Wrestlers enthrall Lake Butler kids

A Coastal Wrestling Association match takes place late Saturday afternoon at Lake Butler Middle School in Lake Butler. The seven match event was put on as a benefit for the families of the seven children that died in an auto accident two years ago in Lake Butler on their way to school.

BRANDON KRUSE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:18 a.m.

LAKE BUTLER - Saturday night's wrestling inside the Lake Butler Middle School Gym left a lot of young fans wide-eyed during the matches and grinning broadly during intermission.

The Coastal Wrestling Association's wrestlers arrived at the gym early and eager to meet their fans, before, during and after the matches. The fans were just as eager to see the wrestlers up close.

"This is so fun," said 10-year-old Jason Griffis. "I brought my camera so I can take pictures and I think they (wrestlers) like that."

Association co-owner Steve Wicks, also known as the 7-foot-tall, reigning heavyweight champion Eclipse, said the wrestlers certainly do like fans to take pictures.

"The fans are what make wrestling what it is," Wicks said. "When I was a kid, you could go and meet the wrestlers, but now these guys that you see on television are unreachable for most fans."

Accessibility was part of the fun for Erin Jackson, who brought her 5-year-old son to Saturday night's match. The Jacksons had never been to a wrestling match before but decided to attend this one because it was a benefit for the Mann-Scott family, who lost seven children in a horrific wreck two years ago and hours later lost a grandfather to a heart attack.

"We came because this was a benefit and we're staying because it's hysterical," Erin Jackson said.

"It's surprising how close we can get to the wrestlers. This isn't something that would happen at a football or baseball game."

Ric the Reaper, on his way into the ring, stopped and bent down on one knee to say hi to the young children in front row seats. Wild Man Brody offered kids and adults a chance to take a picture with him and his boa constrictor or albino Burmese python.

Ghetto Superstar joined the audience to watch a couple of matches and provide commentary to those seated around him.

Between matches, all the wrestlers were willing to sign anything the fans thrust at them - photos, bare arms, a toy football.

The fan-friendly behavior can lead to devoted fans, like Jason. His grandparents have been taking him and his two younger brothers to association wrestling matches about once a month recently, frequently enough for him to have a favorite wrestler.

"I like The Hot One best because he's cool," Jason said.

Wicks, who is a landscaper when he's not running the wrestling association, said wrestling has become a "full-time hobby job."

Mary Harris said she brought her two grandchildren to the benefit match in Lake Butler because she remembered growing up in the Midwest where "Saturday night fights were what everyone watched on television and if you were in the studio audience, those guys would shake your hand and give you an autograph."

After two matches, Harris said she felt like a youngster again, watching wrestlers who were doing what they enjoyed in the ring, and then clearly enjoying meeting their fans outside the ring.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or kvoyles@gmail.com.

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