By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Wrestling in Mercer County is a new sport, started at Bluefield High School a mere four years ago. In that time the Beavers have had grapplers advance to the state tournament, but this past weekend history was made when Julius Thomas became the first Beaver to win a regional championship.
Thomas, wrestling in the 220 pound weight class, defeated Cody Loudermilk of Greenbrier West to claim first place in the region and a spot in the West Virginia state wrestling tournament which begins this evening at the Big Sandy Arena in Huntington.
“I had lost to the guy in the regular season and I was nervous at first going in, but I got it through my mind, I got really confident that I was going to beat him and I went out there and got the job done,” Thomas said.
This is Thomas’ second trip to the states. Last year he finished fourth in the region and he attributes his success this year to practice and being in the right state of mind.
“I wasn’t so confident last year, but this year I gained a lot of confidence and came out and won first place,” Thomas commented. “It felt good to win first place.
Ryan Rooney, wrestling coach at BHS talked about Thomas’ wrestling prowess.
“Julius is not just a very good wrestler, he’s a really good kid and he represents the program the exact way that we want to represent the program,” Rooney said. “He’s respectful, he’s a hard worker, and he’s our first regional champ. I don’t think those things are a co-incidence.
“He’s a great role model for the rest of the guys and he’s going to get a plaque on the wall, eventually in the school, and he’ll be a role model for years to come. It’s pretty important for the program.”
Thomas was introduced to wrestling by his older brother Joseph, who has Downs Syndrome and wrestled before him for the Beavers. Rooney said when he came to Bluefield as a coach, Thomas was not sure he wanted to be a part of the team.
“I was reflecting on it the other day,” Rooney said. The first year I got here he wasn’t even sure if he were going to wrestle. He missed the first two weeks of practice, I hadn’t even met him yet and (Coach Bobby) Jenks was convincing me that we had to get him out here.
“We finally got him out there and he was just an athlete. He was a football player, none of the kids in Bluefield knew how to wrestle yet and that goes for all the guys who have developed so much into wrestlers, and they’ve learned so much. Even in one year it’s amazing how much they’ve learned and they’ve develped and turned around. It’s awesome.”
Thomas will not be alone in Huntington. Four other Beavers qualified for the state match by finishing in the top four at the regionals.
Tyler Brooks is making his first trip upstate in the 126 pound weight class and was fourth in the region.
Brandon Eldridge will wrestle at 160 and finished third in regional competition. Eldridge made it to states last season and Rooney said he had to travel a tough road to get back to Huntington.
“His weight class in our region was the toughest weight class I have ever seen in a region,” Rooney commented. “He had five kids ranked in the top 10 in his weight class and one of the top 10 kids in he state didn’t get to qualify.”
Eldridge had a fourth-place finish in state competition last year.
Shawn Pennington at 195 had a second-place finish in the region and Cody Gore, who finished fourth will be in the heavyweight division.
Winning a team championship is not possible for Bluefield with only five wrestlers competing, but Rooney hopes for an improvement from last year’s team finish.
“We placed in the 20s last year, I’d like to crack the top 15 this year,” Rooney said.
Thomas talked about what it meant to be a trailblazer at BHS.
“It feels really good to accomplish something like that (winning the region), knowing that nobody else has ever done it,” Thomas said. I got a lot of congratulations from a whole bunch of people I never thought would congratulate me. I never thought I would be the first to win it. It feels real good.”
In conclusion Thomas spoke about the attitude of the wrestlers and what is facing them.
“Yes, we’re all pumped. My friend, Brandon Eldridge, he has a pretty tough bracket but I’m pretty sure he can come through. Cody Gore, he’s pretty excited because it’s his first year, as is Tyler Brooks and Shawn Pennington, it’s their first year also.”
Weigh-ins begin at 4:30 this afternoon at the Big Sandy Arena in downtown Huntington. The competition will continue Friday and champions will be crowned Saturday evening.
— Contact Bob Redd at bdtonline.com