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Local promoter tries to make wrestling fun for the kids again

by Gail Marsh

STAFF WRITER

This column will probably let you know a little more than I want you to know about my age.

I'm old enough to remember Studio Wrestling.

I loved it when my grandfather got to baby-sit. My older sister and I got to go over to his house, eat Slim Jims and corn curls and watch wrestling. What a way to spend a Saturday.

Bruno Sammartino was my hero. He was the good guy you hoped would always win. Dominic DeNucci. Haystacks Calhoun. Killer Kowalski. The Sheik. It was a long time ago, but wrestling made quite an impression on me. And a lot of other people, too.

You have to fast forward a little, OK a lot, to the 1980s when Jim Hawkins was growing up. The Nutter Fort resident followed the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation, and its stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Rowdy Roddy Piper.

"As a kid growing up and as a young adult, I was always a fan. I had hoped to get involved in one capacity or another," the Roosevelt Wilson High School graduate said.

Hawkins moved on to earn a law degree and work as a law clerk for former Judge Daniel McCarthy before opening his own practice in the Buckhannon area.

"I learned more working for Judge McCarthy than I ever did in law school. Everything I've accomplished I owe to that man," he said.

Hawkins never forgot his dream to become involved in wrestling and in 1997 he saw his chance.

"That summer I got the opportunity to work with another fellow who promoted wrestling locally. I worked with him for a while and then decided to start my own promotion," he said.

Hawkins now heads up Mason-Dixon Wrestling, which holds matches throughout North Central West Virginia. He enjoys every aspect of promoting, from advertising to setting up the ring and announcing the matches.

"Wrestling is a form of theater. The ring is our stage, and we offer entertainment like anyone else," he said.

The crowds are small, but the wrestlers are building up a loyal following. His biggest draw? Probably Ox Thrillbilly, a 385-pound wrestler who dresses in bib overalls and a hillbilly hat.

"The kids love him, and he's as nice outside the ring as he is in. It's a pleasure working with people like him," Hawkins said.

That's the important difference between area wrestling matches and the current WWF fare, Hawkins said.

"The WWF has denigrated the sport of wrestling, and it's really become adult entertainment. What we try to do is make wrestling fun for the little kids and for the grandparents, too, so they will feel good about coming. We have zero tolerance for foul language or gestures," he said.

And the wrestlers themselves? You can't stereotype them.

"We have an engineer and a couple of guys who have business degrees. Another wrestler from Pittsburgh, Jamie Harris, holds the world bench press record, 760 pounds," he said.

Hawkins likens the local wrestling market to the minor leagues of other sports. Some of his wrestlers are "weekend warriors," but many hope to break into the national market.

I had to ask Hawkins. Is wrestling as fixed as it seems to be?

He thought for a moment. He sounded more like a lawyer than a promoter when he answered.

"Our focus is putting on a match that's a memorable athletic contest. Sure, there are good guys vs. bad guys, but that's always been the general wrestling theme.

"You have to take it for what it's worth. If you want to have fun on a Saturday night and to let your hair down, come and watch one of our shows," he said.

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