by Adam Klawonn
roundup staff reporter
Despite the glitz of theme parks and beaches, the wrestlers representing the Payson Longhorns are all business when it comes to traveling to sunny Southern California for the Classic Invitational Tournament.
They won the meet by a margin of almost 80 points last January, trouncing more than a dozen of California's wrestling powerhouses.
Participants for PHS said life away from the tournament's mats will not cloud their focus for the Jan. 7 meet.
Jeff Lamotte, a former Longhorn state champion who currently wrestles at the college level, said that training for the Classic Invitational meet is a lot of hard work, and that the coaches emphasize its importance in creating a reputation for the school. However, a certain degree of play is usually involved.
"We won the tournament in early 1999, so it's definitely the first priority (for the team) again," Lamotte said. "But Disneyland is a lot of fun too."
He added that he came home from wrestling at West Liberty State College in West Virginia to train with the younger wrestlers over the break and help hone their skills.
"I'm here to help motivate them, but they work pretty hard," he said. "They're a great group of guys."
The Payson Longhorns -- who were ranked 36th nationally in 1998 -- have won the tournament eight of the past 12 years they have participated and are looking for a repeat in January. To cover the $2,800 tab for the trip to California, the Horns have done everything from hawking tickets for spaghetti dinners to peddling PHS T-shirts.
Coach Dennis Pirch and his staff plan to bring about 20 of his troops to the meet Jan. 7, which typically includes 14 seniors and first-stringers, as well another handful of players who've shown a desire to compete.
"We'll usually take another four or five based on merit and how hard they work," Pirch said, as PHS wrestlers warmed up to the sounds of 'Eye of the Tiger' in the Wilson Dome. "They have to earn the right to go."
This right is hard to come by, as those wrestlers working for a plane ticket to California must challenge each other for first-string status. Considering the Horns are 3A state champions four years running, practices are as grueling as the real thing.
"There's a lot of competition for the top spots," said Caleb Miller, a PHS junior who made the tournament's cut. "You just have to wrestle your heart out."