The Alberni Armada Wrestling Invitational is returning to its roots this weekend, and bringing back the dual meet.
The Armada will face wrestlers from Western Canada High School in Calgary in head-to-head wrestling prior to the opening of the 33rd annual Invitational at Alberni District Secondary School, on Friday, Feb. 5.
“We’re excited about it,” says Tom McEvay, who is tournament co-chair with Mike Roberts.
The teams will compete for the coveted McEvay Post, carved by Walter Taylor and presented to McEvay in the mid-1990s in honour of his long and storied career with School District 70.
McEvay’s history is intertwined with that of Alberni high school wrestling.
Taylor started the wrestling program at AW Neill in 1976. McEvay was a student teacher on a practicum at AW Neill in 1977 when he was asked to assist Taylor. The next year Taylor decided to leave teaching and study to become a lawyer; McEvay was offered a job at the school and was asked to carry on with the wrestling program.
The First invitational was actually the AW Neill Saints Invitational, in 1980. It moved to Alberni District Secondary School in 1983 with McEvay. The event continued to grow, moving to Glenwood Centre and then in 2002 to the AV Multiplex.
From the mid-80s to the mid-90s, the Invitational featured a dual meet. “It became quite prestigious,” McEvay said.
Eventually, the tournament grew too large and organizers had to give up the dual meets. “It had become a real highlight of the pre-tournament. In some people’s minds it was the highlight because it was head to head (competition),” McEvay said.
In its heyday, the Invitational would draw 800 wrestlers from across BC. It got to be too much for organizers, who last year decided since the new high school had two gymnasiums that it was time to bring the event back to its roots. McEvay capped the tournament at 450, which he says is much more manageable.
Having the event at the multiplex also created a disconnect with the school, which was another reason why McEvay wanted to bring it back to ADSS.
“The high school never gets to see its wrestlers wrestle because they’re always on the road,” he said.
While the invitational presents some exciting competition, it can be busy, with five mats going at a time. The dual meet gives the Armada a chance to perform one-on-one in front of the student body, he said.
The dual meet will feature 20 matches—10 boys’ and 10 girls’ matches—in head-to-head competition between Western Canada High School of Calgary and the Alberni Armada. The matches will be held one at a time: each school’s best athlete in each weight class.
“We’re hoping it will become a pre-cursor to the Alberni Invitational,” McEvay said.
Taylor, a lawyer and carver who is helping with wrestling at Carson Graham Secondary School in North Vancouver, has talked about challenging for the McEvay Post, but it won’t be for the inaugural dual meet. “This year with the team from Calgary being here, we felt this was a great opportunity to highlight it,” McEvay said.
Carson Graham will have to wait for another year.
“We will have to come up with some criteria as to how you get to challenge for the Post,” he added.
The original 10-foot-tall post is temporarily on display at ADSS; Ladybird Engraving is creating a keeper trophy for the winning team.
The dual meet starts at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the ADSS gym. Seating for the public will be available, but limited as McEvay hopes the ADSS student body will pack the stands to cheer on their own wrestlers.
Opening ceremonies for the Invitational will start at 1:15 p.m. and competition will continue until 8 or 9 p.m. Matches resume Saturday, Feb. 6 at 8:30 a.m. with the finals starting around 12:30 p.m. in all divisions.
Admission is free.