In 1976 the high schools in the Ohio County consolidated to form Wheeling Park High School. Its first wrestling coaches were Eric Carder and his assistant coach, Dr. William Welker. To say that these two mat mentors were successful would be an understatement, as they guided the Patriots to two Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Championships, three West Virginia State Championship teams and six individual champions.
However, this story is not about the accomplishments that these two men achieved together, but about the memories and activities of their children. Coach Carder has a son, Little Eric, and Dr. Welker has two sons, Billy and me, who travelled with the team whenever possible. Let me tell you that we did not make trips any easier on the wrestlers or the coaches.
Down the road, each coach added another son to their families. Coach Carder had Carl, named after Wheeling Park's first state champion, Carl Stanley, and Coach Welker added Daniel Eric, who was named after Danny Doyle, a Wheeling Central state champion, and his middle name was for Coach Carder.
During the late 1970s, parents did not have the worries that we do today but they did, of course, worry. So inevitably Little Eric, Billy and I would be left with the wrestlers while tournaments and dual meets would be underway. And at the hotels, we were left under the watchful eyes of Wheeling Park greats such as Carl or George Stanley, Rod Haller, Bobby Weigand and others on the team. They not only taught us many unique ways to get in trouble, but did not mind getting in trouble with us as well.
Once while at a tournament in California, Pennsylvania, my brother and I figured out how to get the billiard balls to the pool table out by sticking our arms up the chute and pulling the lever back. (I feel confident saying this many years later as I am sure that the statute of limitations has long since expired.) Well, as the rules of taking turns would have it, it was Little Eric's turn to jam his arm up and get the balls to release. As some of you may have already guessed, his arm got stuck and we were unable to free him from the table.
To this day, I do not recall exactly who freed Little Eric from this predicament but I know for sure that at least one fire truck responded. At that time I, as many children between the ages of 6 and 8 years old, wanted to be a fireman. What a great experience!
I also remember fondly Little Eric and I jumping on the beds at a hotel, and the wrestlers hitting our legs out from underneath us, making us flip backwards on the bed if we were lucky enough to land on it. I am sure the team was supposed to be resting before the next session - but come on, doesn't everyone dream of knocking 45- pound kids on the floor with pillows?
I am sure that there are places in the Wesbanco Arena we found that arena manager Denny Magruder doesn't even know exists. How we loved to run around that building during the OVAC and State Tournaments when they were alternated between Wheeling and Huntington.
Over the years, Little Eric and I drifted apart as happens with time, college, marriage, and what not. This past December my father, Coach Carder and Little Eric and I were able to meet up in Canonsburg, Pa. We attended the finals of the PowerAde Tournament. Not only was it great seeing the two of them again, but to be doing it at the sport which brought our families together in the first place.
Little Eric and I reminisced about things we did, the people we met, and talked about getting together for the OVAC Tournament the following month.
Unfortunately, Little Eric was unable to make it because of a prior commitment, but we stayed in touch through Facebook. It was great to be communicating with my oldest friend and to see his interest in the sport was still high. We also talked about our love of golf and hoped to get on a course together this summer.
Sad to say, that will never happen. Little Eric's life came to an end on Saturday, May 7 in a tragic one-car accident. He leaves behind his wife Bethany and son Leo Charles, and a list of friends that is too long to mention here.
I love and will miss you dearly, my friend, and wish we would have had the time to rekindle the memories we made as children, but the memories we did have will live on in my mind and in my heart forever.
Goodbye, my friend.