Over two years ago, Dave Orlando was searching online for an offseason wrestling tournament for his son, River, to compete in. He came across the Bald and Fat Classic, and thought it was an odd name for young wrestlers. But after clicking on the link, he realized it wasn’t.
Orlando, who is the junior high head wrestling coach and an assistant coach for the varsity team at Hampton Bays High School, discovered that the Bald and Fat Classic is for adults 19 and over and is, as it’s described on its website, “a fast paced, high energy, non-stop wrestling tournament for real men who’ve passed their prime and have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.”
Orlando traveled to, what was at the time, the closest Bald and Fat Classic in Pearl River, and he liked it so much he competed in the same tournament last year with friends and co-alumni Rich Poehnelt and Jason Schoerlin.
Thinking that it was the perfect event for Hampton Bays, and to a larger extent Suffolk County, Orlando approached Hampton Bays Athletic Director Drew Walker about hosting a tournament, and the first ever Bald and Fat Classic held on Long Island took place this Saturday at Hampton Bays Middle School. And, according to just about everyone involved in the event, it was a rousing success.
Nearly 80 wrestlers competed, nearly double the number the tournament typically sees when it makes its debut in a new area, according to Joe Musti, the creator and director of the event. Orlando, along with Hampton Bays varsity wrestling coaches Mike Lloyd and Craig Mielenhausen, helped organize the event.
The tournament helped raise money for the Hampton Bays wrestling program, but it also served as a fundraiser for the family of Jim Lockwood, who died of cancer at the age of 43, leaving behind his wife, Tara, and 10-year-old daughter, Emma. Mr. Lockwood, while not a wrestler himself, was a dear friend to many of the Hampton Bays alumni who competed on Saturday, including Brian Babcock, who currently serves as a member of the East Quogue Board of Education, and who graduated from Hampton Bays in 1993.
This weekend marked the first time that many of the wrestlers hit the mat—some in 20-plus years, and while many of them may be feeling the effects of that, and even had to travel long distances, in some cases, for the honor, it was all worth it.
“I am so sore today I can barely walk,” said John Case, 39, a three-time county finalist, two-time county champion and two-time state place winnner during his wrestling days at Hampton Bays. He graduated in 1998, the last time he wrestled competitively. “The only way to really train is to wrestle, but I didn’t have a mat to train on, so I did what I could at the gym.”
Case currently resides in Coconut Creek, Florida. He is Mr. Lockwood’s brother-in-law, so he was more than willing to make the trip home.
“It was a blast,” he added. “The competition was great. I didn’t know what I was getting into. You see this thing called the Bald and Fat Wrestling Classic, and you’re not sure what it’s going to be. But the amount of people that showed up, I saw a lot of old coaches I haven’t seen in years, and there were a lot of kids. So it really brought everybody together—not only for Hampton Bays wrestling but for Jim Lockwood, who was my best friend since I was 14-years-old. And the crew running the tournament was great … this was absolutely something I really needed in my life right now.”
Case placed second in the 150-pound weight class of the “Dead” division and was just one of many alumni who placed, or won, their respective divisions and weights. Lloyd won the “Past My Prime” 250-pound weight class, while Orlando won the “Fully Decomposed” 170-pound weight class.
Rich Poehnelt, traveling by way of Switzerland, won the 185-pound Dead Division title, while Brian Goleski placed second at 170, Babcock placed second at 220 and Noah Brown took fourth at 170.
Southampton’s Ike Birdsall placed third at 200 in the Fully Decomposed division while Jerry Kalb placed fourth. Joe Lever won the 220-pound Fully Decomposed weight class and Dan Garvey placed second at 160 in Past My Prime. Former Hampton Bays varsity wrestling head coach Rafael Lievano, who is now an assistant at Ward Melville, won the 140-pound Dead weight class. Westhampton Beach assistant coach Andrew Petroulias won the 140-pound Toughnuts title and co-coach Ethan Mitchell placed fourth in the 185-pound Toughnuts division.
There were two alumni teams—the “Baymen” and “Hampton Bays.” The Baymen, consisting of Orlando, Garvey, Lloyd, Brown and Kalb, finished as the top team.
Nick Corredor was one of the many current Hampton Bays wrestlers on hand helping out. He announced the bouts and directed each wrestler to the correct mat. The junior was impressed with what he saw from his current coaches and all of the other wrestlers as well.
“It’s [different] seeing your coach beat up some kids that are like 100 pounds lighter than them in the practice room. But here, going against people their own weight class, it’s pretty crazy to see because you see how talented they are in a sport that they love, and it’s just really nice to see the wrestling community come support it,” he said. “We’re having a blast because in the wrestling room we’ve got a whole poster of all the [former] county champs, and we’ve got a couple of county champs here, so we’re witnessing history right here and it’s pretty awesome to see, to be honest.”
Walker said that the district will host a second Bald and Fat Classic next year. When that might be is still up in the air, but the first weekend in April is a date that he and the group of organizers would like to continue. If the event grows in the coming years, it may have to be held at the high school, which has two separate gyms that could accommodate four different wrestling mats. But next year’s event should be able to stay at the middle school.
“I’d like to thank Dave Orlando and the varsity staff of Craig and Mike and their wrestlers who put together a really nice day for the alumni and the wrestling family that we have here,” Walker said. “It was a great example for our young wrestlers to see adults who are passionate in a sport they truly love.”
Case said he would be willing to make an annual trip back to his hometown to compete.
“Seeing family and friends, coaches I haven’t seen in years, I was impressed with everything. It really blew my mind,” he said. “It sparked something in me I haven’t felt in 21 years. It was well worth the trip, and there’s no doubt in my mind I would come back.”