The tradition began when Ken Spenard started the Chenango Forks wrestling program in 1953, and was later carried through by coaches Rick Perkins and Rick Gumble.
It is a tradition of excellence, which will be celebrated this evening as the Blue Devils will recognize their 60th anniversary of wrestling by hosting longtime rival Windsor in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference match.
The JV match will begin at 5:30, with the varsity match to follow at 6:30. Afterwards, there will be a reception at the school cafeteria and auditorium — which will include the showing of a 30-minute DVD on the history of Forks wrestling — followed by an adult reception 9 p.m. at McGirk’s Irish Pub.
“I’m very thankful for (Windsor coach) Jeff Nolan and the Windsor wrestling community for being a part of this event,” Gumble said. “That’s more a reflection of the history of Section 4 than just our history.
“We’ve scheduled a very intense opponent for this match. It should match up well, it has the makings for a fantastic event.”
Many former coaches and wrestlers from both programs are expected to be in attendance for tonight’s match
between STAC teams whose rivalry goes back to the days of the old Susquenango Association (now Midstate Athletic Conference).
Among those is Forks graduate and current Greene coach Tim Jenks, who won three Section 4 titles from 1971-73 under Spenard’s tutelage.
“I love being a part of this, if it hadn’t been for wrestling I wouldn’t have gone to college,” said Jenks, who wrestled collegiately at Syracuse. “I was a basketball player, but Dana Ellis got me to go to a wrestling match in Chenango Forks against Sidney.
“The place was packed. Seeing (Sidney’s) Randy Payne and Dana, those kids inspired me to wrestle. Once I saw that, I bailed out of basketball and started wrestling.”
Over the course of the program’s existence, Forks has often been considered among the elite in Section 4 wrestling.
Jeff Stephans and Jerry Everling won the program’s first Section 4 titles in 1960, with Dan Evans becoming Forks’ first state champion in 1967.
Overall, the Forks wrestling program boasts 72 Section 4 and 11 state individual championships, those totals only surpassed by Ithaca. In addition to winning STAC and Susquenango Association titles, recent years have seen the program capture four consecutive Section 4 Dual Meet titles (2008-11) as well as produce the only five-time state champion in Troy Nickerson (2001-05), and fellow state champions Kyle Kelly (2011-12) and Jesse Villella (2009).
Perkins, who coached Forks from 1975-94 and again from 2004-06, is looking forward to tonight.
“It’s pretty special,” Perkins said. “Spenard started it and turned the keys over to me. I think he’d be proud of what the program’s done since he left it.”
Perkins will serve as an honorary coach for Forks while former Windsor coach Jim Howard will do likewise for the Black Knights.
As for maintaining a ceremonial role tonight, Perkins would not make any promises.
“I’m sure I’ll get involved in some way, it’s still in my blood,” Perkins said with a chuckle. “It will be exciting to see a lot of the guys I haven’t seen in a long time, and know they’re doing well.”
As for Windsor’s involvement in tonight’s event, Nolan considered it an honor.
“I just think it’s a cool opportunity,” Nolan said. “It’s a chance to teach my kids about people that came before them and the great history of the sport.
“(The schools) are near each other, we’ve kept our rivalry going through the years. Gumble probably could have picked another program they’ve had a rivalry with, but I’m glad he picked us.”