How you justify an impulsive 2,752-mile drive? Here’s how …
I’ve repeated this story probably 100 times since Thursday … but now I can finish it out with the setting and closure it deserves.
Tuesday night, Kyle Klingman and I were in the office discussing our show with Dan Dennis and Tom Borrelli. While I was browsing my e-mail and was sent a story from Dave Fairbank, a former comrade at the Daily Press. It was an advance on the upcoming Virginia Tech-Old Dominion dual set for Thursday night. I’d been trying to figure out a way to get to the match for about a month, but airfare had been outrageous.
I show Kyle the story and without a beat, he says, “Dude, you should go.” Kyle was heading to Colorado and was going to catch two duals to and fro (yes, I said fro) and we quickly devised a plan to get Thursday’s show done on the road while we went in different directions. After clearing it with our beloved Marketing Director Janie Lenz, I packed up and was set to DRIVE to Virginia.
I’ve traversed the country seven times, this would make eight and nine. I shipped out of my digs in Arden Hills at approximately 9 a.m. on Wednesday. This was really not planned at all. Because as I thought about the weekend, I said “Hey, the AAA states are Friday at Oscar Smith … then I can drive out to Salem and see the Double A’s.”
This is the first time since 1996 both state tournaments fell on the same weekend. AAA is at Oscar Smith H.S. in Chesapeake, while the AA and A tournaments are in Southwest Virginia … yes, two different sites, three tournaments and for years, they were two different weekends.
I went to Poquoson High School, a AA school, and Salem was a place I loved going to cover wrestling. Smith is always a problem for various reasons. I announced the AAA’s in Northern Virginia when they were up at Robinson in the Fairfax area, but that was when I lived in Pennsylvania.
So I’ve told you that story to tell you these bits.
Dinner in Indianapolis
While I was working at the Daily Press, I had many a fine writer to work with. I had many a fine copy editor to work with as well. I spoke of the late Warner Hessler, and he was really a mentor, but as I got older, I wasn’t just “a kid” working on the sports desk. I got to know people pretty well and became friends with my co-workers. Joe Reedy came to the Daily Press when I was still in college and our mutual sarcasm and discontent for all things stupid were an immediate plus. Joe once told a story about writing a story on Edinboro wrestling for the Meadville (Pa.) paper and asked for wrestling coach “Bruce Boxleitner” … some may know he’s an actor. Of course he meant Baumgartner. Joe went from the Daily Press to a paper in Fort Lauderdale and now covers the Cincinnati Bengals for the Cincy Enquirer.
I called up Joe on my way down south, thinking Cincy would be a possible stopping point as I was looking for a place to crash for the night. Joe was on the road, heading west to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. I was heading south down I-65 from Chicago. Timing was perfect. He was staying with Ryan O’Halloran, a former co-worker with us at the Daily Press. Ryan now covers the Washington Redskins for the Washington Times. Joe had an on-air spot with AM 700 WLW out of Cincy around 8 p.m. I tuned in on XM radio … 10 minutes later, I was knocking on the door. I was meeting the guys for a random meal as I was heading to Virginia.
I couldn’t get over how random this meeting was. Ryan’s from Fargo, and we’ve talked about this constantly. It just so happened that I was wearing my Bison Turf hoodie … we know from my travel blogs, The Turf, holds a special place in my world.
We talked about the newspaper industry, how we’ve moved from place to place and now, I cover wrestling and they cover the NFL. We all worked at the same place once upon a time. Both guys are first class and it was great to catch up on old times and what’s new.
We said our farewells and I got back in my new 2008 Chevy Trailblazer and headed East … I didn’t know when I was going to stop, because I still had Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia to drive through.
Parts of the trip had my Garmin send me through some banjo-playing parts of Southern Ohio. There were parts of the trip where I was thinking, “This is how those horror movies start,” and sure enough, there were countless cliches dotted along the highway.
On one stretch of road, the only vehicles I saw were a beat up tow truck and a local sherrif, probably in cahoots with one another in stashing bodies or something. As I made my way along the Ohio River, I was texing ODU assistant Matt Storniolo with my progress. There were some things exchanged about my surroundings that I’m not going to repeat here, but let’s just say there were some “Deliverance” references going along.
I got on I-64 heading east, which would be my last “turn off” because 64 runs all the way back to Hampton Roads. Around 6 a.m., I’d had enough, I crossed into Alleghany (yes, that’s how it’s spelled in VA) County and pulled into the rest area/welcome center. I caught a two-hour power nap and resumed by trip around 8 a.m.
I’ve made countless drives down I-81 and I-64 in my life. It was simple. I knew where I was going and at that time, turned off the GPS. I got to Poquoson, said hello to my dad and sat down, opened up the computer and called Kyle. We had Bruce Burnett lined up. Kyle was stopping in Kearney, Neb., to do the three-way interview. We previewed Army-Navy with Burnett. Great interview, great guy. He kinda looks like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
My nephew came by, showing off his jacked up new truck. I was content with my modest Trailblazer. Spent about an hour or two in Poquoson and stopped into 7-11 to get a water. I’m on the phone with Frank Lipoli as I’m in the store and someone yells at me, “Twinkie, what do you know about wrestling?”
It was Wesley Backus, a former Poquoson wrestler. His dad was the first four-time state champion in Poquoson history. Mike Akers was the second. He asked what I was doing in town and where I was living. “Minnesota, drove back to announce the match tonight.”
He said he was going. This was a good sign.
I got over to Old Dominion and as I walked into the wrestling room, Virginia Tech was just getting there as well. At this time, I was delirious. I showed assistant coach Mike Dixon the “nicknames” show from Wrestling411 before sitting down and passing out for 20 minutes. I hit up a shower, changed and headed over to “The Ted.”
“The Ted” is the nickname for the Ted Constant Convocation Center, an awesome 9,000 seat arena. ODU just started wrestling in the facility two years ago, tonight would be the first top-20 matchup in the building’s history for a wrestling dual. Tech fans came out to support their Hokies, students were there with a spirit competition and I was looking dapper and re-training the pipes to announce the dual.
I talk to the ODU managers, one of which, Samantha Freeman, went to Poquoson. It was strange, because I knew her cousins, but she didn’t know my sister or my nephew, both were in school with her at the same time. Odd. She said she was going to Salem for AA’s. So there was some sense of “I know where you’re coming from” being associated with both Poquoson and ODU. She’s also Wesley Backus’ cousin.
Paul White was covering the match for The Virginian-Pilot, the newspaper covering what’s referred to as “The Southside” … the Daily Press covers the “Peninsula.” Paul was shocked to see me. I re-told the random story. The match was big, not just locally, but for two Virginia colleges to be squaring off, the night before the AAA state tournament, was notable, not just back home, but nationally as well. I felt I needed to be there.
Paul asked me why I was there, and even quoted me in the next day’s story.
The dual was outstanding. Close matches, big throws, heart-stopping moments (for fans of both teams) and ultimately ODU pulled out the 19-15 win. I had to take off the announcer cap and put on the “reporter” cap, which believe me, is tough. I wrote a story and met my mom and sister out at University Pizza for the post-match social. I was glad to get to see them, because if I hadn’t seen either after driving halfway across the country, there would be hell to pay.
I saw some old friends and closed the place down. The next day, I was going to states.
I was last at AAA States when they were held at Robinson. Bryan Hazard, who some might know as the guy who announced the National Duals this past year with Sandy Stevens, brought me in for two years to announce the AAA States for those two years in Northern Virginia. When I lived in Pennsylvania, it was an easy two-hour drive. It was also conference weekend, so I was doubling up with InterMat coverage back then.
I got to Oscar Smith around 11:05 … and parked. Which is more of a chore than you realize, since school is still in session. One major drawback to having it at Smith is the atmosphere and the fact it is a high school.
First people I see walking into the gym are Jay Black, Mark Black and Bill Swink. Mark and Bill coach at Colonial Forge. I make my way past, people are surprised I’m wearing a sport coat. Some haven’t seen me since I moved to Pennsylvania. They all noticed my weight loss. I was pretty pleased about that. I went to the media table, gave a shout to Kyle Tucker, the Pilot writer, and saw countless people, so many I can’t write them all down, in the first five minutes there. I gave Anna Baker a big hug. Mrs. Baker is one of those special people in the sport. For years, her and her late husband Colon traveled the country following Virginia wrestling on both the high school and college levels. She’s the “press chief” … making sure everyone’s got updated brackets, passes and whatever they need. The woman is a saint. I’m truly a better person for knowing her and Colon.
The tournament’s rolling and of course, there’s a familiar voice … it’s Ken Berger. Kenny and I have been friends for a long time. He was an announcer at the Olympics this year and he was full “Berger” on the mic at Smith. I walk over to Steve Styron, the tournament pairmaster, and Wayne Martin, the tournament director (ODU coach Steve Martin’s older brother). Within seconds, Berger’s on the mic announcing my presence. I didn’t think it was necessary, but it’s nice to feel like I’ve had some impact on Virginia wrestling. I blushed, waved, and went back to my conversations. Charlie Church and Glen Miller said hello, as did the infamous “Cav Fan.” Lucia Grant is her name and she’s one of my very best friends. She was one of the first regular posters when Mat Talk On-Line, my old Virginia wrestling site, had a forum. People still call her this, as well as another name, but that’s not something I’m going to tell all the world. People in VA, especially my buddies from college, know it. No, it’s not a nasty name, but a derivitave of mine.
I watch the first round and the quarters. Before the quarters, another wrestling writer, Andee Sears, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch arrives. I first met her covering the AA states in 2001 (I think). She was then writing for the Roanoke Times. We’ve been friends for a long while too, so it was great to see her again. An aside to this story is she was the first female wrestler to qualify for a public school state wrestling tournament, making the Single A state tournament at Shawsville. I won’t dwell on that, but for those wondering about her knowledge of the sport, she’s got it.
Andrew Clement and Caleb Richardson, both of Grassfield High School, a second-year program in Chesapeake, are the most impressive wrestlers I saw on Friday. Caleb is a scrappy 103-pounder, the son of Bryan Richardson, a former NCAA qualifier and wrestling state champion at Virginia Beach’s Kempsville High School. Little Richie is a stud. This kid is fluid and quick. He won Grassfield’s first state championship on Saturday, followed by Clement at 171, giving them two.
I chat with Matt Small, the head coach at Grassfield and former rival turned friend. Small is a trip. One of the funniest guys you’ll ever come across. He’s also one of the most caring, dedicated coaches you’ll ever find. His life is wrestling, but he tells it like it is, but has a sick sense of humor which I appreciate.
Willie Evans, one of my former roommates and a former wrestler at Lock Haven, is coaching with his alma mater, Western Branch, with former NCAA All-American Chris Martin, who wrestled at Virginia Tech. Martin was still in the frame of mind that D.J. Bruce had Jesse Strawn pinned the night before. I couldn’t tell him otherwise, because I went to ODU, he went to Virginia Tech. We were going to disagree.
Nick Pullano, another former Monarch, was coaching with Danta Moore at Fredericksburg area high school Massaponax. Danta wrestled at Division III Luther College for a while before transferring back to Mary Washington in Virginia. Watching Pullano coach was like watching Steve Martin. Same mannerisms. But this is part of my theory. Martin’s mannerisms in some ways come from Dan Gable’s mannerisms. The whole right fist up, left arm pointing (like a flipper, not a finger) for stalling. Waving arms to get attention of the wrestler. The only thing Pullano did better than Stevie was actually sit down in the corner.
About that time, Jim Thompson, a wrestling fan from Iowa and rankings-guru from The Predicament, sends me a text message. ODU recruit John Nicholson beat Iowa recruit Derek St. John in the Iowa state semifinals.
(WOW, this is getting long).
I ship out after the quarterfinals … and drive five hours to Salem. I text Poquoson assistant Jimmy Jones, a guy I went to high school with. I let him know I’m coming in. He lets me crash in his room. As I get to the Holiday Inn in Salem, Rob Green opens the door. Rob was the older brother of my drill partner, Mike Green, who I discussed in an earlier post about my first wrestling match. Rob lived around the corner from me. My house on White House Drive was across the street from current PHS wrestling coach Mike Casey. It was great to see Rob again and a more reformed Jimbo. We battled in high school, but things are different now.
I hadn’t been to Salem since 2005. I saw the following college wrestlers win state titles that year. Denny Herndon, George Mason’s 133-pounder, won the title as a sophomore at 103 for Grafton; Duquesne’s Kevin Chapman won his only title at 112 for Fauquier; ODU’s Joey Metzler won his lone title at 125 for Turner Ashby; Virginia Tech’s Matt Epperly won his second of four state titles for Christiansburg, as did Ohio State’s Cody Gardner.
I walk into the Salem Civic Center, get a pass and head down to the floor. Robert Anderson of the Roanoke Times and Lynn Burke from the Daily Press are at the media table. Lloyd Combs has covered this tournament forever. He’s with the Virginia Mountaineer, a paper in Buchanan County where Grundy High is located.
I’m there for the semifinals. My high school has five in the semis. Christiansburg is ready to put the stamp on its ninth straight championship. They put eight into the finals. Poquoson wins four of the five semis. Jeff Ogburn picks up a forfeit after his opponent missed weight. Patrik Foxworth, a junior who transferred in from Hanover, wins at 125, Louie Shearer, originally from Georgia, wins at 130. Tanner Tinsley, a talented freshman, gets hit for stalling twice in the final 13 seconds and then loses in overtime. Chase McAdams wins with a fall at 152. The win is big for Chase, he’d never made a final in his career despite placing three previous times in Salem.
There are familiar faces all over the place here too. Poquoson folks haven’t seen me in some time, Fred McAdams comes down to the floor to say hello, as does NCAA wrestling official Mike McCormick. He hadn’t been to the tournament in 20-something years, since he won the last of his three state championships. Lee Coon comes down from the stands and gives me a hug. Lee is the aunt of my former teammate Jacob Inge, a two-time state champ and former wrestler at VMI. My first state tournament was in 1996. If Lee could have opened up the hotel window that year, she’d have thrown me out of it. Seriously. She still tells that story. I still have to correct her on the details, but she insists she’s right.
I see Chris Wiatt, now coaching at Smithfield. I covered Chris’ teams when he coached at Menchville when I worked at the Daily Press. He’s married to a girl I went to college with. There are connections all over the place. I don’t want to sound like I’m name-dropping, but this is the scope of how big the tournaments are in Virginia. They’re a place just like Iowa and Pennsylvania, although not as deep, with great pride. Scott Justus and his brother P.J. are standing along the railing. Reed Carpenter, another former Hokie, is coaching with William Byrd. Adam Wright and Jake Forestiere are both former friends from ODU coaching with teams in Region II. Wright with his alma mater, Turner Ashby, and Forestiere at Millbrook, where Wisconsin signee Derrick Borlie wrestles.
Semis are great. I find Maggie Shumaker and her dad Bruce, now the head coach at the Apprentice School. I ran one of Bruce’s tournaments for three years when he was coaching at Lafayette High — The Mat Talk Ram Rumble. Maggie has been a great source for wrestling info while I lived on the Southside and needed Peninsula wrestling info. She’s been to EVERY state tournament in Salem. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Went to lunch with them and former Lafayette wrestler Kyle Spruill, who is helping out at the new Williamsburg school, Warhill.
As the finals are set to begin, I’m just watching. I’m not covering this, I’m there as a wrestling fan. I’m there as an alum of Poquoson High School. There were some kids wearing maroon and gold I’d never seen before. There were some I knew since they were tykes.
The Poquoson kid loses at 103, he led early, but couldn’t get out from bottom. He was distraught. Your heart went out to the kid. Especially after what happened with the three other teammates, all who won state titles.
I’ve always thought the Jesse Riggleman-Anthony Burke match was the best finals match I’d ever seen in Salem. This was in 2003 when Burke won his only title, Riggleman beat him in the finals the next year. Well, enter Millbrook freshman Jacob Crawford. He started the year at 103 … then grew. He was a stout 119-pounder. His opponent was a returning two-time state champion from Magna Vista, Tony Gravely. The Magna Vista senior took an early lead but Crawford, coached by former Lock Haven wrestler Chris Haines, battled back. In the third, the score was tied. Crawford was on top and just started grinding. Bars, halfs, tilts, he was doing everything he could to score nearfall points, but Gravely, a very big 119 resisted. We saw one count here, belly down. One count there, belly down. It goes into overtime. Gravely comes close to scoring, then Crawford, then a scramble. They face up, BOOM. Crawford with the takedown. Place erupts. Great bout.
We see overtime at 125 and 130, both matches won by Poquoson kids. I’m jumping up and down, clapping, happy for my school. Dan McAdams, a Poquoson assistant and older brother of Chase is next to me for much of it. As is Dale Reed, a Christiansburg fan who has become one of my favorite people when it comes to wrestling. Dale’s a big backer of C-Burg and Virginia Tech.
The Chase McAdams Factor
This is where my entire trip’s focus changed. You see, when I told the story about starting wrestling a few weeks back, I didn’t mention Dan McAdams. Because at the time of my first wrestling match, Dan and I were friends, but he didn’t wrestle. Dan just came back with his family after living in North Carolina for a short time. He was a sophomore, I was a junior.
One day, I get the bright idea of bringing Dan into club wrestling practice. You see, I needed a workout partner for heavyweight and since another heavyweight, Curtis Booth, was still “green around the gills,” I needed someone to practice with … then Dan threw me around the room. He was bigger, stronger, more athletic and better suited to wrestling than I was. I never hacked it, Dan started the next year.
Well, there are 11 years between Dan and his brother Chase. By the time senior year rolled around, Dan had started dating one of my then-best friends Kristi. Chase was around five years old. Dan and I were around each other more because I was around Kristi a lot in high school. This was to be his first year on the team, he was the guy at heavyweight. Dan pinned Grafton’s Joe Donatelli for his first win in an 81-0 win over the Clippers to start the 1996-97 season. Later on the weekend, Dan places eighth in Fairfax at the NOVA Classic, a big deal for a first-year wrestler.
Shortly thereafter, Chase follows. He starts wrestling because Dan started wrestling. Chase wore #58 on his mite league football jersey. Dan wore #58 on his football jersey. Chase followed big brother.
I graduated without ever starting. Dan was a starter before getting injured his senior year. The backup, Curtis Booth, ended up finishing second in the region in 1998. Dan would have made states.
About that time, Frank Lipoli starts the Virginia Challenge, a non-profit wrestling organization which started middle school and elementary level wrestling tournaments in Virginia. With Chase now wrestling regularly, Fred McAdams and Mara McAdams were involved. Fred became the weigh-in director of the VAC.
I lost track of Dan for a while after high school, but I’d always see Fred, Mara and Chase at tournaments. One time, outside of the Norfolk Scope for the NHSCA Open Nationals (their summer tournament), I saw Fred and said jokingly, “You still blame me for this?”
Fred has a stern look about him, in high school, he scared me. Hell, to this day, he still kinda does. He’s got the second strongest grip of any man I’ve ever shook hands with. Dan Hodge is the first.
When I asked that question, Fred looked at me, cocking his head sideways and said with a Mississippi drawl, “Weeelll, TWANK, sometimes I do.” We’d get a laugh out of it.
The first year Chase wrestled, he, as Fred puts it, had a “perfect season.” It’s sarcasm. Chase didn’t win a match his first year wrestling. He was either 0-18 or 0-16.
The only time I’d seen Chase wrestle in high school was at the Virginia Duals, but that hadn’t been in at least two years. I’d not seen Chase wrestle in the state tournament yet. He’d never made a final and lost in the quarters last year before battling back to take third.
I say all this retrospectively, because I haven’t thought about all these details in years.
But then it happened.
As time ticked away, I was bouncing up and down, then freaking out, then trying to keep those from “jinxing” the match. Dan and I stood shoulder to shoulder, Dale Reed, seeing how in tune to the match I was, stood there too.
Chase was wrestling Brady Craft, a 40-1 senior from Roanoke’s Northside High School. Chase came in 39-0, he’d pinned his way through the tournament.
Chase wrestled safe, because Craft had a wicked crossface cradle.
Takedown in the first … escape. Takedown again. It was a blur. I can’t remember what happened during the match. But the time starts ticking down and Chase is riding tough. 10 seconds …. I’m froze. 5-4-3-2-…. ONE…. TIME!!!!!!!!!!!
I high five Dan and he’s mobbed by friends and fellow coaches down on the floor (oh yeah, we were on the floor behind the railing). I could have sat on press row and had a better seat, but this wasn’t about a good seat.
Chase comes off the mat, Dan gives him a big hug. Three for four. THREE state champions. The highest points a team from Poquoson had scored since the 1999 state championship team. The most finalists since the five we put in the finals in 1998. All this coming from a season which started in turmoil after coach Mark Strickland was relieved of his coaching duties for an out-of-school incident.
Those kids responded. Chase McAdams responded.
As Chase was mobbed by coaches, I stood alone for a brief moment. Then it hit me.
I’ve had good friends win state championships, I’ve watched my alma mater win a state team title, win the Virginia Duals, pick up championships at the Beast (Victor Jackson), but in all the years I’ve covered wrestling, college, high school and middle school, I have never felt like this.
I can’t explain what happened next, but I tried to say something to Dale Reed. I couldn’t. I could feel my eyes welling up. I had to step back. I stood, by myself, in tears.
I wasn’t bawling, but I was completely speechless. There was a kid, who was so distraught he couldn’t wrestle in the Beast of the East, a kid who was a five-year-old kid wanting to wrestle because his brother did, a kid who had been short of the finals the three previous years … I saw a kid win a state title and I felt like I had a little part in it.
Chase put in the time, put in the work, made wrestling his life. He won it, he deserved it. Dan had started coaching, this was their moment. This was coach Mike Casey’s moment. Mike coached Chase all through youth league and middle school.
I wasn’t going to take this and make it mine, but I never thought something so small, so minor, could have such an impact. I was so very proud of a kid who really didn’t know me very well. He knew me, but I always followed his career, because I felt like I’d helped him get going in this sport.
I couldn’t put this into words. I never won a state title, but in all of Chase’s hard work, what he did was make it important to me without even knowing. Chase, at this moment, probably doesn’t know what it means to me to see him finally win that title.
Mara McAdams came up to me grinning ear to ear, she was so happy, as she should have been. But I think she was even surprised. She wiped a tear away from my eye and just gave me a big hug. I’ve probably told this story to 20 people during the 18-hour drive back from Roanoke. I’m getting misty just writing it now.
I can’t remember who said it, so I want to give it proper attribution, but someone said, “It’s like watching your little brother win a state championship.”
Well, it was kind of like that. Dan has the right to that claim. He did more to help Chase than I ever did. But the power and sheer emotion that overcame me at that moment was something I had never experienced before. I’ve seen wrestlers drop to their knees, crying, and I saw a ton of parents doing the same after their sons won states.
I just feel like I had a little, tiny part in it … and the impact it had on me on Saturday night was beyond words, although I think I’ve put more words down than I needed to.
Between the three days of wrestling back home, nothing had an impact on me like Chase McAdams. It’s truly a moment I will never forget. From one perfect season … to the right kind of perfect season, 40-0.
Congrats Chase … you’ve made a difference in my life you didn’t even realize.
I’m now back home in Minnesota … and that’s how 2,700 miles of driving is all worth it.