Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 27, 2014

Graham has its best showing in state wrestling

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Tim Woodward remembers Aldolphus McClanahan well.

After all, that duo were wrestling partners for Graham in 1971. McClanahan was a 285-pound heavyweight, while Woodward was closer to 185.

McClanahan became Graham’s first state wrestling champion that very same year in the unlimited class, and remained alone for 43 years.

He finally has some company at the top.

Junior Dylan Cook added his name to what is now a list, capturing the 195-pound weight class last Saturday at Salem Civic Center, earning a 13-4 decision over Mark Weisbarth, Cook’s third win over the senior from Lebanon this season.

“It was a great experience, and now I want to do it again next year,” Cook said. “I tried to keep from getting nervous just thinking that I had already beaten him before. There were a lot of people there, it is hard not to get nervous.”

Cook had to go the entire distance, six minutes on the mat before finally raising his arms in triumph, winning three matches in two days at Salem.

“He wouldn’t let me pin him,” Cook said. “He would have let me broke his arm before he would let me pin him. I had to beat him by points and get a comfortable lead.”

“The finals match by far,” said Cook, of the three hardest matches during the two-day stay in Salem. “It was the hardest one.”

Woodward certainly wasn’t surprised to see Cook do what it took to leave with the title.

“Dylan has worked on conditioning so he can last a lot longer than some wrestlers,” Woodward said. “Some of them get out in the first round and they are just dead, but Dylan on several occasions has gone six minutes, and that is the way he has prepared all year long.”

It wasn’t just Cook. Graham had its best showing ever at the state meet, with junior Kyshon Lee finishing third in the 170-pound weight class, while seniors Hunter Cook (160) and Jon Jennings (220) placed fourth, as the G-Men finished fifth as a team.

“Fifth is the highest I have ever finished since I have been coaching,” Woodward said. “This is the first time we have ever finished out of the 20s and broke into the top 10.

“Those four guys to finish fifth is an indication how well they wrestled. Some of those other school had 6, 7 or 8 wrestlers, so I am proud of that too.”

Woodward has been the wrestling coach at Graham for 28 years, and has had his share of success, but rarely has been as pleased as he was after Cook walked off with the G-Men’s second championship in the sport.

“I have had a lot of good wrestlers over the years, but Dylan is one of the best,” said Woodward, who is assisted Ben Fritz, a two-time state qualifier at Graham. “One thing that is so good about Dylan, you always say kids work hard, but he will get with Coach Fritz after practice.

“They will leave out one piece of mat, and they will work extra on technique and things he wanted to do better, which says a lot for his dedication to the sport.”

All four Graham wrestlers, along with Woodward and Fritz, were recognized at halftime of the G-Men’s regional basketball game with Virginia High on Wednesday, quite an honor for a sport that doesn’t get the publicity it deserves.

“That really meant a lot to Ben and I, especially when the kids started chanting for us and the kids,” Woodward said. “Mr. (John) O’Neal did a very good job of not just recognizing them at the school, but to do it at a basketball game. That way the community can see the kids and know what they have accomplished.”

Cook was introduced last among the four wrestlers, and raised his arms in celebration of a job well done.

“It felt good considering that wrestling is not a very desirable sport,” said Cook, who is already looking ahead to 2015, not to mention the future after high school. “I am going to work my hardest and try to get into college with it.”

Cook comes from a family of wrestlers. Hunter finished fourth as a senior, and Brent Cook is a past state qualifier at Graham.

“It is a family affair for them,” Woodward said. “They are very family wrestling oriented and they have done very well.”

Woodward is a walking history book of wresting at Graham, having taken kids to state competition for nearly three decades.

His highest previous finisher had been Chris Austin, who placed third at 275 pounds in 1991.

“I have taken a lot of kids down there,” Woodward said. “Since I have been the coach, I have had 56 qualify for state. A lot of them have wrestled two matches and been done. I have had some that had three matches and others that had four.”

His largest contingent had been six in 1990. He also had five qualify in 2005, with only Travis Walk placing sixth at 119 pounds.

“I have had 10 other guys place in the top 6, but the most it had ever been at a time was two,” said Woodward, which included Dustin Hagerman and Everette Vest last season. Hagerman finished his career with a school record 176 wins and just 26 defeats.

Yet, none did what Cook did.

“He was always on weight, he had a diet regimen that he stuck with too,” Woodward said. “He is very, very coachable. He listens well and puts into action what he wants to do, and listens to what we suggest to him.

“He is just the kind of wrestler that may come around once or twice in your time as a coach, and Hagerman was the same way. He did the extra work. Dylan has been hurt, he has wrestled sick, he has wrestled when he was not feeling well or sore and beat up, but he always shows up and does what he is supposed to do.”

Cook, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season for the Graham football team, will return in 2015, as will Lee and a few other returnees who saw some action this season.

“There is no reason why both of them can’t go back to the state tournament next year,” said Woodward, of Cook and Lee. “I am not saying they will win it, but there is no reason why they can’t be back to Salem next year too.

“It will be hard to duplicate what we have done this year, but I had a good group of b-teamers backing those guys up. We are looking forward to next year, we have Dylan and Kyshon back, and all those b-teamers wrestled in matches.

“We will be young next year, but I am looking forward to it.”

So is Cook, who was glad to win one for Woodward, who has decided to focus his efforts full-time on wrestling, and will no longer serve as an assistant on the football team.

“My coach was very excited,” Cook said. “I wanted to do it for him before he had to retire.”