Wrestling coaches hope to bring Greco-Roman to Lee

Coaches Tony Beal, in white, and Brian Fox demonstrate technique to members of the UFM Junior Spartans wrestling club.

It is one of the oldest sports in the world, having its start thousands of years ago in ancient Greece and later picked up by the Romans. Greco-Roman wrestling has been practiced in many forms throughout the ages, even in Mississippi and is an Olympic sport. The one-on-one sport of submission fell out of favor in Mississippi high schools in the mid-1980s but, as of this wrestling season – generally recognized as November 1 until the end of January – it is enjoying a resurgence as nine high schools in the state have fielded wrestling teams. (Mississippi School for the Deaf and Blind did maintain its wrestling program for the decades-long hiatus.) Locally, North Pontotoc and South Pontotoc high schools are competing on the mats. So far, however, the sport has not been established in Lee County or Tupelo schools. A couple of wrestling coaches, themselves veterans of the mats, are working to change that. Brian Fox and Tony Beal hold youth wrestling classes three times a week at the Ultimate Fitness & Mixed Martial Arts gym on McCullough Boulevard. On Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, 5-5:50 p.m., boys and girls learn the sport of wrestling; they range in age from 5 into their early teens and can number nearly two dozen. Since November 1, several of them have competed in inter-club tournaments in Tennessee and Alabama and some have excelled, coming away with first-place medals. The kids take the sport and the competitions seriously but seem to revel in the friendships they have forged on the mat; there is a palpable sense of camaraderie in their grappling efforts. Both Fox, 27, and Beal, 41, hail from Ohio, where wrestling has long been practiced and celebrated. Fox began wrestling as a child and continued through middle school, high school and into college at Baldwin Wallace University. After earning three degrees, Fox found himself as a missionary in Croatia and picked up jiujitsu, a sport closely related to wrestling: “I still loved the sport,” he said of competing in international jiujitsu and wrestling competitions in Eastern Europe. Beal, too, was a wrestler in junior high and high school; after graduation, he concentrated on his engineering studies and left wrestling behind. He re-entered the wrestling world when his three children – Holly, now 11, Travis, 8, and Addison, 6 – developed an interest in the sport while still living in Ohio. When the family arrived here two years ago, there was no available youth wrestling program until Grady Sue Hurley founded UFM and established the wrestling venue in 2020: “My kids now all compete,” Beal said of their involvement in the sport. In a recent Facebook post about an Alabama competition, Beal admitted to reliving, vicariously, a bit of the wrestling glory he enjoyed as a youth. Both Fox and Beal quest to reestablish wrestling as a sport in Mississippi schools; Fox is a founding member of the Mississippi Wrestling Foundation which is run by a 20-member board of former wrestlers and “friends of the sport,” as Fox calls the non-wrestlers. The MWF, through donations and sponsorships, provided mats and uniforms for the nine high schools competing in the state. Fox noted that a top-quality mat, one that can last as long as 20 years, costs about $10,000. Uniforms are cheaper. Both men recognize the value of wrestling training and competition, beyond the mat: “I support getting wrestling back in the schools,” said Beal, who serves as engineering manager for Cooper Tire and credits wrestling with helping him succeed in industry. College scholarships in wrestling are offered at many universities. “I thank wrestling for who I am today,” said Fox. “It made me physically and mentally tough.” Local sponsors of wrestling are being sought by MWF. For more information on the organization, check out their website at www.sipwrestling.org. For information on UFM’s Junior Spartans wrestling/jiujitsu offerings, call (662) 680-4848.

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