In Chester, almost anyone on the street could tell you about the deep-rooted Thomas Dale - L. C. Bird High School football rivalry; the packed stadiums with everyone young and old attending; the players and coaches becoming household names; a tradition. When autumn becomes winter, the town’s focus typically falls on basketball, but in recent years, local clubs and organizations have developed a wrestling program that has become nationally-known and nationally-competitive.
Almost an underground type of scene, local wrestling has shied away from the spotlight, humbly bringing home titles and multiple honors from national circuits every year.
On Feb. 18, the 2011 VHSL AAA State Wrestling Tournament; a engagement of Virginia’s top wrestlers began and then ended on the next day. Chester and it’s surrounding areas were represented at the state tournament by high schools: Matoaca, Meadowbrook, Thomas Dale and L. C. Bird; sending 13 wrestlers, bringing home seven medals.
Matoaca High School, the 2011 Central District champions, fought to a second place finish in the Central Region tournament after a third place finish in 2010. Even without returning state champ and two-time state placer Blake Roulo and three-time state placer Josh Clark, Matoaca’s wrestling team brought home three medals and a 12th place finish in the state tournament.
“It’s not about losing two wrestlers, it’s about a team coming together in competition,” said Coach Michael Moore who was also named the Central Region’s Coach of the Year.
Two Matoaca wrestlers, Corbin Ramos and Austin Atkins, a sophomore and a senior respectively, placed fourth at the state tournament while Kyle Gordon, a freshman, placed eighth. Gordon and Atkins were both individually Central District and Central Regional champions. Corbin Ramos was also a district champ, coming in second at the regional tournament.
Also a rising program, Meadowbrook High School sent three wrestlers to the state tournament, only managing to bring back one sixth place medal earned by Marcus Beckwith, a junior, who was a district champ and a regional runner-up.
Brandon Diamond and Alex Turley represented Thomas Dale High School as the only two wrestlers to go off to the state tournament. Winning both the Central District and Central Region tournaments, Turley, a junior, placed fourth. Brandon Diamond, a senior, also placed fourth at the state tournament after coming in second at districts and regionals to three-time state champ Cody Allala from Hopewell. Diamond and Turley alone brought Thomas Dale a fifteenth place team finish at states.
L. C. Bird’s Dalton St. Clair also placed third at regionals and eighth at states.
“We’re getting to be a big deal,” said Paul Turley, father of Thomas Dale’s Alex Turley and youth wrestling coach. “We had a great showing at states.” Local clubs practice all year long, going to tournaments in the offseason, trying to get kids involved with the sport. In the summer, many clubs go off to wrestling camps at universities all over the country where they’re taught by NCAA champions, all-Americans and coaches, sometimes with the help of Olympians, past, present and future.
“The area’s growing,” Coach Moore also added later. More people, comes more competition in the local wrestling community. Children are beginning to wrestling at a younger age, coming up in the tight-knit families involved in the local clubs, and the weekend tournaments; wrestling is beginning to make a name for itself now in Chester, being recognized as the physically demanding and mentally challenging sport that it is.