WELLSBURG - When the 149 area men and women gather in Wheeling this weekend to partake in the 30th Annual Budweiser Original Toughman Contest, there is one name in particular whose boxing legacy dates back to the 1970s.
Cotey Wallace may have made headlines this past year as a football and track star at Brooke High, but the chance to pull on a pair of boxing gloves and walk into the squared circle in front of a raucous crowd is something that he has always considered a priority.
"I've been waiting all of my life to turn 18," Wallace said. "This is a family tradition."
Garey Wallace - Cotey's father - won the original area Toughman Contest in 1980 and is looking forward to seeing his son compete for the same crown which he once proudly held.
"All of our kids, from when they are young, are challenged by the older members of the family," Garey said. "Fighting in the Toughman is something that (Cotey) always wanted to do.
"He plays so many other sports, but this is something that has always been in his heart since he was very little."
Garey Wallace explained that boxing was a family rite of passage dating back to when he was a child growing up in the Ohio Valley.
"In the summer time, whether it was around the barbecue or whatever, we would always spar with each other," he said. "As we got older, myself, my brother and my cousin worked for trainer Larry Agin. He trained almost every good fighter out of the Ohio Valley. We got to work with him and Wellsburg used to have a lot of really good boxers." Through Wallace's three decades involved in the sport, he saw it hit a low two years ago. Now, he says that the Toughman is poised to make a comeback in the area with his son being one of several good young fighters stepping to the plate.
"The Toughman was really bad a couple of years ago, to the point of being embarrassing," he explained. "A lot of people don't realize that it isn't just about going out there and throwing punches. Boxing is a mental game and things like footwork and other fundamentals are very important.
"This year, boxing is back again. There are some really tough kids and I would have to be 20 years old again to compete with some of these guys. Boxing used to be really big in the Ohio Valley and you had big-time boxing clubs in Wellsburg, Wheeling and Steubenville.
"If we could get that kind of excitement back in boxing, it would be great. You see 10,000 people come out for a football game and we think that boxing can produce that kind of enthusiasm from the community, too."
For now, the Wallace's main concern is getting Cotey yet another trophy to go alongside his state runner-up in football and his Region 1 championship in the high hurdles.
"I do feel some pressure to keep up the family name, but the pressure is good," Cotey said. "It keeps you on your game and ready to go. I've seen a lot of the fighters that are going to take part in it and some of them are really good. I feel like I am good too, though, so we'll see what happens."
The 30th Annual Budweiser Original Toughman Contest will be held today and Saturday nights March 12th & 13th at Wheeling's WesBanco Arena. The event is being promoted by Jerry Thomas' West Virginia Sports Promotions, Inc.
Advance ticket sales have been very strong, however good seats are still available and are on sale at the WesBanco Arena box office, online at Ticketmaster.com or to charge by phone, call 304-233-4470. Ticket prices are $15 for general admission seats and $20 reserved seats.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the excitement will begin at 7:30 .p.m, both nights with the presentation of the colors by the United States Marine Corps color guard.
(Newman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)