The young men and, in the case of Alesha Zappitella of Conneaut, women, who will take to the mat one final time as high school wrestlers tonight at Lakeside Gymnasium were pretty much still in diapers when the Star Beacon-Mike Scully Senior Classic began.
It’s difficult to fathom that the event, named in honor of the beloved late Star Beacon sports writer, Mike Scully, will blow out the candles in celebration of its 15th birthday tonight.
I can’t really believe it’s been 15 years since Mike died from lymphoma at age 52 on Aug. 25, 1998.
The Senior Classic, the first of its kind for wrestling when it began March 19, 1999 at the since-torn-down Ball Gymnasium, remains the only newspaper-sponsored all-star match in the region and it’s been going strong ever since.
Mike championed the sport of wrestling. In truth, the sport sort of mirrored “The Skull,” the name which he became known as across Northeast Ohio. While Mike’s efforts were not nearly appreciated enough during his 12-year tenure as a sports writer here, he was truly loved by the wrestling community because like Mike, wrestling did not receive nearly the publicity — nor the crowds — as did basketball.
So Mike wrapped his arms around the sport... and the wrestlers, their families and friends and the coaches across the area embraced him in return.
For years, Mike and another longtime colleague, the late Karl Pearson, had talked about starting a wrestling all-star match to go along with our popular Star Beacon Senior Classic basketball games.
Unfortunately, it took The Skull’s passing for it to become a reality, just shy of seventh months after his death.
Tough go of it
The Skull was a big man with an even bigger heart.
He understood the plight of the downtrodden because, in truth, he was one of them.
But he was the kind of person who truly exemplified the absolute triumph of the human spirit.
If there was anyone who was thrown more than his share of tough breaks and couldn’t be blamed for not having much to laugh or even smile about, it was Mike.
Reluctantly, he shared some of the stories about his struggles as a youngster, when he battled rejection and ridicule for not being able to actually participate in the athletic activities that meant to much to him.
His parents were infirm for much of Mike’s life, but he did the best he could to provide care for them before he himself even finished high school, working two and sometimes three jobs after his school day ended.
He was mugged one late night/early morning after work on the streets of his beloved South Jersey and the injuries were so severe he literally had to learn to walk again.
When he arrived here in Northeast Ohio, first as editor of the Conneaut News-Herald, he lost sight in one eye and the other was failing fast.
The eye issues took the ability to be independent from Mike, making him reliant on the help of others to get around, even to and from work here at the Star Beacon.
Know what, though?
It was never an issue because despite his myriad of medical issues that meant transporting him from place to place extremely difficult, The Skull was never without a ride.
Everyone wanted to help the guy.