Paul Bristow was hanging out at a tournament a couple of years ago when the Atwater High wrestling coach struck up a conversation with some friends.
"I'd always wanted to run a really big wrestling tournament," he said. "It's something I've thought about for a long time."
Those friends were Golden Valley coach Chopper Mello and St. Mary's coach Ron Davis. Between the three of them, they began to work out a plan.
That plan will come to fruition Friday and Saturday, when the inaugural Big Valley Classic will be contested at Stockton Arena.
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This is its first year, but with 54 teams entered, it's already one of Northern California's largest wrestling tournaments.
Bristow has received commitments from most of the area's powerhouse programs, but the big coup was getting state No. 2 Clovis and No. 10 Clovis West to come. There are 36 wrestlers mentioned in The California Wrestler magazine's state rankings slated to compete in Stockton this weekend.
"Before we've wrestled, it's come together pretty well," Bristow said. "I think we'll be getting even more next year."
Witness some of the potential big matchups:
The state's top two heavyweights will be there. State No. 1 Jonathan Zamora of Clovis and No. 2 Dominic Galas of Central Catholic are slated to wrestle. Zamora, the state runner-up as a junior, beat Galas 1-0 in their first-round matchup in last year's state meet.
Oakdale senior Rudi Burtschi is ranked No. 1 in the state at 215 pounds, and he could see state No. 4 Brett Sanchez of Clovis in Stockton. Burtschi was the state champion at 189 pounds last season.
Central Catholic senior Louis Bland is the top-ranked 189-pound wrestler in the state, and he could face Granite Bay's Ryan Loder, ranked No. 3, in the final. Loder just won a title at Turlock's California Bulldog Classic.
At 103 pounds, three state-ranked wrestlers -- Clovis West's Zack Zimmer (No. 3), Pitman's Vincent Perez (No. 4) and Clovis' Madison Gambrell (No. 7) are part of a loaded field. Two other local wrestlers, Downey's Eddie Flores and Central Catholic's Andrew Perez, are "on the bubble" in the state rankings.
There are state-ranked wrestlers at every weight except 119 pounds. A majority of the divisions have multiple state-ranked wrestlers.
IT'S a double draw for the venue, which hosted the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships last season and will host it for the next three years. The hope for Stockton Arena is to bring back the CIF State Championships, which moved from University of the Pacific to Bakersfield in 2004.
"We were fortunate the Stockton Sports Commission stepped in and helped us out," said Bristow, who also hailed major sponsor Jackson Rancheria. "They definitely want to show that this area can support a big tournament and can bring the state meet back."
Next week is California's most prestigious regular-season tournament: Fountain Valley's Five Counties Invitational. Central Catholic and Oakdale will be there as well.
"We were kind of hoping to go head-to-head with them, but it didn't work out," Bristow said. Five Counties "is a good tournament, but too many times I'd bring my wrestlers down there and some of them would go 0-1 and that would be it."
That's why Bristow's Big Valley Classic also has a "hard-luck" tournament for every wrestler who loses his first two matches. It's a two-day tournament with a three-match guarantee.
It's a big test for two entities: Bristow, who is running his first big-time tournament, and Stockton Arena, which hopes to insert its name among state meet venues.
"There's going to be some great matches, too," Bristow said. "It's going to be a pretty big weekend for us."
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at
email@example.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300, or fax 238-4551.