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22 November 2019

Grappling with the past
by Roger Brigham

A few years back, San Francisco's Golden Gate Wrestling Club led an effort by Wrestlers WithOut Borders to pay tribute to past LGBT wrestling pioneers as well as to build the WWB brand. The latest incarnations of that effort will be on display this month during the Folsom Street Fair when wrestlers from New York to Australia descend on San Francisco for WWB Cup III.

The WWB Cup was established in 2008 to serve as the international LGBT wrestling championship in non-Gay Games years, and any tournament put on by a WWB club can serve as the cup host. The first cup was held in Chicago, and the second cup in San Francisco, with GGWC's Don Jung Memorial Tournament as the host event.

This year, for the first time, the Don Jung tournament was moved from May to September. Normally it is held on a Sunday as part of an extended wrestling weekend, with a Saturday clinic, a Monday pool party, and numerous dinners and barbecues. This year's tournament will be held on Saturday, September 24. On Sunday, during the street fair, the wrestlers will be operating a fundraising beer booth and demonstrating mat moves at an informational booth.

The attraction of the WWB Cup being combined with a major street fair has lured Australians to the event for the first time. It is believed that four Australians, buoyed by their success last year at the Gay Games in Germany, will compete, along with sizeable contingents from New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Two newcomers to WWB are also expected to make a showing: Carlin Yetts of Columbus, Ohio, who is starting his own wrestling club to compete in Gay Games IX in Cleveland; and Olympic hopeful Akil Patterson. Patterson, a heavyweight Greco-Roman specialist, is not expected to compete but will officiate and may participate in exhibitions.

"I think we'll see greater attendance than we would have in recent years, with athletes who are competing and spectators who are interested in watching the action," said Chris Lorefice, Southern California Wrestling Club's delegate to WWB. "It will help the tournament become part of the larger weekend activities rather than a stand alone event, and having multiple events in one weekend to attend will make it all the more fun."

After the 25th edition of the Don Jung tournament last year, the wrestlers had planned to rotate the tournament among GGWC, SCWC, and the San Diego Bulldogs. As GGWC's mission expanded through the years – the club is now involved in helping run a youth wrestling program with the city of San Francisco – Golden Gate found its energies sapped from trying to stage two major annual weekends.

"A lot went into this decision, as it was becoming difficult to host two popular events every summer in San Francisco," said Gene Dermody, president of GGWC. "This event will also be billed as WWB Cup III. The confluence of both the tournament and the huge Folsom Street fundraiser guarantees critical mass for all events. The Folsom Street Fair has been a major sponsor of GGWC for 25 years. Now GGWC shares the profits with its WWB member organizations to offset wrestler costs to travel and compete."

 Dermody said the value of having the tournament tied into a major LGBT event could not be overstated. The inaugural WWB Cup in Chicago in 2008 was held during International Mr. Leather weekend.

"Getting a critical mass of athletes to these events is the name of the game," Dermody said. "These events get us back to our Gay Games roots, enhancing critical mass by investing in the sports component."

The interplay of honoring the past and expanding the future also led to the creation of the Runyon Wrestling Classic, which will be held during January's Martin Luther King weekend in Las Vegas as part of the Sin City Shootout. SCWC will serve as host club. The event is named after the late Pete Runyon, founder of SCWC. (See July 31, 2008 http://www.ebar.com/columns/column.php?sec=sports&id=189.) It will be the first major LGBT wrestling tournament to offer non-gi grappling in addition to traditional freestyle.

"Grappling is becoming so popular, we would be missing the boat if we didnÕt recognize its importance and work to promote it along with traditional freestyle wrestling," said Lorefice. "A lot of our current athletes are interested in grappling and many compete in both types of wrestling. Having a grappling competition as part of the tournament will also help us attract additional athletes who might not have attended otherwise. Adding wrestling into the Sin City shootout gives wrestling a lot more exposure and I think a lot of the other athletes there will see it as a legitimate competition sport for men and women who are well past high school or college. I'm hoping that it brings more people to the sport of wrestling and helps our current clubs expand their membership."

To avoid a schedule conflict and enable its wrestlers to attend the Runyon Classic, New York City's Metro Wrestling Club moved its annual tournament away from the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The Sin City event could prove to be a preview of Gay Games IX, as the Federation of Gay Games has authorized host Cleveland to add grappling, beach wrestling, and Greco-Roman wrestling if it wants to.

"As we prepare for Cleveland Gay Games 2014, promoting grappling will probably double our registrations to about 200 because of the popularity of MMA, UFC, and the explosion of new movies like Warrior ," Dermody said, referring to mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting championships.

For information about GGWC and the WWB Cup, visit http://www.ggwc.org. For information about the Runyon Wrestling Classic, visit http://www.sincityshootout.com.

Pride Track and Field Meet

A total of 89 athletes ranging in age from 10 to 76 years old competed in the fourth Pride Meet in August, hosted by San Francisco Track and Field Club.

Among the seven meet records set was a new American record: Lafayette's Joy Upshaw, 50, lowered her U.S. age-group (50-54 years old) record in the 300 meter IM hurdles to 46.38 seconds.

Creation of the Pride Meet in 2007 was inspired by the experience athletes had at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. SF Track and Field, which was founded after Gay Games I in San Francisco, will celebrate its 30th anniversary with the 2011-12 track season. For membership information on the club and meet results, visit http://www.sftrackandfield.com

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