King of the Mat showcases wrestling talent

WELCOME | With a moniker like “King of the Mat” affixed to your tournament, mediocre just doesn’t cut it.

Or so figures Danny Crotts, North Davidson’s wrestling coach and tournament director for the King of the Mat high school wrestling tournament which was held this weekend at North Davidson.

That’s why Crotts works tirelessly each year to recruit the best talent he can find to one of the signature high school wrestling events in the state, which is billed as Davidson County’s largest sporting event.

In terms of number of athletes competing, that’s hard to dispute as 428 high school wrestlers squared off Friday for a chance to be deemed “King of the Mat.” But this event, which features 40 teams from four different states, isn’t just about quantity — it’s the quality of wrestling that brings teams as far away as Oklahoma to compete against the best of the best.

The tournament included 34 teams from North Carolina plus three squads from Virginia and two teams from South Carolina. But, this year’s long distance award goes to Carthage High School, which made the 608-mile trek from Carthage, N.Y., to Welcome to test its mettle against some of the best wrestling talent the Tar Heel state has to offer.

Carthage, behind Coach Don Dorchester in his fourth season leading the Comet grapplers, features 182-pounder Shayne Brady, a New York state runner-up last year, who will return to North Carolina next season — this time as a member of the N.C. State Wolfpack wrestling team.

Like most coaches at the event, Dorchester felt coming to a match like this was a good way to see how his team will stack up for the remainder of the wrestling season.

“It’s good to see some guys we’ve never faced before. It really helps our guys out and the competition has been very good so far,” Dorchester said Friday. “Plus, it’s a way to have some fun and give the guys a chance for a little team bonding.”

The logistics behind a tournament of this size are daunting and Crotts, who revitalized this event in 2007 after a lengthy hiatus, was quick to point out that it takes a whole host of tournament staff and volunteers to make this event a success. “We have a core group of folks who work together to put on five or six tournaments a year,” Crotts said.

He added that this event “is the biggest one we do and takes a whole lot of parents and other volunteers” to run smoothly.

In addition to crew working the mats, serving as timekeepers and scorers, the tournament also has a hospitality room for coaches and officials, which is being manned by parent volunteers. Six officials work both days of matches, which wrapped up Saturday with the tournament semifinals and finals culminating in the crowning of Kings of the Mat in 14 weight classes.

Crotts said planning for this year’s tournament began the day after last year’s event concluded and he will start recruiting the 2013 King of the Mat field as soon as medals are awarded Saturday.

One coach who plans to return next year is West Wilkes’ Brian Brown, coach of the three-time defending 1-A state champion Blackhawks who made their third straight appearance at the King of the Mat tourney. Brown believes the mid-season competition level at this event is unmatched.

“This is by far the toughest tournament we will go to this year,” Brown said, noting that “the past couple of years it’s been tougher than some state tournaments, in all four classes. We have a kid (Jorge Lima) who finished fourth here last year. He’s won two straight state titles. Our 126-pound state champion last year finished seventh here. That tells you what the competition level is like.”

Lima, who won the 1-A state title at 132-pounds last season, is one of eight wrestlers in this year’s field who collected individual state championships during the 2011-2012 season. In addition, this year’s tournament consisted of 10 grapplers who were runners-up in last year’s individual state tournament. Another 22 wrestlers placed in the top five last winter and 44 other athletes were state qualifiers.

It’s that kind of talent that draws teams such as Parkland, winners of a state-record 288 consecutive dual matches, to this tournament. The Mustangs, helmed by Maurice Atwood, include highly touted All-American wrestler Drew Turner, a junior who has already captured state titles in his freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Turner, who has won 4-A titles at both 103 and 113 pounds, is coming off a win in the 120-pound weight class at last weekend’s WRAL Invitational Wrestling Tournament — a tournament in its 41st year of existence.

Joel McCanna is in his 21st season as the head coach at Scotland County High School and his team finished 12th at the WRAL tournament. He believes the King of the Mat, now in its sixth year, rivals that event as one of the two premier mid-season tournaments in North Carolina.

“This one is organized really well. The competition is outstanding and there is no better way for us to prepare for our conference season next month,” McCanna said.

Ledford and Central Davidson joined the host Black Knights as Davidson County schools participating in the 2012 King of the Mat. Ledford coach Andy Chappell is in his first season guiding the Panthers after a 27-year coaching career at High Point Central and Ragsdale.

One of the first things Chappell did after being tapped to lead Ledford was to sign his Panther squad up for this tournament. “This is a great tournament. It’s one of the best anywhere. Danny does a great job,” Chappell said.

Chappell, whose Ragsdale’s teams captured four state titles in 15 years, added “I brought my Ragsdale teams here so I know the competition will really help us be a better team in February.”

He hopes introducing his Ledford team to the type of talent competing at the King of the Mat helps build on the foundation set by last year’s squad which finished 33-12 before losing in the first round of the state dual-team playoffs.

“We are young with only two seniors. This is a tough tournament for us but I’ll continue to come to this event because I know it will make us a better team later this year and into coming seasons,” Chappell said.

North’s Nick Wimmer was the only local wrestler to finish in the top three in his weight class. He finished third at heavyweight.