In the Rock Hill High wrestling gymnasium, the 16 teams of state championships past look down on the current generation of wrestlers.
"I always ask my guys if they can hear the ghosts of all the great Bearcat teams," said Head Coach Caine Beard, who hoisted a championship of his own in the 2008-09 season. "I want them to know that they add to Rock Hill's legacy with each and every match."
The Bearcats 16 banners, one for each championship victory, are the most in South Carolina history. And on Wednesday night, the Bearcats honored three more names: Brothers Lamar and Wes Thompson, and current Rock Hill wrestler Weston Beck.
The brothers Thompson were the inaugural inductees to the first annual Rock Hill "Circle of Champions" ceremony, and Beck was recognized as achieving the most wins in Rock Hill High School history. With his 184th win Saturday, he passed former Bearcat Chris Collins.
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Wes Thompson, the older brother, wrestled for the Bearcats from 1984 to '86, going undefeated and winning the state championship in 1986. He also won three regional championships.
Wes Thompson talked about what it means to him to have his name honored by a wrestling program so rich in tradition and prestige. He also had some words for the Rock Hill wrestlers of today.
"To be recognized amongst a group of elite athletes is truly an honor," Thompson said. "If I had a message to the kids wearing Bearcat colors today, I'd tell them to always work harder than your opponent and put that extra work in to be the best."
Younger brother Lamar Thompson blazed a trail of greatness from 1988 to '91. Thompson was a two-time state champion and one of the only South Carolina athletes to win a national wrestling championship.
Thompson credited his former coach and older brother for instilling within him the drive necessary to be one of South Carolina's greatest wrestlers.
"Coach Jim Barnes pushed me to my absolute limit, and I can't thank him enough for that," Thompson said. "And watching my brother Wes go through the program made me always want to do the things he was able to do. It became my goal and my desire."
While not an inductee into Rock Hill's Circle of Champions, the Bearcats most prolific wrestler and current senior Weston Beck will assuredly make the cut one day.
Coach Beard announced Beck's milestone to roaring applause Wednesday night, which Beck accepted with his typical even-keeled demeanor. But when faced with his own Bearcat legacy, Beck said he never expected to achieve this success.
"One of my ultimate goals was to get at least close to Chris Collins' record," Beck said. "Even if I was close to it I would feel proud because of how good he was. To break his record is indescribable."
Beck enjoyed the adulation, but he also had to gear up and wrestle soon afterwards. And, with the Thompson brothers and a packed house looking on, Beck displayed why he is one of Rock Hill's all-time greats. Against Nation Ford 135 pounder Drew Murphy, Beck easily won via a pin fall in the first minute of the first period. Beck executed a lightning-quick takedown almost immediately after the whistle blew, and Murphy could never recover as his shoulders were pinned to the mat soon afterwards.