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SIAC's 60th (or 59th...) Annual Meet Is This Saturday


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By 1956, New Albany, Bloomington, Evansville Central, Reitz and Mater Dei fielded wrestling teams.  The powers of the 17-member Southern Indiana Athletic Conference decided that a field of five was enough to hold a post-season tournament.

 

Bloomington High, a perennial powerhouse and annual State Champion title threat, was coached by Indiana legend, Clifford “Two-Bit” Myers.  The beastly Bloomington team captured the first two team titles.

 

Phil Thrasher’s New Albany spoiled the party for Myers in 1958 and 1959, snatching the title from the Panthers.

 

Thrasher, an Indiana Hall of Fame coach and still second on the State’s all-time wins list, traded wins with Myers until 1965 when Evansville Reitz managed a tie with New Albany.  An expanded field of ten teams did nothing to dent the Bulldogs’ fortunes as Thrasher claimed titles through 1968. 

 

Don Henry’s Reitz Panthers broke through, claiming the SIAC title in 1969 and 1970, becoming the first Evansville school to claim an outright SIAC title.

 

In his 16th year at the helm of Mater Dei, Joe Gossman boldly proclaimed his Wildcats would win the 1971 SIAC title.  Gossman had strength in numbers, as Gossman had 60 boys on his team—in a school with a total male population of 175.  Dave Macke, Tom Jankowski, Gene Scott and Jim Schroeder delivered titles as Mater Dei placed ten wrestlers and nudged second-place Evansville Harrison by 19 points.  Evansville Rex Mundi was third, followed by Bosse, Memorial, Reitz, New Albany, Mt. Vernon, Central, Jasper, Tell City, Castle, Washington, North Knox, Boonville and North.

 

Mater Dei dominated until 1975, when the Jasper Wildcats claimed their first title. 

 

The 1976 SIAC was in the third year of a new conference tourney format.  The old format—a one day tournament with 19 teams—was deemed to be unwieldy.  Four qualifying satellite meets were held, with the winners advancing to a championship event at Central.  The satellite matchups were by blind draw; the two best wrestlers sometimes met in the first round with the loser eliminated.  Gossman and Central’s Tommy Turner did not like it one bit.

 

“All the tough teams are in one bracket,” groused Gossman.  “Mater Dei, North and Central will knock each other off.  Reitz (In the Castle satellite) has a shoo-in.”

“Our thirds and fourths are better than Jasper’s firsts and seconds,” agreed Turner.

 

Under the format, Reitz asserted itself, putting the Panthers back in the winner’s circle. 

 

The 1978 SIAC satellite qualifier at Mt. Vernon began on an ominous note.  En route to Mt. Vernon, the Mater Dei bus, piloted by Joe Gossman, hit an icy patch and spun off the road.

 

“No big deal,” claimed Tim Boots.  “We got out and pushed.”

 

During the meet, the weather continued to deteriorate, rendering roads impassable.  As a result, the teams from Mater Dei, Castle, Harrison and Central—along with 75 fans—spent the evening at Mt. Vernon High School. 

 

“We thought it was going to be a great night,” claimed John Schroeder.  “There were a number of cheerleaders and mat maids for the other schools that had to stay.  Suter enough, they put all of the girls on lock down.  There was no way to get to them.”

 

“The only action we had was Goebel’s (Mike Goebel, the head wrestling coach at Castle) boys throwing buckets of snowball at us,” said Tim Boots.

 

Record snowfall made the Saturday final impossible.  The will to complete the meet was irresistible, therefore, the SIAC coaches decided to hold the final on a Wednesday following the regional.  To add additional spice, the finals were wrestled before the third place matches.  As Mater Dei held a 3.5 point lead over Reitz, after the final, the consolation matches held special importance.  The Wildcats held serve and claimed a 7.5 point win over their arch-rivals.

 

Another blizzard hit Evansville in 1980.  The 1979 meet left a bad taste in the mouths of many, so the coaches decided to scrub the 1980 affair.

 

In 1981, following a mass exodus of SIAC schools, the event returned to a single-day event held at Castle.  Riding titles by Chris Wildeman, Jeff Parkinson, Joe Bassemier and Matt Crowe, Mike Goebel’s Wildcats claimed a 37.5 win over the second-place Reitz Panthers.

 

Winning the SIAC tournament from 1980-1993, the incumbent Wildcats faced a serious challenge it 1994.  The SIAC meet was regarded as the toughest ever, featuring second-ranked Mater Dei, fourth-ranked Central and the sixth-ranked Castle Knights.  “Close, but no cigar” came to an end as Grodie Crick’s Central Bears ended Mater Dei’s hammerlock on the SIAC, edging the ‘Cats 205.5 to 204.5.

 

“This is a tremendous boost for our program,” said Crick, in his first-ever win over Mater Dei.

 

The Bears accomplished the victory in the most dramatic fashion.  Trailing Mater Dei in the team score, Central’s Josh Crick took the mat against Castle’s undefeated Patrick Mayes.  Shaking off two previous losses to Mayes, Crick dominated, winning 8-3 and locking up the team title for Central.

 

Mater Dei won the title back in 1995 and set a new mark for SIAC tournament performance in 2003, winning 13 weight classes.  Claiming 13 champs and a third, the Wildcats lost one match on the day.

 

An extremely tough field entered the 2010 SIAC meet, with Reitz finding itself with a fifth-state ranking while Mater Dei was regarded as sixth and Castle was seventh.  Reitz coach Scott Ferguson was riding high going into the meet.  Ferguson, a former Castle wrestler, had claimed a January dual meet victory over Mater Dei—his first as a wrestler or coach.  Reitz’s depth won the day, as all fourteen wrestlers placed while Bryan Kuhn, Trevor Moody, Derek Dowdy and Blake Rueger claimed titles.

 

On the eve of its 60th annual meet, the SIAC championships are alive and well.  Expect upsets, fiery coaches, long-standing rivalries, surprise domination—and highly partisan fan bases.

 

SIAC Titles:  Mater Dei- 39, New Albany- 8, Reitz- 5, Bloomington High- 5, Central- 1, Jasper- 1.

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