Crowning a home-state champion during the Beast of the East wrestling tournament is a difficult task but an annual aspiration.
Last year, Smyrna High junior Brent Fleetwood gave Delaware a rare Beast titlist when he prevailed at 113 pounds at the Carpenter Center.
With the 21st annual Beast coming this weekend, meet organizers delight over the possibility of something even better: An all-Delaware final at 120 pounds, where Fleetwood is now wrestling along with fellow three-time state champ Micah Hight from Caesar Rodney.
When the seedings are determined Thursday night for the start of wrestling at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Hight and Fleetwood are sure to be bracketed on opposite sides, first-year tournament director Steve Lex said, just to allow for that possibility.
“It would be great if that happened,” Lex said of the two First Staters colliding in Sunday’s 3:30 finals, “but that is a very, very tough weight class.”
Fleetwood and Hight certainly help make it so.
Hight decisioned Fleetwood 5-1 in the 120-pound final of the Raymond B. Oliver Tournament at the McDonough School in Owings Mills, Md., on Dec. 7, the second time he’s beaten Fleetwood in a high school match.
The two did not meet in last weekend’s rugged Walsh Ironman in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Hight lost in the quarterfinals and finished seventh and Fleetwood fell in the finals.
“I think it would be good for everybody,” Hight said of a possible Beast rematch at Tuesday’s kickoff gathering at the Embassy Suites. “Brent’s actually one of my really good friends and we’re just best buds after the match. It’s just wrestling out there.”
Fleetwood had been ranked 11th nationally in the preseason at 120 pounds by InterMat. It did not rank Hight, who expects to bump up to 126 later in the season.
Hight lost in last year’s Beast quarterfinals at 120, then dropped a close match in his first consolation bout and did not place.
“This year I’ve been working a lot harder I’d say. Been lifting and taking extra steps to do better,” Hight said. “Last year I was one match from placing so that hurt a lot. But I was also wrestling up a weight class.”
More than 800 wrestlers from 109 schools will cover the 11 mats spread across the Carpenter Center floor for a tournament that, along with the Walsh Ironman, is generally regarded as one of the nation’s two toughest.
Five of the nation’s top 10 teams, including perennial champ Blair Academy (N.J.), will collide. The field features 48 individuals ranked nationally, 40 state champions, including eight from Delaware, and more than 70 state finalists.
“The talent is here,” Lex said. “It’s an amazing event.”
Lex has taken over for Bobby Shaw as tournament director, and quickly discovered that operating the Beast is a full-time commitment. Shaw had succeeded founder Vic Leonard, who started the tournament to give Delaware wrestlers a chance to match skills against out-of-state competition and raise money for Delaware Wrestling Alliance Academic All-State scholarship winners.
That scholarship total now exceeds $700,000, and the level of competition is plain to see.
Among the additions this year are a Twitter handle – @beastwrestling7 – and live streaming of all three championship rounds Sunday (quarterfinals, semifinals and finals) for $19.95 at http://www.beastwrestling.com.
“It’s pretty amazing what little old Delaware has accomplished in the last 20 years,” said Lex, who got involved after taking his son Chris, who later wrestled at Salesianum, to watch the Beast.