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Helping hands: Volunteers keep state wrestling meet running smoothly

A year after her sons stopped wrestling, Mary Lukacs went to the traditional state wrestling tournament and felt out of place.

She had watched her boys, Nick and Jared, grow up through the Collins Hill program, with Nick winning three state titles for the Eagles. But with both no longer in the sport it was different returning to the state meet.

"I felt sort of unattached and lost," Lukacs said. "I'm the kind of person I can't just go and sit and watch. I've got to be involved doing stuff because I just get too nervous watching."

So Lukacs contacted Bud Hennebaul, vice president of the Atlanta Takedown Association and tournament director of the state meet, and asked if she could volunteer.

She's now in her fourth year helping at the state tournament, working at the head table entering results. Lukacs' story is a familiar one for many of the adult volunteers at the state tournament, held this weekend at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

It takes 170 volunteers to help run the three-day tournament, the largest high school tournament in the country in terms of participants. And many of the adult volunteers take time off from their regular jobs to pitch in.

However, a majority of the volunteers are high school students working the score tables at each mat and doing much of the manual labor. The mats were laid out and set up Thursday morning by the Loganville and Dacula teams.

There are many jobs to be done. Some students fill coolers throughout the day for the wrestlers, and after each round the 12 mats are cleaned. There are volunteers who help at the pass gate, with weigh-ins and by selling programs. Marianne Hennebaul runs the hospitality room for table workers and referees and Carol Galloway manages the brackets for state champions and updates the brackets in the lobby.

The tournament is overseen by Atlanta Takedown Association president Gary Shaefer along with Walt and Bud Hennebaul. They supervise a group that does tasks both big and small.

"There's a lot more involved that people don't have any clue about," said Jim West, who runs the head table.

Some of those unsung helpers are Beverly Hennebaul, Terri Smith and Greg and Vicki Dickson who, like Lukacs, take time off from their full-time jobs to work 12- to 14-hour days at the tournament, entering results from each match.

"It's a great sport and this a great group of people," Lukacs said. "It amazes me when you realize 90 percent of the people in this group have no kids actively wrestling."

West, Ross Copeland, Bobby Robinett and Al Blashaw work the technical side at the head table, keeping the tournament running smoothly. Blashaw updates the brackets and team scores online so people can follow on the Internet.

West is the bracket coordinator and oversees the head table, making sure matches start on time, getting bout sheets to the right person and talking to coaches if something is incorrect on a bout sheet.

"It takes a lot of people to do this," said West, whose brother Steve was a longtime head coach at Shiloh and Grayson. "There's about 20 to 25 people that are really involved and give their time and efforts. It's not just one person by any stretch of the imagination."

Copeland, whose son is a junior at Collins Hill, is a technical adviser for the computer software that is used with the brackets. If there's a problem with the bracket or an entry needs to be changed he can correct it.

"It's a lot of fun to be that close to the action," Copeland said. "You see the commitment the wrestlers have, the families have. They travel so far to come see their kids wrestle and compete in the tournament and it's kind of neat to help them out."

At one end of the Arena there's a wide screen with the bout number for each mat, letting wrestlers and fans know who is wrestling. That's where Robinett does his work. A wrestler at Central Gwinnett in the late 80s and an area champ in 1990, he keeps the mat assignments updated.

Robinett loves wrestling and likes helping others enjoy the sport. It's why he, and the others, are happy to work the long hours needed to make the tournament a success.

"We do it because we enjoy wrestling and we enjoy the kids," Robinett said. "Everyone has their own little part of the puzzle."

SideBar: If you go

What: Traditional state wrestling tournament

When: Today-Saturday

Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center

Tickets: $10

Schedule:

Today

· 11:15 a.m. - quarterfinals

· 7 p.m. - semifinals

Saturday

· 5 p.m. - Finals for all five classifications