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Tyrone Lewis, El Reno wrestling coach

As we charge through the month of June, there are three things that seem to have become common each summer over the past five or so years.

It’s going to be hot outside, no, local sports do not slow down just because it’s summer, and third, the El Reno High School wrestling team will not be in the Geary Invitational in 2019.

I know what you’re asking, “Did he just write about a winter sport and an event which won’t take place until January?”

Yes I did, and no, I have not covered too many sporting events so far out in the heat.

We’re talking about EHS wrestling and the Geary Invitational, billed as the nation’s oldest tourney, because once again the Indians have been denied a spot in the field of 24 teams for the premiere event.

The same event El Reno was a yearly favorite to win during the Indians title dominance of the late 1990s has once again slammed the door shut on the Indians.

“Geary’s coach from last year told me that they had two teams that were not coming back and if we wanted back in that now would be the time to try and get back in.

“So I made the quick decision to go ahead and try and get us back into the tourney,” said head coach Tyrone Lewis.

For those readers who might not know just how big the Geary Invitational is, the event will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2019.

It’s considered the season barometer for any wrestler or team to see just where you stand compared to other grapplers and squads around the state.

It pulls in national caliber teams like Blair Academy each year, and last year alone had six non-Oklahoma schools representing four different states. When it comes to seeding for regional, state or national events, how you finish at Geary carries a lot of weight.

The 2018 state team champions Choctaw (6A), Collinsville (5A) and Tuttle (4A) all attended Geary a few months earlier along with 13 other teams which placed in the top 15 of their respective classes at state.

“The program we want to rebuild here, we have got to wrestle the best. We can’t keep hand-picking our tournament just to pad our stats. We want to wrestle the best. We need to put ourselves in the situations where we are wrestling the best kids in the state and the country.

“That’s why I want to wrestle there, because it’s the best tournament around, there is no question about it,” said Lewis.

So Lewis sent the following email to Geary Athletic Director and Superintendent Todd Glasgow:

I am writing to see what it would take for the El Reno wrestling program to be admitted into the Geary Tournament for the 2018-2019 season. I just finished my third season as head coach at El Reno, and as you probably know prior to me taking over, the program was in the process of being discontinued. Through the support of our administration, community, parents and the hard work from our athletes, El Reno wrestling is back on the rise.

Along with returning our full team from last season, we’re returning six state qualifiers and two individual state runner-up finishes. I am committed to extending the tradition of championships at El Reno and the only way for that to happen is for us to see the best competition across the state and country. I’m hoping that you and the tournament committee consider my proposal to bring El Reno wrestling back into the Geary Tournament for the 2018-2019 season and many years to come. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

A day later, Lewis got the following emailed response:

We are at full capacity on our entries for the 2019 tournament. I will put you on the waiting list for the following years to come. Thank you for your interest and letter.

It’s Lewis’ fourth request and fourth rejection to be welcomed back into the Geary fold. The problem stems from a former El Reno head coach who pulled the Indians out of the tournament at the last minute when EHS was struggling with numbers and inexperience.

There seems to be an unspoken or spoken rule, depending on who you ask, that if you leave the Geary lineup, that you are “blackballed” or “penalized” for a period of five seasons before you are considered for return.

“The first year I was here, the coach there told us we were on the ban and we had to wait two more years. He told me there was a policy from the school board on the tournament that if a team pulls out or does not show up, they are put on a ban list for five years.

“Last year I was told by the athletic director that we had to wait because they are full,” said Lewis.

I contacted Glasgow and he says there is no ban.

“We don’t retaliate against anyone for leaving. If you pull out you just have to wait your turn to get back in. Since we have added the out-of-state teams, it’s become even more popular and everyone wants to get in,” said Glasgow.

Glasgow says the tournament is capped at 24 teams, though they have added one extra squad two of the past four seasons. He also says there is no ban for leaving.

“We have teams that tell us they need to pull out because they may be a little down and they will try and get back in when they get the chance. People get frustrated when they call and want us to make room for just one more team and we can’t.

“We are wall-to-wall for two days with 24 teams,” said Glasgow.

I’ve covered the event in the past and it is crowded. Most sessions are like fitting a Saturday night at the state tournament into the size of a sardine can.

“If we ever build a bigger gym, then we can invite more teams. We cap it at 24 teams because our gym space is limited. If we had more than 24 teams we would not be able to pull it off,” said Glasgow.

Glasgow added Geary would not consider moving the event to a bigger out-of-town venue.

“It would not be the Geary tournament if we did. The whole community gets behind this event and to pull it out of Geary to make it bigger would not make any sense,” said Glasgow.

Glasgow had a chuckle in his voice when I asked about coaches feeling there is a perceived ban for those teams that have left. I do want to clarify that I’ve been told by more than one coach of this ban.

“There is no ban. We usually have one or two teams that pull out, but we never blackball anyone,” said Glasgow.

Since 2015 there has been little movement of teams in the field. Duncan left in 2018 but was in the field the three previous seasons. Sand Springs was not on the 2015 list of team finishers, but has competed the three seasons since.

Walters got into the field in 2018, while Piedmont did not, after competing in the event in the three years prior.

“It’s not a personal thing and we have to respect their policies and procedures. However, for us to win state and get back on the national radar, we have got to wrestle the best, and that is a compliment to the type of tournament Geary runs,” said Lewis.

It’s not the first time El Reno has been on the Geary “waiting list.”

“We were on the waiting list the first three years I was here. I kept calling and sending letters and finally they had a spot open up when someone pulled out,” said former El Reno skipper Archie Randall, whose teams won the tournament twice.

Randall says he’s always known there has been a ban for teams that pull out.

“I knew there was a ban, I just didn’t know for how many years. The problem Tyrone is facing is that the coaches before him just didn’t show up.

“I know that if you contact them (Geary) early enough, they will work with you,” said Randall.

Ban or not, Lewis just wants to know where El Reno sits on the waiting list.

“I’ve been trying to get in for four years now so I just wonder how far down the list we are. But we will keep chipping away and keep writing letters and hoping,” said Lewis.

So as El Reno waits, I’ve got a pretty good idea. Why not move the current junior high tournament that El Reno puts on the same weekend as Geary to a different week.

Then hold a high school tournament the same weekend as Geary, use both gyms and conduct it under the same format as Geary.

Invite all the teams that want to get into Geary and can’t, and call it “The Blacklist Tournament.”

At least you guarantee yourself some matches and there are good teams out there that also cannot get into Geary that would come.