Mat Classic IX was a celebration of the 38-year career of Cash Stone, but for a few minutes Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome, the legendary Mead High School wrestling coach uncharacteristically couldn’t muster a smile.
Teammates Joe Collier and Art Avalon were battling in the 275-pound semifinals for the right to wrestle in the last match of Stone’s career.
“I’ve got no guts,” Stone said, leaning his head on a reporter’s shoulder and looking down. “I hate it. I hate it. It’s Art’s fault. He had two chances to be on the other side of the bracket (while competing at regionals). I hate it.
“They’re both great kids.”
Collier beat his teammate by the surprisingly easy score of 15-0.
“I do stuff for myself, but Coach Stone is the great guy,” Collier said. “To be able to wrestle his last match is an honor to me, a great honor.”
No match totals were kept in the Mead wrestling room, but in tournaments, Collier and Avalon went to state tied 1-1.
“It seems like every time I wrestle him, he gets better,” Avalon said. “I was surprised with him and myself. I got so winded. He’s gotten so good, he handed it to me.”
Collier said wrestling someone he knows so well in such an important match plays on his mind.
“When you wrestle someone you don’t know, you can at least imagine what they might do,” he said. “When you wrestle someone you know that well, you just keep going over the same things over and over. I was really surprised (by the score), I thought it would be knock-down, drag-out, go down to the end.”
Stone spent two days accepting handshakes and hugs from referees, meet officials and opposing coaches. He was also recognized before the finals.
“It’s been a fun two days,” Stone’s wife, Dorothy, said. “Cash is the kind of person who makes a decision and never second-guesses it. He’s loved every minute of it. He’s not going out because he’s tired of it.”
Last summer, East Valley and Lakeside wrestlers formed friendships and shared dreams at their own intensive camp in Missoula.
So, the fact both went into Saturday night’s finals in first place was special to everyone concerned.
“What’s fun is that we all sat together last summer and talked of this happening,” said Lakeside coach Scott Jones, honored as A-B coach of the year before the finals. “The kids got to see that it’s not a lot of bull.”
Jones said that seeing EV’s Brad Crockett reach the finals after spending two weeks with him during the summer, was as satisfying as the successes of his own wrestlers.
Craig Hanson of the Knights was Jones’ assistant at Lakeside before becoming a head coach, first at Coeur d’Alene and then at EV.
Washington Interscholastics Activities Association executive director Mike Colbrese said the future of Mat Classic X is up in the air.
A fifth classification is being added next year. If that means adding just six mats in the Tacoma Dome, X will be similar to IX.
“We’ll try to keep them all together,” Colbrese said. “The Tacoma Dome people have assured me there is enough room for six more mats.”
The kicker is whether B schools split off from A. Currently, they are combined.
“I don’t know if the B’s will have enough teams to separate out,” he said. “The tough thing to do with individual sports is determine the number of individuals it takes to be considered a team.”
Officials are working on the criteria to determine a team. It takes 24 teams competing to hold a state championship.
If there were any question about the strength of wrestling in Eastern Washington, consider this.
In three Mat Classic tournaments, a combined 16 of the top 30 teams came from Region IV. Of 84 finalists, 32 came from Region IV. Out of 168 state qualifiers from Region IV, a stunning 71 percent (119) earned top eight places. , DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Assistant coach John Bauman of West Valley isn’t enamored with the 18-mat circus that is Mat Classic in Tacoma. “You’re so far away from the action,” he said. “I may be nuts, but when a crowd goes wild in this place… . in an intimate place, it’s more exciting.”
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