Wrestling Tourney has Impact On and Off the Mats

first_imgAt the Last Call Wrestling Tournament, Ryan Wheeler, top, of Ocean City, takes on an opponent. (Photos courtesy of Ocean City Junior Wrestling) By TIM KELLYYou saw them all over town last weekend, at least 2,000 strong.They were athletes – young ones, and their friends and families, wearing the colors of dozens of teams representing all of New Jersey and four other states, creating a kind of kids’ “Olympic Village” atmosphere around town.It’s the “Last Call” Junior Wrestling Tournament, which next year will be in its 12th annual staging at Ocean City High School.The tournament brings more than 400 junior wrestlers and their supporters to town. It’s become an event with an impact that goes well beyond the confines of the OCHS gyms.“People were telling me there were folks from our tournament all over town,” said Greg Young, president of the Ocean City Youth Wrestling program and organizer of the program.A good number of the wrestlers and their families made a weekend out of it, patronizing the Boardwalk, local restaurants, shops and places to stay while in Ocean City, Young said.Proceeds of the event benefit the wrestling program, with a portion going toward scholarships for deserving local student-athletes.Coach Rich Wheeler, his son, Jack, and fellow wrestler Darrien Mayo celebrate after a win.Participants hail from a wide geographic area, organizers said.“Many of the folks from Pennsylvania have summer homes in Ocean City, and others travel down for the weekend,” Young said. “Over the years, we have also forged great relationships with the wrestling organizations in Burlington and Camden counties. There is also a very large group that comes over from Delaware County, Pennsylvania.”He added that the timing of the event schedules it on the same weekend that the NJSIAA state high school wrestling tourney is going on in Atlantic City.“In this way, we get a lot of wrestling families who are already planning to be in the area,” Young said.He credited the Ocean City Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Taylor for their support, which enabled the tourney to take hold here in town and to grow.“We just couldn’t have the tournament without the use of both gyms, the support staff and everyone involved with the school district,” he said. “They have all been great.”Both the main and auxiliary gyms are in use, with five mats and eight referees. The Ocean City Police Department handles traffic and security.Young also reverently acknowledged the late Tommy Oves, who was a driving force in the evolution of the event.“Tom was passionate about this tournament, gave a lot of himself,” Young said. “It is one of his great legacies.”In tribute, the Ocean City wrestlers and coaches wear a patch on their uniforms with Oves’ initials.Darrien Mayo, facing camera, grapples with an opponent during the tournament in Ocean City.Dozens of volunteer workers, including high school athletes, run the clocks and other aspects of keeping the competition going.The fruits of their labor, as well as others in the organization, including coaches Carl Wanak and Rich Wheeler, was evident on Sunday: More than 400 wrestlers from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New York enjoyed sports competition and everything else Ocean City has to offer. Factor in parents and fans and the 2,000 attendees estimate seems conservative.The comments on social media showed a lot of satisfied participants. “Great tournament,” one parent said. “We had a great time and will be back,” another posted.“Wrestling has a lot of dramatic moments. You see that at our event,” Young said. “You’ll see absolute joy and you’ll see tears. But mostly, you see a lot of fun.”All in all, he noted, “It’s a pretty full day of wrestling.”last_img

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