PLEASE NOTE THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM AN EARLIER VERSION TO INCLUDE DETAILS ON WEWAHITCHKA’S STATE QUALIFIERS.
To borrow a phrase often used by television host Ed Sullivan, Gulf County is in for a “really big show.”
Actually, two big shows are on schedule, because the Florida High School Athletic Association
(FHSAA) has awarded Gulf County not only this month’s girls state weightlifting tournament for all classifications, but also the boys tournament in April.
The girls tourney, scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 10 to 12, will be “a massive event,” said Gulf County Superintendent Jim Norton.
Both tournaments will be co-hosted by Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe High Schools, with all events held at the Tiger Shark gymnasium.
“We’re expecting a lot of people to (come to) our part of the state,” said Norton, “and many will want to come back here after they see what we have to offer in Gulf County.
“There is no bigger participatory championship in the state of Florida than weightlifting” said Norton, “Port St. Joe High School is set up perfectly for this (type of event), with the structure of the gym.”
With 200 lifters for each of the six days of competition for both boys and girls, plus parents, coaches, administrators, and FHSAA officials, Gulf County’s population will swell during the two tournaments.
“From Carrabelle to Marianna to Panama City Beach, we’re putting heads in beds,” Norton said. “It’s our opportunity to give back to our local businesses here.”
Norton was particularly complimentary of the jobs that have been, and will be, done by coaches
Bobby Johns, of Wewa, and Tanner Jones of Port St. Joe, saying they “do the heavy lifting” in getting things organized.
Johns, head football coach and athletic director at Wewahitchka, said that “we were lucky” to get both of these state championships.
Last April, the boys championships were split between St. Cloud and Port St. Joe High Schools, but the FHSAA wanted everything to be held at one site.
“No one wanted to host all three days of competition for both, so they asked me if we would do both boys and girls. I ran it by Mr. Norton, and he said yes,” ” Johns said.
“The FHSAA said that we made (the boys tournament) such a grand experience last year that they let us host both this year,” said Norton,
“We couldn’t do this without (Norton) and his support,” who decided to close all county schools for the Thursday and Friday of the tournament, said Johns.
“We’re asking a lot of our staff for these two days, so I decided that closing the schools was the best thing to do,” said Norton.
“We’re doing this to make money for both schools, and it takes a lot of organization” for both schools,” said Johns.
Jones, Port St. Joe football coach and athletic director, agreed with both Norton and Johns,
“We are excited to have the chance to host and bring athletes from all over the state into Gulf County,” he said
Johns said that his main job has been trying to “round up sponsorships, (and) that has been a challenge. We’d like to have our expenses paid for through sponsorships before we start the meet.”
One organization Johns lauded was the Gulf County Tourist Development Council. “We really want to give a big shout out to those folks” for their help, he said, noting that t-shirts given to the tournament workers would have the TDC logo on the back.
Kelli Godwin, executive director of the TDC, and Blake Rish, chairman of the TDC advisory committee, both expressed delight Gulf County would be hosting the two tourneys.
“We were happy to do what we could,” said Rish. “The boys tournament last year had a huge Impact (on Gulf County.”
In addition to the immediate benefits of filling up hotels, vacation homes, and restaurants, “we started getting calls afterwards (from people wanting to vacation here). Word of mouth has opened people’s eyes about our area,” said Rish. “A lot of these people had never heard of Port St. Joe or Wewa, and want to take fishing tours in the Dead Lakes or go on gator hunts. Everyone, and every sector will benefit.”
Rish complimented Coach Johns and the others involved “for their phenomenal job in orchestrating this event and putting it together.”
Johns also mentioned other sponsors that included Johnson Controls, Gulf Coast Electric Co-Op, Hungry Howie’s, and Rich’s IGA.
Another large part of organizing the meet is “making sure we have workers at the gate, in the concession stand, people to work the platforms, and people to keep score,” Johns said. “All of that has to be organized, and I take care of that along with (PSJ coach) Tracy Browning.”
Johns and Jones will call on football players and other athletes to help load weights, keep score, and turn numbers at each of the five platforms for each session, each of which must have 10 people, a total of 50 people a day.
The tournament format requires at least 15 officials a day, and Johns is in charge of lining
them up and finding them places to stay. “We use people we know who have judged or lifted at the state level in the past,” he said.
Gates will open for spectators daily at 8:30 a.m., with the first session’s competition starting at 9 a.m. Snatch lifts will be followed by the traditional meet (bench, clean and jerk). Session 1 will consist of five weight classes – 101, 110, 119, 129, and 139.
Following the individual awards for that session, spectators will clear the gym before the start of Session 2 at 2:30 p.m. which consists of five weight classes – 154, 169, 183, 199, and Unlimited.
Admission for each session is $9 in advance, or $12 at the gate. Parking will be $10 per day, with all proceeds divided between the two host schools. The two schools will also split 60 percent of the gate proceeds, with the FHSAA collecting the other 40 percent.
Thursday’s action will see 3A lifters, with 2A competing on Friday. Saturday will conclude with 1A schools, including Tiger Shark and Gator competitors.
Lots of local lifters to be in competition
St. Joe coach John Simpson said he expected Sarah Metcalf, who claimed second place in snatches and fifth in traditional, would be among the finalists.
“I also anticipate Miracle (Smiley) and Lily (Wockenfuss) to be selected in both snatches and traditional, Anniston (Gainer) and Eileen (Madrid) to make it in snatches, and Emily (Barwick) in traditional,” said Simpson. “They are in the qualifying pool, and we are in the toughest region, so if you get in the pool in our region there is a very good chance you are going to state.”
Wewa coach David Peavy said that the Gators had “the best day in the history of the program, (and) posted its highest finish ever at regionals, only one point behind last year’s state runner-up. Our region is by far the toughest in the entire state. It looks like our Lady Gators (will) be sending six young ladies to State, twice as many as we have ever had.”
Wewa’s qualifiers include Katlyn Kemp in the 139 class, who won the traditional competion with a 305 total. Qualifiers in traditional also include McKenzie Hatcher and Ashlyn Ake, plus Kaylee Easter, Zoey Ake, Sarah Bailey and Kemp in both traditional and snatch lifts.
Perhaps Johns put it best when he said that “This is a big deal. We expect huge crowds.”
The communities of “Port St. Joe and Wewa are going to stand out this year,” added Norton. “We will continue to try to go after these types of things in the future.”
Sponsorship is still available for either of these events. If interested, contact Bobby Johns at Wewahitchka High School or Tanner Jones at Port St. Joe High School.