Silva was a well-respected official who was perhaps best known for the flamboyant way he called a pin where he’d soar into the air and slap his hand on the mat.
If there was an important match or a big tournament taking place, Silva was usually one of the first officials called.
LaGrange wrestling coach Scooter Weathers knew Silva well, and the veteran official was a fixture at tournaments hosted by LaGrange High.
That’s why Weathers was deeply affected when Silva, at the age of 49, died in April of a heart attack.
“He had been a fixture in Georgia wrestling for a long, long time,” Weathers said. “He and I had been friends probably 22 or 23 years. He would always do our home matches. He knew all our wrestlers by name, not only here, but he did that at other schools too. He was just that kind of guy. He loved all the kids and our kids loved him.”
Weathers thought of some ways to honor his friend, and he figured a great way to do that would be to name the tournament he puts on every year at this time after Silva.
So what had been the LaGrange Invitational has now become the Gary Silva Invitational.
The tournament kicks off at 9 a.m. on Friday, and it will run through Saturday when the championship matches will be held.
The tournament will be held at Gardner Newman Middle School since there’s a basketball tournament going on at LaGrange High.
Before the action gets under way, a ceremony will be held at 8:40 a.m. on Friday where Silva’s family will be presented with the Georgia high-school referee man of the year award.
Silva’s family, including his wife Delaine and his three children, Sophie, Breanna, Chase and several other family members, are expected to be on hand to accept the award from Weathers.
The family will be presented with a plaque that will include a photo of Silva along with a personal inscription.
Silva officiated during the 2011 LaGrange Invitational, and as always, he called pins with his usual dramatic flair.
Weathers said athletes were aware of this style and didn’t want to be on their backs staring at the ceiling when Silva called it.
“How he did his big pin was kind of like a motivational thing for our guys not to be on their back, because they knew what was going to happen,” Weathers said. “He was going to blow that whistle, leave his stomach, come up to his feet, roll around and go back down to the mat, so that was a big motivational thing for them not to be on their back. Everyone in the state knew him.”
Although Weathers admits not every coach liked Silva’s style of calling a pin, he said he was consistently fair, honest, and not afraid to admit he made a mistake in the rare moments he did.
“Wrestling is a sport that needs a little flair in it,” Weathers explains. “Most coaches didn’t care, they liked it. There was not a better man alive that I’ve ever known. He was just like a person you would actually want to be like if you could. He just meant so much to wrestling, so much to the kids. He’s a big part of wrestling that we miss this year. It will be hard not having him here.”
Meanwhile, Weathers and assistant Clark Rich were working with about half of the team Wednesday morning at the practice facility at Cannon Street Elementary School.
Although Weathers expects a full lineup of wrestlers to on hand for the weekend tourney, several wrestlers were not at practice for various reasons including prior family commitments, illness or injury.
When the tournament gets under way, there will be 12 teams participating, down from a high of 18 teams a few years ago.
“We’ve had teams that had to pull out due to money circumstances,” Weathers confirmed. “We’ve had teams pull out to illnesses and injuries. The big thing right now is money and the budget crunch. It’s just kind of hit everybody hard. We’re very, very fortunate because we get to travel like we do. Yeah, money is bad here and times are bad. You can always look around and find places that are worse.”
LaGrange finds itself without four wrestlers heading into Friday’s opening matches due to injuries and prior family commitments.
But overall, Weathers seems confident his team can compete at the highest level.
“We’re going to compete hard and get after it and see how we fare,” he said. “It’s about the individual in this tournament. So hopefully they’ll step up and do what needs to be done.”
Of the 44 members on the team, only three are seniors including Devonte Williams at 220 pounds, Logan Pitts at 182 and Times Morgan at 145.
Morgan was suffering from a blood clot in one of his legs and hasn’t been cleared by his doctor to return to action yet.
Weathers will also be looking to a cast of underclassman to assist in carrying the load that includes sophomores Kyler Hall (138 pounds), Marquavious “Qua” Tucker (132 pounds), Turner Duke (160 pounds) and freshman Emanuel “Mayo” Mann who wrestles heavyweight.
Several wrestlers commented on the degree of difficulty they face in the tournament which is expected to be elevated over much of the competition they’ve already faced this season.
“It’s going to be hard,” Pitts said. “There’s going to be some big schools there. There is going to be a bunch of state placers there and there is going to be a lot of area matchups for this year that’s going to be there, so it’s going to be pretty good.”
Also expected to compete at the invitational is Callaway, which brings in its top wrestler in Brandon Sutton in the heavyweight division.
Mann faced Sutton in last week’s Callaway Duals and knows Sutton along with some of the other competitors will provide a stiff test to his promising capabilities.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” Mann admits. “It’s a bigger challenge. I think I’ll make it through, do what my coach tells me to do. I probably ought to place this time.”
Williams is wrestling in his third varsity season and says he plans to stick with the game plan coaches have taught him and familiarity may be his ticket to a successful tournament.
“I’m not going to try anything I haven’t tried before,” he says. “If I mess up, it would probably be the end of the match and I’ve got to get points for the team.”
Hall claims this is one of the biggest meets of the year aside from the area tournaments coming up in January.
“I just came off a concussion so I’m actually very ready for this,” Hall said. “I’m ready to get back out on the mat and see what I can do. I think I should do fine. I think everybody on this team should be fine as long as they come to practice and keep doing what they’re doing.”
Tucker commented the competition level will definitely put his team and himself to the test when things get under way Friday.
“There’s a lot of good schools coming,” Tucker said. “I feel good. I’m wrestling good this year. I should place.”
Callaway comes into the tournament perhaps with the least amount of available wrestlers, but as coach Kurt Napier pointed out Wednesday, since it’s an individual event, it should help his athletes focus on their own outcomes rather than a team score.
“The most encouraging thing about it is the fact that this is an individual tournament rather than a team tournament where you’re scored as a team,” Napier said. “I definitely feel like have a few individuals on our team that will have an opportunity to possible win this tournament or place and medal. Just the fact that it’s an individual tournament is much more encouraging overall as much when you’re missing a weight class.”
In the Callaway Duals that took place Dec. 20, the Cavaliers forfeited six out of 14 weight classes because there were no wrestlers to fill those spots.
So a meet where individual performance weighs heavier than a team score outcome is favorable to Callaway.
Among individuals who Napier believes may have an opportunity to place in the event is Sutton, who earned a split at the Callaway Duals, Delvron Bledsoe at 182, Sam Mosley at 152 and Clayton Vaught and Dustin Vaught at 160 and 170, respectively.