Larry Hall isn’t retiring from wrestling, he’s just stepping back from being in charge. After being a wrestler, coach, referee and tournament director for close to 60 years, the sport is in his blood.
“Larry is ‘Mr. Wrestling’ in Southwest Virginia,” said Carey Harveycutter, who worked closely with Hall during state tournaments when Carey managed the Salem Civic Center. “He coordinated the VHSL events in Salem for over 20 years and coordinated the NCAA DIII Championship in Roanoke a few years ago. He has unbelievable skills in coordinating massive wrestling events.”
That’s what Larry is stepping away from. When he directed the Class 1, 2 and 3 state championships at the Salem Civic Center in February, the “Big Dance” was his last dance.
“I told everyone I needed to get out of directing tournaments,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of time and I have some other things I need to deal with. I’ll still come watch and maybe be a scorer for them. I’ve always said the best seat for a match is to be the referee, and the next best is the scorekeeper.”
Larry has indeed been “Mr. Wrestling” in the Roanoke Valley and beyond for many years. He’s a charter member of the area wrestling Hall of Fame and a familiar face at most of the big tournaments in the area. He served as director for the Titan Toughman, the Big Orange, the Region 3D tournaments and many other events in the past year and in prior years.
“Larry Hall has taken wrestling in the Roanoke Valley to where it currently is,” said Lord Botetourt coach Chuck Burton. “He has put in countless hours to our great sport and has done so with the best interest of the wrestlers at all times. He will surely be missed by many in the Roanoke Valley, but I’m sure he’ll always be around if needed.”
No doubt, as Larry has been around or on the mats since he was a 95-pound sophomore at Northside High School in 1963. Ken Shelton, who is revered to this day by many as the father of wrestling in the Roanoke Valley, had just taken a job as the Viking coach. He would go on to build a strong program at Northside and was a mentor to many as the sport took hold in the area.
“I was his first Northside wrestler to step on the mat, and I got his first win,” said Hall. “He was a fantastic coach. He taught me everything I knew.”
Shelton led the Vikings to three straight region championships in his first three years. Larry placed at the state when all schools in Virginia participated in just one tournament, and earned a partial scholarship to Appalachian State to wrestle in college.
“Five of the 10 wrestlers on a very powerful Appalachian State team were from Northside,” said Hall, who joined former Vikings Dickie Myers, Ron Childress, Stan Parker and Ivan Winston on the Mountaineer mats. There he wrestled for another outstanding coach, Steve Gabriel.
“He coached at Appalachian High School and never lost a match in 20 some years,” said Hall. “His closest match was against Northside when I was on the team.”
Larry wrestled four years at Appalachian State and then served two years as a graduate assistant. It was at that time that he was introduced to another aspect of the sport– officiating.
“I was a junior in college and the coach asked me if I wanted to referee a high school match,” he recalls. “They had a win streak of 63 matches and that night they lost. Their AD was the former wrestling coach at the school and he comes in the locker room after the match, balls up the check and throws it at me and tells me to never come back again. I guess some people just have to blame their losses on someone else.”
In 1970, Larry returned to Northside to succeed his mentor, Ken Shelton, as Vikings’ wrestling coach. Shelton had taken a job at the The Citadel as wrestling coach and professor and Larry kept the tradition alive. In his eight years as coach the Vikings won the Blue Ridge District all eight years and won the region four times.
“We had some really good teams,” he said. “A lot of the kids went to college and we had some All-Americans.”
In 13 years at Northside he coached golf, freshman football, girls track and tennis before moving to William Fleming for four years, where he coached soccer. He spent a year at James River High in Buchanan as athletic director and assistant principal, then spent three years as principal at the Botetourt Technical Education Center in Fincastle. That was followed by 17 years as Director of Operations for Botetourt County Public Schools.
During that time he never stepped away from the mats. He started officiating after he quit coaching, and in addition to doing high school matches he refereed at the Southern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Division III regional.
In 1987 the Virginia High School League held the Class 1 state tournament at Natural Bridge High School and Larry was appointed as director. Three years later he talked to Larry Johnson of the VHSL and Harveycutter about combining Class 1 & 2 and holding it at the Salem Civic Center. That was 31 years ago and the civic center has been hosting state wrestling ever since, with Hall as director. At one time the civic center had four classes all on the same weekend, and most recently it has hosted Class 1, 2 and 3.
Times have changed during that time. When Larry started everything was done on paper, and now everything is wireless with matches streamed for fans to watch on their computers.
While a lot has changed, one thing has remained the same– Larry Hall has been in charge. Now, that will change as well.
“For the past 12 years there’s been a tournament about every weekend,” he said. “It’s gotten to where it just takes up too much of my time. They’re starting in November and, with the colleges, it goes all the way into March.”
Larry’s patient wife, Debbie, will glad to see him at home on weekends. Their two daughters, Carla and Hollie, went to James River where Hollie played on a state championship softball team. Carla would sing the national anthem at the state championship finals.
“It’s hard on the family,” he said. “When Hollie scored her 1,000th point in basketball, I didn’t get to see it.”
The local high school coaches appreciate what he’s done.
“Running a wrestling tournament is a thankless job – if everything goes great, no one notices but the minute something goes wrong, everyone notices,” said Glenvar coach Jason Cline. “Larry has been a staple of wrestling in Virginia for years and he’s run a lot of great tournaments in the area.
“One thing that lots of folks don’t see is the time that he and his crew of workers devote to these tournaments ends up generating donations that give local kids scholarships through the Roanoke Valley Wrestling Association,” Cline said. “Every year that organization has given thousands of dollars toward wrestlers furthering their education and he’s been leading that organization for as long as I can remember. Wrestling’s an intense sport but Larry’s always been a calm presence at the head scorer’s table and the impact he’s had on countless kids’ lives is immeasurable. He will be missed.”
Hall also served as mayor of Buchanan for six years, and he’s currently serving as “Clerk of the Works” for the renovation project at Salem High School.
Larry trained Tyler Deacon, the athletic director at Northside High, to take over the role of directing tournaments. With Hall at his side Tyler directed the Region 3D tournament at Northside in February and Larry is comfortable turning over the reins to Deacon.
“In my 37 years working with the VHSL, I’ve made so many friends in our wrestling family,” he said. “I think we’ve run great tournaments and we have the best officials, I’ve prided myself on that.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun, too. To be at the state finals and see the lights go out and the red and green smoke as they enter the arena to be introduced and try to win a state championship, that’s just great fun. It’s something I really enjoy, and I’m still planning to be there.”