Bakersfield, CA; Arm-wrestling competitors flex muscle

April 7, 2011

The best of the best in the arm-wrestling world will converge on the city Saturday to see who is the “Baddest Boy in Bakersfield.”

The Ninth Annual Ryan Sheets Memorial Arm Wrestling Tournament, which drew more than 100 wrestlers and about 500 spectators last year, is aimed at putting a little sweat equity into the local wrestling community. Though North High’s wrestling program is the main beneficiary, individual students — some as young as 5 — will win scholarships as well.

Billy Joe Sheets, chairman of the arm-wrestling tournament, said selecting the scholarship recipient isn’t necessarily about grades, it’s about heart.

“It’s given out on an as-needed basis. You don’t have to be a 4.0 student. The coach decides on the kid, if he’s going off to college and he thinks he could use a little help, then he’ll present it to the board of directors and we will vote on it.”

The memorial supports the North High School team by helping with equipment.

“The wrestling program gets what’s left in the school’s budget, and usually that’s not much,” Sheets said. “So this year we bought them all head gear and singlets.”

But funds aren’t limited to helping North students.

“Last weekend we sent Frankie Hurtado, who is a senior at Liberty High School, to the senior nationals in Florida.”

According to Sheets, the trip was a second chance at extending the athlete’s wrestling career.

“By this time of year, all of the season is pretty much over, but he got to go back and compete again. He wrestled the California state champion and now he’s being looked at by colleges because he was able to go out there.”

Another local wrestler made a successful trip across the country, thanks to the Ryan Sheets Memorial.

“We sent Alex Gomez out to Oklahoma City last year for the girls national tournament. She went out there and won the whole thing.”

As the memorial works to improve the lives and educational futures of young wrestlers, the founding of the organization came from the tragic loss of a promising wrestler from north of the river.

Ryan Sheets began wrestling at the age of 5. He was a South Yosemite League champion and wrestled for North High School. He went on to compete at Cal State Bakersfield, and it was there that he injured his neck. After the injury, he was involved in a car accident, and his health deteriorated. He died in 2001, leaving the Sheets family with a painful void.

The Ninth Annual Ryan Sheets Memorial Arm Wrestling Tournament

When: Saturday; weigh-in 9 to 11 a.m.; rules meeting at 11:15 a.m.; the competition starts around noon.

Where: Norris Road Veterans Hall, 400 West Norris Road

Entry: $20, which includes tournament T-shirt

Admission for spectators: $10


But the loss galvanized Ryan’s uncle Billy Joe and the young athlete’s friend Richard Toland, who came up with the idea of using the wrestler’s legacy to help other kids passionate about the sport.

“After Ryan had passed, Richard was sitting in one of our local pubs and he was talking to a guy named Brian Banducci and was saying it would sure be nice to do something in Ryan’s memory,” said Sheets. Banducci reached out to the Sheets family and now Banducci and Toland sit on the organization’s board of directors, helping funnel money to deserving athletes in Bakersfield.

As for Billy Joe, introducing the arm-wrestling tournament into the fundraising effort came from his background in the sport.

“I used to be a professional arm wrestler and I still had my table, so we decided to set it up and see what would happen.”

As with the first year of any event, Sheets said they weren’t sure how well it was going to go. They aimed low, hoping for a few local arm wrestlers to come out, donate some money and have a good time. But the event exploded.

“We had it out at the California Highway Patrol’s 420 Hall and we had so many walk-on wrestlers we packed the place out, and now we have had to hold it at the Veterans Hall ever since.”

Over the last nine years the tournament has grown into what Sheets calls a “world- class” event that is now bringing in big-name talent in the arm-wrestling arena.

“The guy that won last year is Jerry Cadorette, and he is probably rated in the top two or three super heavyweight arm wrestlers in the country, if not the world. He flew in from Boston last year just to compete,” Sheets said.

Left-handed champion Tom Nelson has committed to attending and will be bringing members of the Northern California Pullers from Sacramento. But Sheets does not want the big names to scare away any local arm wrestlers.

“A bulk of our people that compete are locals. And a lot of locals take trophies every year. Some of the big shots come down here and get beat.”

The tournament features five divisions for men and two for women. A $300 cash prize will go to the first-place winner in all divisions and trophies will go to the first-, second- and third-place winners in their respective divisions. The big prize is reserved for those who earn trophies in their division and want to keep the competition rolling. The final throwdown is a fight for “The Baddest Boy in Bakersfield.”

Sheets said anyone who has won a trophy in any class can throw their hat and arm into the ring for a shot at the 6-foot trophy and an additional $500. “You’d be surprised who wins. It’s not always the big super heavyweight.”

Christian rock band Right Cross of Bakersfield will play during intermissions and breaks, and food and drinks — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — will be sold.

BY MIRANDA WHITWORTH, Contributing writer | Wednesday, Apr 06 2011 04:11 PM

The ArmWrestling Network, The Arm Wrestling Network

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