In case you missed it, the West Virginia High School State Wrestling Tournament will be returning to Huntington for the next four years.
And that is, without question, an excellent choice.
The City of Huntington, Cabell County Commission, Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau and countless others do a great job in making the tournament run like a well-oiled machine.
But it all starts with Bill Archer.
He is “Mr. Wrestling” of the sport in West Virginia.
Archer started in wrestling as a sophomore at old Huntington High School after getting cut from the Pony Express basketball team.
Three years later, he became the school’s first-ever state champion in 1966 and was also an All-American.
He enjoyed great success at the collegiate level wrestling for Marshall.
Then at the young age of 23, Archer became Huntington High School’s wrestling coach.
He would produce 26 state champions.
When old Huntington High and Huntington East consolidated to form the present Huntington High (home of the Highlanders, which was the long-time nickname of East), Archer continued leading the way on the mats.
He concluded his coaching career in the season of 2005-06.
In storybook fashion, Archer witnessed that 26th state champion unfold as head coach in his final act coaching on the mats. (His 25th state champ came earlier in the evening when 119-pounder Zack Fraley defeated East Fairmont's Eric Morris, 15-1, to finish 45-0).
Senior Ryan Clark, the great nephew of Ripley resident Juanita Jones, owns the distinction of being Archer's last champ by winning the Class AAA heavyweight division.
Not only was Clark’s match the final in Archer’s illustrious coaching career, but it also turned out to be the 852nd and last match of the 2006 State Tournament.
It's still amazing how it all turned out.
While the Class AAA and Class AA-A state championship matches of each weight division (14 in all) take place simultaneously, Clark’s match proved to be last of the evening and of the entire three-day affair. That’s because the heavyweight showdown in AA-A wrapped up quickly as Point Pleasant’s Heath Shirley pinned Logan’s Anthony Perrin in the second period.
Never one to display a lot of emotion, Archer continually shook his fist in the air and high-fived his assistant and son, Rob Archer, who is now Huntington’s head coach, following Cook’s 6-2 victory over another East Fairmont wrestler in Gaylon Bunner.
Cook, by the way, attended West Point and wrestled for the Cadets. He later became a tank commander for the Army and is now pursuing a medical degree.
I visited with Archer recently in his Huntington home. The basement is truly a wrestling shrine, with awards and photographs taking up virtually all of the wall space.
Archer doesn’t like to take credit for the State Tournament’s success in Huntington, but he should. He is the leader of the sport and makes the tournament, which starts with eight mats going strong on Thursday evening, a first-class event.
One individual he always makes sure to salute for her efforts in helping the tournament run smoothly is his wife, Diana, who loves the sport just as much as her husband.
As head coach of the Highlander program, Rob Archer has enjoyed his fair share of success, which includes leading Huntington to a team title in 2013 and coaching 19 state champions (and counting). HHS' team title is the last won by a school not named Parkersburg South.
Rob Archer has family ties to Jackson County.
His brother-in-law is Matt McPhail, who lived in Ripley when he was young.
Matt McPhail, the current principal at Fairfield Union High School near Lancaster, Ohio, is the son of the late Marcus McPhail, a Ripley High athletic legend in the late ‘60s, who later returned to coach football and baseball at his alma mater.
The sport of wrestling has been a popular one in Jackson County with several state champions coming out of the programs at both Ravenswood High School and Ripley High School.
Ripley has had 15 different individuals claim at least one title with Ravenswood at 14.
More are sure to come. They will do so in Huntington.
Where the State Tournament will remain…and belongs.
A tournament in the capable hands of the great Bill Archer.