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HS Hosts Program's First Outdoor Wrestling Meet

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Copyright 2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune Co.
All Rights Reserved

Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
January 31, 2017 Tuesday
John Lembo

BRADENTON - Charles Small has won 128 matches while wearing a Manatee High wrestling singlet.

Andy Gugliemini is closing in on 500 dual victories as the Hurricanes head coach.

Chances are, however, victory tasted a little different for each this past Friday, especially since they had to gulp it down with a helping of fresh air.

Rather than wrestling in the cozy confines of Manatee's gymnasium, the Hurricanes instead took things outside to Joe Kinnan Field at Hawkins Stadium. They put several thick mats near one of the end zones, fired up the lights, switched on the scoreboard, powered up the JumboTron, and hosted Sarasota High for the first outdoor dual in program history.

Wrestling? Outside? Sounds strange, yes, but it has worked before. In November 2015, for example, Oklahoma State knocked off top-ranked Iowa in front of NCAA-record 42,287 fans - breaking the previous mark of just 15,996 - inside Iowa's Kinnick Stadium.

If they can do it in Iowa two weeks before Thanksgiving, why can't it be done down in Florida, Gugliemini thought, where the winter weather is much more palatable. The Hawkins Stadium JumboTron, which was built last year, further enticed Gugliemini to host an outdoor match.

"There's been several teams around that have done it," he said. "We wanted to be one of the first ones last year but it didn't happen."

Chalk it up to rookie mistakes. Gugliemini scheduled last year's match against Palm Harbor University to start at around 7 p.m., a customary time for a regular-season dual. Manatee also tried to mop the mats after moving them outside. It didn't work - the mats never completely dried and the match had to be moved inside.

This year, Gugliemini pushed the start time to 4 p.m., while the sun was still up, and the Hurricanes cleaned the mats Thursday night and rolled them up so they were dry by the next day. As soon as school let out Friday, members of the team loaded the mats into former Manatee wrestling coach Phil Upton's truck and began setting things up on the football field. It took about a half hour to transform the stadium, home to countless soccer matches, football games and graduation ceremonies over the years, into a makeshift wrestling arena.

A small table was set up offering candy bars, chips and other concession stand fare. Cody Hughes, an assistant with the football and wrestling teams, announced each bout while standing on the field with a wireless mic. Admission was free, and fans were spread out on either side of the bleachers or on the field.

"We learned. Failed the first time, had to move it inside last year, so we figured it out," Gugliemini said. "This is nice. It's nice to know we can succeed at something that came out of this brain."

Manatee beat the Sailors 48-28 before wrestling three bouts against a Saint Stephen's team coached by Manatee alum Bobby Latessa, who won two state titles wrestling under Gugliemini.

"It was pretty fun," said Small, Manateee's senior at 160 pounds. "It was a little harder to breathe outside. I don't know if it was because it was colder or what, but it was harder to breath. But it was a great time. This was the first time we've ever done this. We tried to do it for last year's seniors, but we didn't get a chance to. So I'm glad we got a chance to do it this year."

And they did it against one of their longtime rivals, the Sailors, who Manatee will see again during the Class 3A-District 8 meet at Palm Harbor on Saturday, Feb. 17.

"I've known (Gugliemini) since I was a freshman. We go way back," said Sarasota coach Mike Bush. "Really glad we could be up here. Weather was a little chilly, but other than that, it was really good."

Manatee honored its seven seniors at the conclusion of the match, and following the ceremony, the Hurricanes wrestlers started rolling up the mats while The Scorpions' "Rock You Like A Hurricane" blared over the stadium's public-address system.

Gugliemini hopes to make the outdoor match an annual event and perhaps move it to a Saturday to try and bring more people into the stadium.

Friday evening, as he watched his wrestlers turn Hawkins Stadium into a regular football stadium again, Gugliemini was pleased that everything finally fell into place.

"This is something a little different," he said. "I think everybody enjoyed themselves."

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