Bradley County Becomes Mecca For High School Wrestling
Cleveland, TN-(WDEF) Bradley County has become a mecca for high school wrestling.
Cleveland and Bradley Central are both in the top five of the latest prep rankings.
Veteran Blue Raiders coach Al Miller, and Bears Athletic Director Turner Jackson, give us the history on the programs developments.
Long time Cleveland coach Al Miller says the Blue Raiders wrestling program started in 1966 at the urging of football coach Bobby Scott.
"I’ve heard him say it a couple of times. Keep his football players in shape. Have them something to do. Those that didn’t make the basketball team. He had them meet and wrestle against each other."
The Blue Raiders program really took shape in the late 70’s with a big victory.
Said Miller,"We beat Baylor in a match. I think that’s when people in Cleveland just kind of perked up. You beat Baylor. Yes, we beat Baylor."
Bradley Central started wrestling in the early 70’s, and former coach Turner Jackson says Cleveland helped out their cross-town rival.
"They helped me when I needed help and worked with us because they wanted us to be competitive too."
Imagine the scene when the two rivals finally engaged in their first match.
Said Miller,"Maybe the biggest wrestling crowd that has ever been in Bradley County. I know there were over 18-hundred people at that first match, and the referee didn’t show up. So we’re trying to sell the sport, and we couldn’t. So we went up in the bleachers and pulled a very well known figure in Cleveland, Allan Jones, down, who had wrestled here (at Cleveland). He refereed that first Cleveland-Bradley match."
It wasn’t until the early 80’s that Bradley Central beat Cleveland.
Said Jackson,"I remember they egged my house that night. I’ll never forget it. I think it was their heavyweight. They threw eggs on my house. I knew we had arrived when that happened." (laughs)
Cleveland and Bradley Central are now dominant state powers.
The Blue Raiders own ten state titles, while the Bears own 22.
Said Miller,"I think the thing we were able to do is make wrestling an important sport."
Former Bears coach Steve Logsdon really fired up the Bears program in the 90’s.
Jackson says the combination of good coaching, and kids clubs should keep the championships coming.
"Now look on the benches. There’s the head coach and four assistants. They’ve got more coaches than SEC basketball."