Photo by Bill Roseberry
Granite City’s D.J. Millett, left, hand fights with Triad’s Merik Fulton in the finals at 126 pounds at the William “Red” Schmitt Holiday Tournament on Dec. 30 in Granite City.
William “Red” Schmitt is an icon when it comes to Granite City wrestling, just like the tournament that bears his name.
On Dec. 29 and 30, the 54th edition of the William “Red” Schmitt Holiday Tournament went off without a hitch at Granite City High School. Like always, Schmitt, the head wrestling coach at GCHS from 1951-85, was on hand to view top-notch wrestling and was recognized for the large crowd in attendance prior to the finals.
Top area teams, as well as teams from Chicago and Missouri, were there to showcase their skills. State champion wrestlers were on hand, state champion teams were represented; it’s a high-quality wrestling extravaganza and it’s right here in Granite City.
The host Warriors didn’t fare as well as they would have liked, finishing 11th with 324 points. No champions were crowned for Granite City, but D.J. Millett (126) finished second and Devon Simpson (138) nabbed fourth place.
Neosho (641.5) was the team champion, with Washington (589.5), Plainfield South (493), Alton(476.5) and Huntley (388) rounding out the top five.
“It’s a tradition and we just want to keep it going,” current GCHS head wrestling coach George Kirgan said of the tournament. “It’s the 54th year and Red Schmitt started this tournament and it was his idea to bring the best talent he could find here and put on a great tournament. We were very fortunate to have pioneers to do that before us and we just followed suit. There’s a lot of hard work involved, but I think all the teams that are here, they get better from this.”
Millett knew the stakes that were on hand in his championship match with Merik Fulton of Triad. As the only Warrior wrestler to advance to a title match, he desperately wanted to bring home gold on his home mat. Unfortunately, Millett was unable to accomplish that goal, falling 5-3 in a tough overtime loss.
“I did really want to win the championship, but it just shows that I’ve got to work harder in the wrestling room and focus more,” Millett said. “I just need to focus on wrestling and not everything else.
“It’s really important for us to come in here and do well, especially; it’s our home tournament and it’s been around for a long, long time. To lose right here in front of everybody is hard, but it’s a good home tournament.”
And performing is crucial at the William “Red” Schmitt Tournament, because if a team finishes at the bottom it’s likely they will get the boot.
“We’ve had the bottom two teams come out for the last five or six years and we have a pretty good group of wrestlers here,” Kirgan said. “Cahokia finished in last place and they were fourth at state last year, so there are a lot of tough teams here. We just want to continue to make it tougher. We added four teams from last year and we just hope we continue to make it better.”
Kirgan doesn’t want to take all the credit for the tournament’s profound success, though. He admits there are plenty of other contributors who help pull it off.
“(Assistant coach) John Vinne just does a great job,” Kirgan said. “He and his wife do such a great job. They are the masterminds behind the tournament and they do a great job.”
The tournament is a tradition that the current crop of wrestlers know plenty about, too. They know the importance of the William “Red” Schmitt Tournament and carrying the torch of its excellence forward.
“Oh yeah, they know all about it,” Kirgan said. “It’s a big deal to them to wrestle in this tournament and it should be. It was a big deal to me when I wrestled here. It’s something where you want to do your best.”