leithead, Sissonville
Chance Litton, Parkersburg
Justin Lodge, North Marion
Sean Meade, Woodrow Wilson
Josh Neal, Shady Spring/Parkersburg
Chad Nelson, Huntington (4-time regional champion)
Brandon Rader, Parkersburg
Derek Scarbro (4-time regional champion)
Mitch Smith, Ripley (4-time regional champion)
Junior Villafana, Ripley
Ike Ward, Buckhannon-Upshur
Matt Wilson, Cabell Midland

Five wrestlers will put their perfect records on the line as AA/A wrestlers Brandon Wilson (St. Marys, 103), Randy Ferrell (Greenbrier West, 119), Paul Goodrich (Calhoun County, 171), and Cody Potts (Oak Glen, 215) join AAA wrestler Anthony Easter (Nitro, 119) as the only wrestlers to finish the regular season and regional tournaments without a loss.

Before I close, I'd like to send out a special thanks to Jeff Hughes and G. N. Janes for their valuable assistance in providing information and statistics on Coach Potts and Coach Daniels, respectively. Again, I owe the biggest part of this column to the generous help I get from others.

It's hard to believe that it will all be over in just a few short days. I want to commend all the wrestlers who have worked hard, disciplined themselves, and dedicated themselves to a sport they love. Here's wishing everyone the best of luck!

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