Wrestling championship bouts in the spotlight is a Payson tradition originated by the sport’s founding coach Dennis Pirch. In the early days all the PHS wrestlers would run into the light while the sounds of “Eye of the Tiger” reverberated through the old gym.
Photo by Dennis Fendler.
Longtime Longhorn sports fans will fondly remember the high school wrestling duals held from the mid-1970s through the early 2000s that drew standing room only crowds to old PHS gym and Wilson Dome.
During those exciting head-to-head matches, lights were turned off and a large light lowered over the mat to spotlight the two wrestlers. As the match unfolded, all eyes were focused on the combatants and the noise decibels cranked up several notches as parents, teachers and students stood and cheered their hometown mat heroes.
Also, it wasn’t unusual to hear the pulsating sounds of “Eye of the Tiger” reverberating off the walls as the Longhorn wrestlers charged onto the mat.
To make sure everyone in town knew of the matches, then-coach Dennis Pirch convinced APS to hang a huge banner over Beeline that read, “Wrestling Tonight.”
In recent years, those dual matches have fallen by the wayside and been replaced by multi-meets that attract three and four teams.
While those type matches might make more economic sense, they lack the head-to-head intensity and rivalry of dual matches in which Longhorns wrestlers went toe-to-toe against opponents from nearby small towns.
In an effort to rekindle those fiery and spirited matches of yesteryear, first-year PHS Athletic Director Don Heizer has teamed with wrestling coach Casey Woodall to host tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 16, what the pair are calling “Throwback Night.”
For it, the two will try to re-create the same lively atmosphere as previously existed at PHS.
Which means, the match will be a head-to-head dual against Show Low conducted in much the same manner as before with both wrestlers spotlighted as they battle for small-town Arizona bragging rights.
“We contacted the Show Low coach to see if he would go along, and he told us definitely,” Heizer said. “I think he was excited to do it.”
The AD’s hope is that fans turn out in droves to support the young wrestlers, “We want to pack the dome and have the place rockin.’”
The varsity match tips off at 7 p.m. but will be preceded by a freshmen clash at 5 p.m. and jayvee an hour later.
Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students.