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From the Shell to the Bell

Published December 4, 2008

It starts with the Shell

Wizzer Wilson, Crusher Carter, or how about Ten Second Smith? That last one could go against a wrestler. We are not the WWF but our sport can use all the good publicity it can get. Imagine great nicknames being broadcasted during the introductions.


We all remember Winky Shepard. Maybe it’s not a great wrestling name, but he’s a great high school wrestler just the same. (I’m letting the cat out of the bag, his real name is William).


Why would I suggest nicknames? Wrestling is an intimidating sport. It’s tough to get participants these days. You see more forfeits than ever. This is not helping anyone. What can we do?

Presentation could be part of that answer. A great meet brings in the crowds. This makes wrestling popular which will bring up the numbers.


Leo Johnson is well known for his coaching skills. What many do not is how well he planned his home events. The moment his teams marched into the gym single file around the mat ending up facing the visiting team.


Then in order of weight class, heavy to lightweight, they did a soufflé. The visiting team watched knowing this meant business. Presentation. Then there was the bell.


I asked coach Johnson how that started. “It was early in the seventies. A student in the stands had brought a conch shell to a meet. After a pin he started trumpeting this shell.”

Hall of Famer Leo Johnson

The Famous Baldwinsville Wrestling Bell

After a few matches student saw Leo coming over and expected an expulsion. He said, “Six times for a pin, three for a win!” This went on for a few meets, then the coach had an idea. He brought in the old bell from the Adirondack wrestling camp. He painted it red with a white “B” in the middle. The gym now echoed with the famous bell.


This worked out great until Van Watkins of Fulton, a future section three champ, pulled one of the gutsiest moves in CNY wrestling history. After pinning his opponent he stayed in the center of the mat. His coach Wayne Bleau said, “He stood there and I thought he was hurt or confused. Then, suddenly, he charges that bench and grabs the pipe. He clangs that bell six times and the benches erupted.”


Dan Lang, a future heavyweight state champ, led the charge and a near brawl started. The officials and coaches calmed the wrestlers and the match continued. Did coach Bleau give the order to attack the bell? “No, Van Watkins was a character of a wrestler. I was livid.” Presentation.


I asked coach Johnson if this ended the bell.


“No. Years later at an away meet we were on the bus waiting for a few stragglers. It was a typical night for us. Perhaps the bell rang too often for the comfort of the home team. A couple of guys walked up to the bus and the door opened. The bell was sitting right there at the entrance. They reached in, grabbed it and ran off. The team pursued and this time tempers flared. A few blows may have been exchanged. The bell was retrieved. The next day the AD’s from each school were calling. Baldwinsville then banned its own bell permanently. Section Three soon followed with its own rules of artficial noise enhancements."

Dan Lang

The CBA Wrestling Robes

Do you want to know who the away team was? Not Fulton, Cicero, ESM, North Syracuse, or West Genesee. None of them brought down the bell. It was Fayetteville-Manlius, the school with the least wrestling history helped put a demise to the infamous B’ville bell.


Coach Johnson ended up saying, “So what was meant to be motivating, not humiliating, became outlawed.”


Coach Bleau added, “Back in the seventies, coach Johnson and I worked together at The St Lawrence wrestling camp. We would meet and sit down to plan out things to help bring up our numbers and make a great show at our events.”


Fulton later followed with strobe lights, glow in the dark warm-ups. They even had a four corner entry onto the mat! Coaches seemed to compete with the best entry. CBA may have had one of the best of all. Starting with silk robe warm-ups, different, but actually it was a great look. They also turned off the lights in the gym and spot lighted each match. Presentation.

Good news -CBA is back with JD in modified wrestling coached by Trevor LeBlanc In a few years we may see CBA and JD on a varsity level. Don’t forget the robes Trevor!


Other great entries were North Syracuse using the Batman theme. Westhill’s entire team shaved their heads. For the first few matches Union Endicott kept all wrestlers out of the gym until they were on deck. Finally, Baldwinsville and Fulton battled over the rights to “We are the Champions” by Queen in a packed Manley Field House for no gym was large enough for that event.


Schools, coaches, and all who help with wrestling strive for great programs. Promote your introductions. Push for the best the place in your district to hold practice and meets. Budget the best uniforms (or robes). Be innovative. Let’s bring up the “A” game for our sport.


Remember, it’s not a game,It’s wrestling.


Rat Kramer (thanks to Leo for that one!)