The most talked-about matches in high school wrestling from 1969 to 1971 were between Tom Teagarden of McGuffey and George “Fuddy” Bryant of Washington.
The rivalry blossomed into one of the must-see events in the sport and still dominates wrestling lore, especially with those who were fortunate enough to have a ticket back then.
“We actually started to compete against each other in the 8th grade,” said Teagarden. “We would meet at least twice a year all the way to college.”
Bryant wrestled at Pitt and Teagarden at Penn State.
“Each time we wrestled, the final outcome was close,” Teagarden said.
Only one match between the two did not have a close ending. On March 6, 1971, Teagarden and Bryant met in the Section 3 finals at Washington & Jefferson’s Henry Memorial Center before a crowd of 3,100. They came to witness another clash of the titans at 112 pounds.
During the regular season, Teagarden beat Bryant, 2-0. Teagarden was a state champion during his sophomore year and lost in the state finals his junior year.
“I lost to Dan Blankinger in overtime at states,” Teagarden recalled. “I blew a 4-1 lead. I did beat him in college. Beat him badly. I should have never lost to him in states, but that’s the way it goes in wrestling.”
Teagarden was determined to get back to the state finals in his senior year. Just one wrestler in the area stood in his way: Bryant. One loss and a trip to the state tournament was out of the question. The outcome was not close in the section final as Bryant got the best of Teagarden, 7-1.
“George was ready,” said Stam Mousetis, Bryant’s head coach at Wash High.
Before the start of the postseason tournaments, Mousetis tried to convince Bryant to move up a weight class to avoid wrestling Teagarden.
“He insisted that he would beat Teagarden,” Mousetis recalled. “He was determined. He had it in his mind that he could win.”
Prior to the Teagarden-Bryant matchup in the section tournament, an upset was the talk of the night. Trinity’s Duane Day was upset by Canon-McMillan’s Mike Marino, who was seeded No. 3. Day, the returning section champ, was the top seed in his weight class.
The buildup to the Braynt-Teagarden match was huge. It’s a shame there had to be a loser because only champions advanced.
Teagarden did not wrestle his best as Bryant won, 7-1. Bryant, with an early takedown, was in command throughout the match
“I was nervous but felt George would win.” said Mousetis. “He worked hard all year. He and Tom were no strangers to each other. I’ll say it again, he (Bryant) was determined to win.”
There are no excuses from Teagarden.
“He was the better wrestler that night,” said Teagarden. “I got behind early. It’s tough when you’re going up against a good opponent. I felt as if I let my teammates down, my school down. I felt bad for my community (Claysville). It was his night.”
Bryant went on to win a state title 14 days later. Teagarden went undefeated in dual meets during his high school career but did not get to a shot at a second state title because of the loss to Bryant in the section tournament ended his season.
Teagarden and Bryant, however, would meet again in college. It was nothing like that March night in 1971 when tickets were hard to get, and people stood in line for hours to get into the gym.
It has been 43 years since two of the best local wrestlers met on the same mat in the same weight class with one advancing and the other going home. Now, if you lost in the section or WPIAL finals, you can still win a state championship. If that rule applied in 1971, chances are Bryant and Teagarden would have met two more times that season.
Teagarden ran into Bryant in 2002.
“I hadn’t seen him for a long time, and I ran into him at Penn State. The school was hosting the NCAA wrestling tournament,” Teagarden said. “George was with Don Dallatore (a former Trinity wrestler). I remember Donnie saying, ‘You guys should have a match.’ I told him my eligibility is all used up.”
Despite their age – both were in their 50s at the time, I would have loved to see them wrestle one more time.
Teagarden, who had a 68-3-1 career record, was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame’s Washington-Greene chapter in 2006.
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly column about local sports history for the Observer-Reporter.