West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker

. . . On Yesterday's vs. Today's State Champions

Since the mid-1970s, there has been a minor debate amongst wrestling patrons regarding past and present state champs. In Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, there has been the question, "Were our champions before states were broken into divisions (based on school-size) more worthy to boast their achievements than our present state champs?" Let’s take a look at both situations.

The One Division, No Loss, State Champs
To begin with, these champions could not lose at any stage of the elimination process. Runner-ups and top placewinners did not advance. One loss and you were history. It was like second place in a gun fight. We all know what that meant.

Many also argue that there was much more pressure on the wrestlers to win -- every match -- from sectionals to regionals. And they have a point.

Finally, you couldn’t relax for a second, or you were dead as far as winning the coveted prize. If you fell short at any level, you could go home and eat all you wanted -- because the party was over. I know; it was the format that I had to deal with as a competitor of those days.

The Multi-Division, Loss-Forgiving, State Champs

Advocates of this set-up have some very convincing arguments. First of all, and I have to agree, how many times have the best two wrestlers in the state come from the same local area. Shouldn’t the loser be allowed to continue? Good point.

Furthermore, with the state elimination process being broken down into school-size divisions, it gives wrestlers from much smaller schools the opportunity to also become state champions. Another reasonable assumption.

Finally, by taking all placewinners to states, far more participants are given a chance to still become state champions. As a coach, official, and state rules interpreter for 30 years, I have seen this scenario actually materialize many times in reality.

Personally, and I am definitely biased, the original format suited me just fine. When I won states during the dark ages, if I would have known there was another state champ at my weight class, I would have graciously approached him and said, "Ya wanna wrestle?"

One veteran mat enthusiast made a very excellent observation. He told me, "Bill, when you wrestled it was much tougher to get to states. Now, with many more wrestlers at the state competition, its tougher to win states."

The debate goes on.

After 22 years of writing the “Mat Talk” series, this is the first time I have ever dedicated a column to one individual. Today’s article is dedicated to one of the most humble men I have ever known -- Mark Gerrity.

Mark wrestled with me in high school. His goal in life was to be a teacher and wrestling coach. That was not to be. Upon graduating from Shamokin (PA) High in 1967, Mark Gerrity was drafted in the Marines and spent two (yes, I said two!) tours of duty in Vietnam. It cost him his dream!

Upon returning state-side, Mark had many physical problems due to combat injuries and the infamous Agent Orange. But he still kept a positive, loving attitude on life and later graduated from Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA) -- magna cum laude! Still, for over 30 years he was plagued with so many war-related physical complications. Over the last five years, Mark Gerrity created a Pennsylvania wrestling website that has been nationally-recognized for its innovative and promotional approaches to the mat sport.

On February 1st, Mark J. Gerrity finally succumbed to his war ailments. He left a legacy of courage second to none. His military honors and decorations included a National Defense Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Meritious Unit Citation, Vietnamese Service Medal with Five Stars, Purple Heart Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with a Silver Star, Vietnamese Campaign Medal, Certificate of Commendation, Rifle Sharpshooter Badge, and finally the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” -- the third highest honor given by the Navy!

Thank you, Mark, for being my very good friend and a true American hero. I will never forget you for your love of God, America, family, and the sport of wrestling. You epitomize the truest essence of human compassion for his fellow man.

(Note: On February 26, 2000, Mark J. Gerrity was inducted into District IV Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame for his contributions to the mat sport on the internet.)

Return to the West Virginia Mat Thoughts Index Page
Return to the WV-Mat front page