As the curtain rises on the 54th TSSAA state traditional wrestling tournament Thursday afternoon in Franklin, long time Clarksville High School wrestling administrator Artie Manning will enter the Williamson County Ag Center for the final time.
He was there when Clarksville High School had no singlets, no mats and no wrestlers, but did have a dream of building a championship wrestling program.
That was 46 years ago (1968-69) and this weekend at the state tourney in Franklin, Manning will retire his clip board and scorebook.
He has seen the state tournament grow from 24 teams battling for one championship in 1969 at Brainerd High School to four traditional tournaments (including girls wrestling) under one roof in 2014 at the spacious Williamson County Ag Center as Chattanooga teams including Baylor and McCallie (D-II), Hixson (D-I A-AA)and Cleveland (D-I AAA) will fight for championships.
Wildcat Wrestling Beginning: Clarksville football coach Johnny Miller wanted his football players to wrestle in the late 1960s, Ed Bunio was hired as the first head coach and Manning, a sophomore at nearby Austin Peay and one who had wrestled at Sewanee Military Academy, helped teach the sit outs, single leg takedowns and plenty of half nelsons.
First Freshman State Tournament: “Ed offered me $100 a month and expenses on the road to help the team which for a college student was a great deal,” said Manningwho was one of two SMA wrestlers who competed in the state’s first freshman wrestling tournament in 1963 at Red Bank Junior High School directed by John Farr and Manning placed second at 98 pounds to the Soddy Daisy champ.
Bunio and Manning helped the wrestlers become fast learners as the purple-clad Wildcats had two fourth place medalists in 1970 (Stewart Salyer at 140 and Marshal Stewart at 178) and had a wrestler fighting for a title – heavyweight runner-up Steve Kulback – in 1971.
A strong advocate for the sport, Manning has worked with nine head coaches, seen four different Clarksville wrestlers’ hand raised as state champions (Matt McCarty was a 3-timer) and was one of the driving forces in Clarksville hosting the TSSAA D-I state duals for the first 10 years of the new millennium.
Hall of Famer: A fierce competitor and always loyal to the program and one of the true gentlemen of the sport, Manning’s contributions to the sport have been duly noted as the Clarksville wrestling building has his name on it and his name is also on a green jacket signifying membership into the Tennessee chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
From the aforementioned state team titles in 2000 to watching the development of two of the programs best champions in McCarty and defending heavyweight champ Bruno Reagan (who holds an age division world ranking in judo), Manning has a lifetime of treasured memories.
The curtain comes down on the Artie Manning Era Saturday evening and hopefully one more state champion just for old time’s sake.