Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Memories of "the Claw" at the Dobyns-Bennett Dome

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

For many of us, our fondest memories growing up are from our high school years. When I was in high school, I had a few close friends that were wrestling fans like me, but not very many. Ricky and Mark were two of those good friends, and we watched a lot of wrestling together, and went to some shows. Ricky and I even acted out matches on mats in the gym, complete with pile-drivers, sleeper holds, busted lips, and even one concussion.

Ricky Steamboat holds Ric Flair high in the air
during their U.S. championship title match at
the Dobyns-Bennett Dome

(Photograph by Roger Carico)
Rick and I sabotaged Mark with our wrestling non-sense when we all first became friends in junior high school. Mark surely thought we were half nuts for our fascination with Ric Flair, Wahoo McDaniel, and the Anderson Brothers.

Jim Crockett Promotions started bringing Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling back to my high-school in the late winter of 1979, and the main event on that first show was Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat for the United States Heavyweight championship. The Dobyns-Bennett High School gym, or the "DB Dome" as it was known at that time, was sold out for that first big show, some 5500+ in attendance for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in our little hometown of Kingsport, TN.

Wrestling suddenly became just a little bit cooler to some of our other friends. We had an ever-growing group of kids going with us to the matches at the DB Dome every month or so.

During the fall of our senior year in 1978, one of the popular wrestling holds we saw on TV was the dreaded "claw hold." It was a big part of the shows then because both Texan good-guy Blackjack Mulligan and German bad-guy Baron Von Raschke used the hold as their finisher. They even battled each other to see who's claw hold was superior in a series of "claw-vs.-claw" matches where the only way to win was putting your opponent out with the dreaded claw.

Blackjack Mulligan and Baron Von Raschke were both famous for using the
feared claw hold, and they had many battles in the fall of 1978.

Now, during those years at home basketball games in the DB Dome, a cheer had developed where when the opposing team committed a personal foul, our whole student section would start chanting "You! You! You!" while pointing across the floor at the opposing bench and student body. Then we'd rare back with one big "Yeah, YOU! And you're Mama, too!"

There is no explaining that, really. You just had to be there. I guess we were a bunch of smart-aleks. Actually, that cheer had been around since I was a much younger kid going back to games at the DB Dome when All-American Wake Forest point guard Skip Brown was a big high-school star in Kingsport. It had just become this ritual over the years, a cheer that the student section always did after every opposing foul.

But in the fall of 1978, that ritual was about to be hijacked. The dreaded claw was getting ready to take the DB Dome by storm.

Somehow or another, it made sense to us to begin throwing up the claw at the very end of the "You, you, you!" chant. It started with just a few of us, but then it caught on. I mean, like wildfire roaring through a dry brush canyon, it caught on.

Pretty soon, after every opposing team's foul, at the very end of the chant, hundreds of kids were throwing up the sign of the claw, all in perfect unison. It was quite the scene to see all these hands fly out in one spectacular, synchronized moment. The wrist of the claw-hand would slap into the opposing hand with a loud snap. All those hands, like a loud thundercrack!

Every home game, more and more students joined in. It had become a phenomenon - - the claw! I was so proud! A little piece of my closeted wrestling fanaticism had found its way into the mainstream of the student body.

The funny thing was, I'm pretty sure the majority of the student body participating in this had no idea where the claw came from or that it was related to pro-wrestling. It had just become this organic ritual, and it had grown to where the entire student section at the games was doing it.

What we didn't count on was that parents (as well as opposing teams and their fans) didn't understand what was happening and thought that it might be some sort of obscene gesture. Someone finally complained to the administration and we were asked to cut it out. The claw ritual became just another fond high-school memory.

However, a monument to the claw snuck its way into our high school yearbook. In the index in the very back of the 1978-1979 annual, page 246 to be exact, is a full-page photo in a soft grayscale as a backdrop to the names of the students in the yearbook index. There, hand extended high above his head, center stage amongst the student throng on the DB Dome bleachers, was my friend Mark holding up the sign of the claw. The familiar roof of the DB Dome is in soft focus in the background, a signature to where the photo was taken.

My high-school sweetheart Sarah was one of the editors of the yearbook, and while she just barely tolerated my love of wrestling, I've always suspected she arranged that photo in the yearbook just for me. Sarah was the best.

The student-body "claw cheer" is one of my fondest memories of going to basketball games during the fall and winter of my senior year in high school. That photo of Mark in the yearbook will forever stand as a small reminder of a great time in my life, as it is also a reminder of a great time in the storied history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.