The lights went out, and with students screaming in anticipation, Southwestern Elementary School prinicipal Joshua Edwards awaited his opponent on the wrestling mat in the gymnasium Thursday afternoon.
And out walked … the school mascot.
Edwards, clearly unimpressed with his opponent, waved the Spartan away before the two playfully started to act like they were about to wrestle.
But it turned out the school mascot wasn’t Edwards’ opponent in an event that served as a reward for the school surpassing its goal of 500 items sold in a fundraiser for the Parent Teacher Organization.
Instead, it was the Masked Wrestler, sporting a big, bushy beard and a sleeveless shirt, who appeared to the screams of students.
“Holy, moley!” said Southwestern high school assistant principal and athletic director Brady Days, who served as the public address announcer and referee. “Look at those arms! Look at those legs! This guy is a big dude.”
It didn’t take long for Edwards to need a breather once the match got underway.
After being thrown to the floor, punched in the back and flipped over twice, all one minute into the match, Edwards ran out of the elementary school gymnasium, with 2007 Southwestern graduate Clint Poe (aka the Masked Wrestler) in hot pursuit. They reappeared seconds later from the other entrance, but Edwards wasn’t ready to face Poe.
He continued running across the gym and again out the door, with Poe still in pursuit.
They were gone for about 40 seconds before they reappeared, this time with Poe carrying Edwards on his back.
“I was trying to get my breath at that point,” Edwards said later of their disappearance.
“I had to stir up the crowd.”
Once they returned to the mat, Edwards fought off the Masked Wrestler by spearing him, causing students to jump up in delight.
The Masked Wrestler put a choke hold on Edwards, and Days started counting Edwards out.
“Keep him awake!” Days shouted to the student body. “Keep him awake!”
They responded with more shouts, and Edwards fought Poe off.
He finished the match by kneeing the Southwestern alum in the stomach, picking him up and slamming him to the mat.
Students again jumped to their feet after seeing their principal pin Poe.
“It was electric,” Edwards said of the atmosphere. “I could barely hear him talk because it was so deafening the whole time.”
The event was a reward for selling 1,470 items from Bass Farms, nearly three times the goal, for a total of $7,072 for the PTO.
“For under 300 students, we can get pretty excited,” he said. “The support from the community has always blown me away from day one.”
It also served as an opportunity to spread word of Southwestern Elementary’s new wrestling program, which will officially begin in February.
Edwards, who wrestled in high school and coached at Indian Creek, has started to work with some students on the mat in preliminary workouts.
The plan is to start building a foundation for the program at the elementary school, before adding a wrestling program at the junior and high school levels when those students move up.
Edwards said he was talking to the PTO board and they were trying to decide how to reward students for their efforts with the fundraiser when they realized the new wrestling program was a perfect tie-in.
They reached out to Poe, who wrestles locally and he was eager to help.
“I like to do anything where I can help out with the schools, especially Southwestern,” he said. “I always had trouble in school when I was at Waldron and I was struggling. My parents moved me here to Southwestern and they just helped me out so much. They helped me get through stuff and gave me a good foundation. I always want to give back to Southwestern because they took me in and just helped me as much as they could.”
Edwards, drenched in sweat, said the idea came together quickly and it was perfect timing with the new wrestling program starting.
“It all just started out what can we do?” he said. “What can we do that’s something different? And I thought that was pretty different for us.”