WHEELING - When you talk about wrestling in the Ohio Valley two names resonate above all the rest ... George Kovalick and Bobby Douglas.
In a nutshell, they put the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Tournament and Ohio Valley wrestling on the map.
Their connection is Bridgeport High School.
Bridgeport Local School officials were on hand Saturday night at the 60th annual Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament to formally dedicate the school's new mat to Douglas, a 1961 graduate of Bridgeport.
"I am honored, flattered and humbled," Douglas said. "This is a tribute to George Kovalick, Bridgeport Local Schools and the OVAC Wrestling Committee for the job they've done not only for this tournament, but for developing wrestling in this valley."
The Douglas mat has been down all weekend at WesBanco Arena and it's actually the first time all season the mat has been used.
Bridgeport, which is low on numbers in its program, didn't have a home meet, which got its officials thinking of a way to bring recognition to Douglas in the correct way.
"There aren't many (school) districts that have a wrestler from its school that's achieved as much as Bobby has," said Bridgeport Board of Education President Jodi Harkness.
"We just thought we needed to recognize Bobby the way we did the Niekros (Phil and Joe) and (John) Havlicek in their sports. We were planning something just small in the school, but to be able to do it at the OVAC Tournament is awesome because instead of maybe just 50 people, we've got the whole valley here."
The Bulldogs' wrestling program is still close to Douglas' heart though he lives in Iowa. He's continually trying to come up with ways to improve the numbers both at his alma mater and in the sport in general.
"The grandkids need to get busy and start having some babies because there aren't enough babies in the Ohio Valley," Douglas said. "We need to do a better job of selling the sport and it's value to our educators. We need to give women and girls more of an opportunity."
Douglas knows the sport of wrestling is still on the rise and he used the growth of the OVAC Tournament as an example.
"This tourmament is growing, so obviously the OVAC is doing something right," Douglas said. "There's a fresh energy in the Ohio Valley as far as wrestling, and I believe this tournament has a lot to do with it. This tournament is one of the key ingredients of wrestling development in the valley. This is the greatest sport given by God to man!"
Douglas views wrestling as much, much more than a sport.
"This provides our youth with the discipline, education, protection from bullies and so many other things for so many of us," Douglas said.
Douglas' mark on the wrestling world is well documented. He was the first black Ohio High School state champion and was a member of the 1959 Bulldogs' squad, which won the state team championship.
He then took his talents to West Liberty State College and won a NAIA National Championship and was NCAA runnerup before transferring to Oklahoma State University where he won the Big Eight Conference title.
Douglas obviously didn't stop with his collegiate accomplishments. He won five national championships and was named the nation's most outstanding wrestler in 1970. All told, Douglas ended the competition portion of his wrestling career with a 303-17-7 record.
He then entered the coaching profession where he served as the head coach of the United States Freestyle team in 1992. He also coached at Arizona State and Iowa State, winning a NCAA National title with the Sun Devils.
While coaching at the collegiate level is in Douglas' rear-view window, the passion for the sport won't ever change. That's why he's working feverishly on his United States Olympic Training Centers to help continue to build the sport.
"We're going to raise the level of competition in the valley, in Ohio and West Virginia and all over America for that matter," Douglas said. "There's a ton of talent here and we're going to come in here and take it to the next level."
Douglas is also working on his 20-20 program where he hopes to find the next 20 big things in wrestling by 2020.
"We're going to start at the grade-school level and we've already identified several, including a very young girl in the valley," Douglas said. "Now, I just have to convince her parents to let her wrestle."
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