Wheeling Small Fry Wrestling League celebrates 40th birthday
The Wheeling Small Fry Wrestling League turns 40 years old this fall. Rick Welker has been around for nearly all of those.
His father, Dr. Bill Welker, founded the organization back in 1977 and his mother, Peggy, even served as the commissioner for about five years.
“We’ve probably had more than 10,000 kids over the years come through our league. That number could actually be a little low because of the population drop-off from then to now,” he admitted. “That would be an average of 250 kids a year. I can remember when it was in its hey-day and my mom was the commissioner, it would take two days a week to just run the league.”
Now, as many of you know, wrestling is not a sport for just anyone. It takes a total commitment to be a wrestler. It’s not just time in the wrestling room at practice or on the mats during meets and tournaments, it’s 24 hours a day. It’s diet and nutrition, but most of all, it’s a way of learning life.
However, at a younger age, it is more enjoyable and get kids interested in doing something that can be fun at the same time.
According to Rick, with the exception of baseball, the Wheeling Small Fry Wrestling League is the longest running league in Wheeling.
“Basketball leagues have come and gone, unfortunately,” he noted. “Unfortunately, other leagues have come and gone but, fortunately, wrestling has stayed.”
The league originated as a feeder system for Wheeling Park High School.
“It was designed to introduce kids at a younger age to the sport before they got to high school,” he added. “Since then it has never stopped. There has been no interruptions.”
“I really don’t know why other than it is a great sport,” he reasoned. “We allow kids from four years old to fifth grade to come into our league. If you’re a parent with a rambunctious kid, there is really nothing other for them to do at this time of the year. Wrestling provides them with the opportunity to release some of that pent-up energy in a good way.
“The timing could also be a big factor,” he continued. “We start in October and we’re finished at the end of November, so if a child still wants to play in a basketball league they can do so from December through February or March.”
Rick stressed that the league just isn’t for youth in Ohio County schools, but for anyone in the tri-state area.
“We get kids from all over the area that have come to our league and been introduced to the sport,” he revealed. “Many of them have gone back to their respective schools and we able to be competitive.”
One of those “outsiders” is Dalton Macri. The Canon-MacMillan graduate started his collegiate career at Cornell University before transferring to the University of North Carolina. He is the Tar Heels 125-pound starter.
Since the organization’s inception in 1976, Wheeling Park has claimed half-a-dozen West Virginia Class AAA state championships. The Patriots have placed in the top 5 more than 30 other times and have nearly 50 state individual champions.
“Ironically, if you look at the Wall of Champions at the high school, it’s all here. It all started here,” he said. “From Richard DiGiandomenico to Chance Taylor to David Taylor to any name on that board. They’ve all come through our league.”
Welker said he and Adam Angel are co-commissioners of the league that has teams at Warwood (head coach Chad Adams), South Wheeling (Kevin Junkins), Middle Creek (Josh Braunlich), Elm Grove (Jeremy Lowe), Woodsdale (Eric Cottrell) and Union Local (Shane Kildow).
“This is the first time for Union Local, but we have a huge group of supporters that help us out,” Welker added. “All of our coaching staff from the Wheeling Youth Wrestling Club are involved, so the coaches that are with their teams are also coaches that feed into the system. They are experienced coaches that know the sport. They also know that the league is entry level.”
Welker said practice begins in early October and runs through the end of November.
“We’ll have 3-4 weeks of practice before we start having dual meets for three weeks in November,” he explained. “The fourth week we wrestle an actual tournament.”
He said the kids are paired together based on age, ability and weight.
“I think we do a great job of making sure that the kids are as evenly matched as we can get them,” he continued. “By week three it can be a little challenging because you want everyone to get a win. That’s why we match the more successful kids and the more successful kids and the not so successful against the not so successful.
“It’s no fun not winning, but we want the kids to keep coming back year after year. We return a huge portion of our kids from year to year.”
Signups for this year’s league will take place Saturday from 1-4 p.m. and Sunday, September 24 from 4-6 p.m. Signups will take place in the Trophy Room at Wheeling Park. The cost is $45 per wrestler, but families with multiple wrestlers will receive a discount.