Thursday, February 19, 2009

First official awards show will celebrate high school wrestling community

“Who is going to win the Witt Award?”

That is the question that Cliff Fretwell hopes high school wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans will be asking each other next year and every year after. And if all goes according to plan on Sunday, March 15 at Center Stage in Midtown, he might just get his way. Fretwell is the wrestling coach at Henry County and a member of the Georgia National Wrestling Alliance. Last year, while attending a closed ceremony to honor the state’s champions, he realized there wasn’t a year-end event honoring the effort put in over the course of the season by all of the
wrestlers, coaches and parents in Georgia. There were no events to bring the wrestling community together to celebrate the year and the wrestlers who made lasting impressions.

“Wrestling gets such a little amount of respect. It is one of those sports that demands so much but returns so little,” said Fretwell, pointing out the need for a bigger ceremony. This year, with the 2009 High School Wrestling Award Show, he hopes to change that.

When Fretwell decided to take over the planning of Georgia high school wrestling’s season-culminating event, he wanted to change it from the quiet “invite only” affair for state champion wrestlers to a state-of-the-sport event open to all wrestlers, their families and the public. He wanted to “make a commitment to go over the top with it,” to give the wrestlers a night to remember. Along with help from Team Georgia Wrestling and the Georgia National Wrestling Alliance, Fretwell has taken the award ceremony out of the shadows in a high school cafeteria and into the limelight at Center Stage. No longer will state champions be recognized in relative anonymity with a pat on the back and a wooden plaque. This year there will be a splash of glitz, a little glamor, and a slew of new awards given out to wrestlers extending beyond the traditional awards for the state champions.

“People like award shows where there is some suspense, drama and excitement to it,” Fretwell said.

And that is where the Witt Award comes in. It is named after Witt Durden who Fretwell calls “the kind of man you would want your son to grow up to be like.” Durden is the four-time state champion and Dublin High School wrestling legend who went on to national recognition at Oklahoma University and eventually to medical school. The Witt Award will be given to the most dominant high school wrestler in the State of Georgia across all classifications – in other words, the king of the mats.

Joining the new awards along with the Witt Award will be the Kyle Maynard Award, given to a wrestler who overcomes physical limitations to compete on the mats. Maynard is the Collins Hill High School graduate who was born a quadruple congenital amputee with no elbows or knees, yet wrestled to a 35-16 record and won an ESPY in 2004 as the Best Athlete with a Disability. Sean Hage, a Harrison High School graduate and four-time state champion, has agreed to personally present an award to anyone who joins him in the elite group of Georgia wrestlers who have won four high school state titles (fewer than 20 wrestlers have accomplished this feat).

Adding to the suspense, the newly created Match of the Year award will be handed out: “It’s an award given out based on what the public thinks,” Fretwell says. “We’ll put the nominees out there for Match of the Year and let the public vote on it.”

With these awards, Fretwell is trying to draw attention to not just the championship winners but to the entire wrestling community. He is looking beyond the records and the pins to find stories about the wrestlers who have given so much of themselves to their teammates
and their sport. By putting these previously unrecognized wrestlers in the spotlight alongside wrestlers who have won championships, the 2009 High School Wrestling Awards will provide Georgia’s wrestling fans with a more complete idea of what is happening in the sport.

On March 15, Georgia high school wrestlers will get a chance to “trade a singlet for a suit,” as Fretwell says, and fans of Georgia high school wrestling will finally have a night when they can come together and celebrate the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in making the 2009 season a success. And the question that everyone will talk about in the future—“Who will win the Witt Award?”—will be answered for the first time.

Lentz can be reached at