The Big Orange Classic, the “Granddaddy of Wrestling Tournaments in the Roanoke Valley” is set to begin next week at William Byrd High School. The two-day tournament will be held on Wednesday and Thursday, December 22 and 23, in Vinton.
This will be the 44th annual tournament. The event began in 1976 and host William Byrd was the very first winner. Last year’s tournament was not held due to the coronavirus and the host Terriers are excited to have the Big Orange back.
“Half our team are freshmen and sophomores, and they haven’t had a chance to see it,” said Terrier coach Thomas Kessler, who has fond memories of wrestling in the tournament when he was a student at Byrd. “A lot of former Byrd wrestlers come back for the Big Orange. It means a lot to the community.”
The Terriers won the tournament in the 2018-19 season, the first time in 22 years they came out on top. In 2019-20 Class 1 powers Rural Retreat and Riverheads finished one-two in a 27- team field. This year Kessler expects around 20 teams in the tournament, which was still being finalized this week.
Byrd will send two undefeated wrestlers to the mats next week hoping to win Big Orange titles. Xavier Preston is unbeaten at 160, as is Hunter Richards at 285. A senior, Richards made the final in the Big Orange his freshman and sophomore years but had to settle for second place, then was denied a shot at a Big Orange championship last year by COVID.
“Xavier and Hunter have been leading us so far this season and both should do well in the post season,” said Kessler.
The Terriers are coming off a weekend at the Appalachian Duals at Skyline High School, splitting six dual matches. The Big Orange lost their first match to host Skyline, the eventual champion, and ended up scoring more points than anyone in the tournament except Skyline. Preston and Richards won every one of their matches by pin or tech fall.
“We got a lot of good experience and mat time for our young team,” said Kessler.
The Terriers were scheduled to host James River and Salem on Wednesday in their last event before the Big Orange Classic.