VACAVILLE — It’s not too often a tournament of any kind celebrates a 50th anniversary. Especially in wrestling.
That will be the case Friday and Saturday when Vacaville High will entertain eight other schools for the 50th edition of the Larry Nelson Classic at Harold Youngblood Gymnasium.
Nelson, 84, the patriarch of the Bulldogs’ wrestling program, said he couldn’t believe the tournament, formally known as the Solano Classic, is still going strong.
“It never entered my mind,” Nelson said Thursday night. “It’s really something to see and experience. It’s a wonderful sport and a really good tournament.
“It’s always been a real good, first class tournament and remains that way today. It started out small and kept growing.”
Vacaville, a perennial state power, has never had a problem attracting tough competition, and this year is no different.
Along with Vacaville’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams, Madera South, Bella Vista, McQueen (Reno), Spanish Springs (Reno), Monte Vista, Franklin of Elk Grove, Turlock and Los Banos will compete in the round robin dual tournament.
Vacaville co-head coach Adam Wight likes to have his team face stiff competition, especially this early in the season.
“(Co-head coach) Clint (Birch) tells stories from the 1990s that teams from all over coming in and wanting to be here,” Wight said. “Since I’ve been here, we only lost once. The fields are balanced. Teams come in to get quality competition, and not just against us.
“It’s really important for our ‘B’ team to get experience as well. We’ve seen some changes (in the teams), but we have loyal customers. This year we’re a clear-cut favorite, but I couldn’t pick the 2-5 finishers.”
Wight also knows that running the Larry Nelson Classic isn’t just about wrestling.
“It certainly reminds you that you are part of something bigger,” the coach said. “I call myself an adopted son (of Larry). It puts yourself in a different perspective. It’s special.
(Larry) still comes into practice once a week. I’m trying to get him to hand out the medals at the end of tournament. He’s not someone who puts in your face that ‘I’m Larry Nelson.’ He blends into the background. He’s a special guy.”
Vacaville is led by defending state champion Jeramy Sweany, who is ranked No. 1 in the state by thecaliforniawrestler.com at 195 pounds, and Gionn Peralta (No. 2 at 115), and features a loaded line up of talent. Along with Peralta and Sweany, Anthony Hernandez, Hayden Fry, Steven Gomez and Bobby Ehman all return with state tournament experience.
In addition, Jordan Aquino, Eric Uldall, Matt Brazet, Kyle Moore, and Jesse Johnson all saw considerable varsity time last season.
“It’s really important (to start the season strong),” Wight said. “There are times when it scares people away, being a round robin. But most understand you get a lot of mat time, nine matches. It’s nice to wrestle someone else (besides ourselves). You want to get the momentum rolling.”
No better way than in the 50th Annual Larry Nelson Classic.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.