Well, I pretty much have gone "full circle" regarding my wrestling endeavors since 1955. Let me tell you the roads I have traveled and where I am at the present time.
As a third grader, I stepped on my first wrestling mat, or I should say convas-covered wrestling area. I took my licks and had some successes over the years from youth league to college. It was during this time that I acquired my deep affection for the sport, and learned the many benefits it has to offer young aspiring athletes.
After college, I set my aim on being a mat mentor. It was quite a roller-coaster ride. My teams had their very successful seasons, being a part of coaching staffs that won both OVAC Tournaments and West Virginia State Championships. But there were those down years as well that built "character" in everyone who experienced them along with me.
To be honest, there's nothing like watching a neophyte turn into a highly-competitive matman. They were ten great years with the old Wheeling High School "Wildcats," the Wheeling Central "Maroon Knights," and the Wheeling Park "Patriots." Times I will never forget.
At this point, I decided to don the black-and-white shirt to see how I could fair as a wrestling referee. Needless to say, I made my share of mistakes over the years, but I always tried to be consistent and just with those gallant young men who stepped on the mats. I hope I succeeded.
During this time, I was also appointed (in 1989) to serve as the West Virginia state high school wrestling rules interpreter and clinician, and received many local, state and national awards for my efforts. But my most gratifying moments as a referee (usually at banquets in which I spoke) were when wrestlers told me they always felt comfortable when I oversaw their matches.
I decided to hang up my whistle after 25 years. Why did I retire? Well, it was not because I felt I had lost the "edge," but it was due to the fact that I wanted to step down when everybody was still confident with the job I did. I knew of too many officials (in all sports) who had hung in there too long, and unfortunately, people remembered their last weak years, and not those many, many great seasons they had arbitrating athletic competitions. I did not want that to happen to me.
Since 1974, I have been writing about the mat sport. I plan to do so as long as I can. It has been a very rewarding experience, and has been appreciated both locally and nationally. Over the last 30 years of penning "Mat Talk," I have been named the "West Virginia Media Person of the Year" an unprecedented six times and in 1987 I was selected as the "National Wrestling Sportswriter of the Year." To use a clique, it truly has been a labor of love. And it led to the opportunity of authoring and editing The Wrestling Drill Book, which has presently exceeded 12,000 in sales across the country.
So where am I now? Believe it or not, I am back on the mats again. In what capacity have I returned to the mats? I am now conducting clinics on the basics of wrestling and the "Pancake Series" I developed as a competitor. I have also had the opportunity talk to parents and discuss their role in the mat sport.
Since the fall, I have performed wrestling clinics at Wheeling Park with Bobby Douglas and Larry Shaw, at my hometown Shamokin, PA, at a Brooke Youth practice, and at Indiana, PA for their high school and youth wrestlers.
It was at Indiana that I met Dr. Rick Fanella, who is CEO of Fanella Productions. He was so pleased with my parent presentation and mat clinic that he suggested I do a DVD of my Pancake Series. My answer was a definitive "Yes."
This June the taping begins, with the demonstrators being my son Sgt. Rick Welker and Dr. Chris Sullivan, who wrestled for Bobby Douglas at Iowa State. It should be another fun mat-sport experience to which I am looking forward.
So the beat goes on for yours truly when it involves wrestling. I doubt if I will ever give up my endeavors to promote wrestling in the Ohio Valley.
It's a mission I have been on since I moved to Wheeling in 1970. So you can count on me to highlight the accomplishments of our gallant wrestlers for many years to come in my "Mat Talk" series.