By Bob Satnan Contributing Columnist
June 6, 2014
Supporters of the Green Ridge Recreation Center are using a connection to the area’s past to build a future for youth in their community.
For years, the legendary Harley Race was featured in professional wrestling matches on Tuesday nights in Sedalia’s Convention Hall. Race now is the owner of World League Wrestling, a regional promotion that will put on a fundraising show for the rec center on June 14 at Green Ridge High School. WLW had been based in Eldon, but recently completed a move to a new, bigger facility in Troy, just outside of St. Louis.
Mark Grose, a member of the rec center’s board, and his friends were motivated by nostalgia in bringing WLW to Green Ridge.
“We older guys grew up on Harley Race and he has always been a hometown hero to us,” Grose said of the Missouri native. “They used to wrestle in Sedalia and we decided to pick them because they are … trying to do something that is kind of a dying thing around here. “
The daughter of one of Grose’s friends wanted to see a wrestling show, so they traveled to Linn to check out WLW. She was hooked, and they ended up going to five or six more cards, including “The Battle of Otterville.”
“We always talked amongst each other about, ‘Why can’t we bring this to Green Ridge?’ And then they had the event (March 14) in Otterville and we said, ‘If they can bring it there, we can bring it to our town,’” Grose said.
Leland Race, Harley’s son, is the current WLW champion and will be defending his title in Green Ridge. The tag team and ladies’ titles also will be on the line, along with other matches.
“It’s going to be a heck of a good time,” Leland said in a telephone interview. “We’re a family-friendly show. We focus on wrestling – that is what we do.”
Carrying around the title belt isn’t Leland’s only burden in WLW; he also manages much of the business for his father, and those responsibilities have been challenging lately as WLW and the Harley Race Wrestling School left their 15-year home in Eldon to move closer to St. Louis.
“A lot of factors went into it,” Leland said. “One was being closer to the airport. We do a lot of international business, we have wrestlers from overseas. …. And when we send our guys out for overseas work, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to get to the airport.”
The drive from Eldon to St. Louis takes nearly three hours – time Leland said is better spent resting or training.
“Another big reason we moved was the economy. Eldon was really good to us for 15 years, and basically it was time for a change, time for new faces around here,” he said. “We have a very big building which we have retrofitted … we have made it into a wrestling arena. We hold shows here once a month in addition to the travel shows.”
WLW does 20 to 30 fundraising events a year, and the motivation to lend a hand comes from the top.
“My dad is very big in giving back to the community, because for half a century the community gave to him,” Leland said. “He’s a giving person, and with his knowledge of this business, with his passion for it and with the respect that he gets for it and he gives to it, this was the best way for him to give back.”
Grose said there is no specific financial goal for the event. The center had been built to house a day care center, then the Green Ridge school used it for preschool. State education funding cuts forced termination of the preschool program so the facility now has no tenant and thus less income. It is rented out for weddings and other events on occasion, and it offers youth sports – baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball. But help is needed to cover utilities and other expenses.
Leland said 90 percent of the wrestlers on the June 14 card were trained at his dad’s academy, which has produced stars including current WWE wrestler Curtis Axel, former WWE performers Ted DiBiasi Jr. and Trevor Murdoch, and Ricky Steamboat Jr.
“We train the right way. That is the way my dad wrestled for five decades,” Leland said.
Harley Race fondly remembers his battles in Sedalia.
“He was there on a regular basis,” Leland said. “Every time we go through Sedalia, he will tell me that every Tuesday night he was there, wrestling at Convention Hall. He was there as often as he could be, but a wrestler of his stature, as the (National Wrestling Alliance) world heavyweight champion, he had commitments in a lot of different places.
“He has always considered Missouri to be home,” Leland added. “When he was working with (promoters) Bob Geigel and Pat O’Connor, running Central States Wrestling, Sedalia was one of their favorite places to go.”
That’s one reason that Harley Race will be at the Green Ridge event to meet fans, shake hands, sign autographs and have pictures taken. All the WLW wrestlers will be available during the two intermissions to interact with fans.
“You’ll get to meet some of the stars of tomorrow along with the biggest star of the past – that being my dad,” Leland said.