Plenty of opportunities await boosters and athletes at the Payson Pro Rodeo Rim Country Duals tournament, which tips off at 3 p.m. today, Dec. 19, in Wilson Dome.
First, the Longhorn wrestlers will have the chance to showcase their skills in front of parents, friends, classmates and mat fans.
Also, fervent Longhorn wrestling aficionados — of which there are hundreds in Payson — will have the opportunity to stomp, clap and cheer on the Longhorn team members as they battle tooth-and-nail for tournament honors.
Among those on the squad who could contend for weight-class championships are Ben Sandoval, Ben Lee, Bryan Burke, Nick Goodman and possibly freshman newcomer Jacob Spear.
Sandoval, wrestling in the 135-pound class, is 6-0 this season and will be buoyed by the experience he picked up last season when he was 39-13 and finished fourth in the 3A state tournament.
The teen proved his commitment to the sport by attending two grueling wrestling camps last summer, one of which lasted for two weeks.
“I think what I learned at them will help me this year,” Sandoval said.
Lee, a 125-pound sophomore, is also totally committed to the sport partly because he is the younger brother of two former Payson High School state champions who went on to make their mark in collegiate wrestling.
Last season while wrestling as a 112-pounder, Lee took fifth at state.
Goodman, a 152-pound senior fresh from helping the Horn football team win the state championship, has been in the wrestling program since he was in elementary school.
Competing last year as a 160-pounder, he was fifth at state.
Burke, a 215-pound senior, is 6-1 this season and is a legitimate candidate to win a state championship to go along with the many accolades he won as a starting member of the state football team.
Although Spear (103) is a relative unknown, his mat exploits have caught the attention of coaches and fans who are predicting good things from the young grappler.
Among the others who could participate in the Rim Country Duals are Thad Hauser (112), Ryan Abraham (119), Jacob Cluff (130), Ryan Cox (140), Joey Garcia (145), Derek Williams (171), Nick Walker (189) and Garrett McNeeley (heavyweight).
The “duals” formatted tournament has long given Payson wrestlers the opportunity to condition and improve their skills before the onset of the Christmas holidays.
Former coach and team founder Dennis Pirch kick-started the tournament 15 years ago.
“We wanted a duals tournament because it gives all the wrestlers on the team a significant number of matches and plenty of experience before school break, it kind of justifies taking a few days off (during Christmas holidays),” he said. “Also the duals attract some schools other than the 3A East, which gives the wrestlers some new and different competition.”
Tournament action today continues until about 8 p.m.
Tomorrow, Saturday, wrestling resumes at 9:30 a.m. with the individual championship bouts on the agenda for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Entered in the tournament along with Payson are Phoenix Camelback, Mesa Skyline, Page, Queen Creek, Seton Catholic, Fountain Hills and San Manuel.
There is no admission charge and a snack bar will be open.