Pisgah high school’s gym was the place to be for wrestling fans in western North Carolina on Saturday. As the Bears hosted the annual Johnson-Stamey Mill Town Invitational Tournament, 20 schools from multiple states came to participate, and their supporters filled the gym along with the Mill Town faithful.

It was a successful day on the mat for the Bears, too. Pisgah finished second in the tournament behind Gibbs, a Tennessee school that is a regular state title contender for its classification. Louis Mehaffey was named most outstanding for the tournament, and he and Braden Riggs both won their weight classes. The host team had seven additional placers in Lane Mease (runner up), Gabe Carr (third), Seth King (third), McRae Robb (third), Lucas Whitted (third), Alex Almaraz (third) and David Queen (fifth).

“I thought it was a huge success,” said Pisgah head coach Ryan Gibson. “I was really excited about the turnout of people and the amount of teams. It’s a tournament we’re trying to grow. It’s grown each year, getting bigger and bigger. The competition keeps getting tougher and tougher. We’re adding tougher teams to the tournament. Gibbs, Tennessee, the team that won it, is year in and year out a contender for small schools state title in Tennessee. They have lots of good kids, really well-disciplined kids. They were fun to have at our tournament to test us and see where we’re at and it was good.”

As Pisgah continues to prepare to meet its goals this season, the Bears’ ability to continue to prove themselves against tough teams from out of state will prove critical.

“It’s so important, especially when you’re trying to make a run down the stretch,” Gibson said. “The more you can add in, tough competition-wise, the better your kids are going to do. It’s extremely important to test yourself.”

While the Bears have traveled to many such tournaments this year themselves, the Mill Town Invitational gives Pisgah a chance to show off its program, and what the school has to offer for wrestling.

“It’s nice to see other teams acknowledge the fact that we’re a good program and that they want to come here,” Gibson said. “They understand that we have the facilities to host a tournament like that. It makes me feel good and it makes the kids feel good when people want to come here and compete against us.”

The tournament is named for John Johnson, a long-time wrestling coach and referee in Waynesville and Canton, and Terry Stamey, a former Pisgah wrestler and referee in the area.

“Naming the tournament after those two guys and having people want to come here, and not only that, a lot of the referees that come and ref this tournament want to come ref it because of John and Terry and they know them,” Gibson said. “That’s special too.”

The tournament provided a fun atmosphere, and a wrestling showcase not just for the out-of-town visitors, but locals who might not get to see very many matches during the week.

“There were a lot of people that came,” Gibson said. “It’s good for the sport, and it’s good for maybe Pisgah people that maybe don’t get to come see a wrestling match every so often. They get to come and they see there’s lots of people here. They try to create the atmosphere here to bring people back that don’t typically come to matches and stuff. So it was good for them to see what we do but it was also good for them to see the people that were here.”

As the Bears head into the stretch run of the season, with three conference matches in the next week, a continued focus of the team is staying healthy, and continuing to get contributions from all over the lineup.

“We have to stay healthy,” Gibson said. “We’ve got guys that are banged up. This is a crucial week this week, we’ve got our last three conference matches this week. Some kids are going to have to step up and carry the load for people that are hurt or sick. Our health is extremely important these next couple weeks. The ones that are banged up have got to get healthy and get healthy quick, the ones that are healthy now are going to have to pick up the load for the ones that can’t get healthy right off the bat.

“Wrestling’s hard to stay healthy in. We have to stay healthy. It’s an unknown sport. You never know when somebody’s going to get hurt, but the cool thing about wrestling is, you never know where those people that are going to step up are going to come from. It’s kind of like, ‘OK, I’m going to bear the load tonight. Wrestling’s a cool sport like that when they wrestle for each other. You get to see a lot of kids step up and do extraordinary things that maybe they didn’t think they could do or maybe people didn’t think they would be able to pull off. That’s the fun part about the sport.”

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