20th Reser's Tournament of Champions is ready to rumble
The end of an era. That's what this weekend's Reser's Tournament of Champions will represent.
For the past 19 years, Marty Reser, Kevin Martin and former Hillsboro High School wrestling coach Ron James — plus a litany of other coaches and wrestling enthusiasts — have put their blood, sweat and tears into presenting one of the area's premiere high school wrestling events. But this year, the 20th year, will be the last for the tournament's original pioneers.
"It's just time," Kevin Martin said. "This is number 20, Marty turns 60 this year, I'm retired from my day job — and with all these milestones he just decided that he'd like to end it."
It's not really going away, though. There are still plans to run a similar if not mostly identical tournament, according to Liberty head coach Eric Givens. And in fact, Reser's is still slated to sponsor the event. But this is it for the "blue bloods," and because of that, this year's event will mean a lot.
"For us as a group, to develop it into this type of tournament is special," Martin said. "We don't know of another tournament in the country that does this. There are other big tournaments for sure, but not staying within a single state's boundaries."
The tournament began in the mid-1980s as the Hilhi Invitational. Back then, first-year Hillsboro head coach Ron James started the event with just four teams and quickly grew it to eight. Then, when it got to 12, it had outgrown Hillsboro High School and they were in need of another venue.
"We moved it to Thomas Junior High for a year, and that was great," James said. "But the school was so old, it just wasn't able to offer everything we needed for the event."
Enter Liberty High. When the newest of the Hillsboro School District's high schools was built in 2003, it afforded the now-16 team event the opportunity to reach its pinnacle. Sixteen became 20, and the tournament, which had previously been reserved strictly for the state's highest classification, opened the competition up to the elite of the lower classifications who itched for a shot to call themselves the best.
"We knew there were some pretty good schools at the lower classifications, and we thought, 'I bet they'd like a shot to knock off the big boys,'" Martin said. "So we invited Banks, Cascade and Sweet Home, and they held their own."
And with this event, it truly is about the competition.
From the get-go, the idea of the tournament was to pit the state's best against one another. Every year the powers that be would sit down and prognosticate about the best teams for the upcoming year, sending invitations accordingly. And it wasn't just about varsity competition, but junior varsity as well.
"When we looked at teams to invite, we knew that the strength of the teams came from the JV," Martin said. "There were teams that would've liked to have gotten in, but without a JV, it wasn't happening."
Which is what provided the depth, year in and year out.
"One of our mottos was, 'You can run, but you can't hide,'" Martin said. "Because it didn't matter where you put yourself down, there were going to be multiple people who were going to be really good."
It hasn't just been all about an athlete's work on the mat, either; Reser understood the importance of students' work in the classroom as well. As a result, he created an award called the "Smart and Tough Award," which was given to the tournament's best wrestlers who also met the standard's minimum grade point average. The award is one of Martin's favorite aspects of the tournament, and also spawned one his favorite memories.
In 2007, Martin and Reser were contacted by the coaching staff at Stanford University regarding their "Smart and Tough Award," and specifically a little known wrestler from Phoenix High School just outside of Medford by the name of Nick Amuchastegui. From the list, Amuchastegui went on to receive an athletic scholarship to Stanford, and would later earn two NCAA final appearances at 174 pounds, becoming just the second Standord wrestler to earn All-American status three times.
Since its inception, Martin knew the award meant a lot to the parents, but it was through stories like that, in addition to what he'd hear from the kids, that cemented just how important the award was to everyone associated with the event.
"I always knew it was a big deal, but I always thought it was a big deal to the parents," he said. "But it's not. It's a big deal to the kids. It emphasizes the whole wrestler."
On top of the "Smart and Tough Award," winners of each weight class get champions jackets, along with the tournament's famous eagle trophy.
"Kids want the eagle," Century assistant and former Hillsboro head coach Adam Reese said. "When you get that, you know you've done something."
Now, with a generation of the event coming to an end, what will its stalwarts remember most?
"My favorite memory was just seeing the team competition and the quality of wrestling," James said. "It was just a joy to be a part of it, and I hope they're able to keep it going strong."
"Everything that's gone into it," Reese said. "Marty (Reser) has given so much to the sport [by] running that tournament. It's top notch for the wrestlers, top notch for the coaches, top notch for the teams and top notch for the fans."
And lastly, Martin:
"It's been a total honor to be a part of," he said. "When I first told Marty that I was most likely going to be done, he looked me right in the eye and said, 'You can't do this, because we built this thing.' That was special."
So is the tournament.
This year's Reser's Tournament of Champions is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, at Liberty High School, and will include 26 teams: Aloha, Baker, Cascade, Century, Crater, Crescent Valley, Crook County, Culver, Dallas, David Douglas, Hillsboro, Junction City, La Grande, La Pine, Lebanon, Liberty, Mountain View, Newberg, North Medford, Redmond, Roseburg, Sprague, Sweet Home, Thurston, Tualatin and West Linn.
Wrestling action is from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, with bouts beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and finals slated for 4:40 p.m.
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