Monday, October 03, 2016

Hitting the Spot: Culpeper, VA

The Culpeper, Virginia Junior High School Gym

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

At the northeastern terminus of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wresting area sits the town of Culpeper, Virginia. A scant 70 miles from Washington, D.C. and the WWWF territory, the Culpeper Junior High School Gym hosted the stars of Jim Crockett Promotions from 1980 through 1985. Richmond, Virginia was the closest major Mid-Atlantic town to Culpeper, being nearly 90 miles to the southeast. Culpeper sometimes took Richmond’s normal Friday night wrestling slot, though cards in Culpeper were mostly held on Saturdays. The gymnasium in Culpeper held between 2,500 to 3,000 fans, and much like other spot show venues had its share of quirks that made attending a card there quite interesting and entertaining.

Back in the early and middle 1980s, Michael Hicks lived in the area and attended Mid-Atlantic cards in Culpeper and usually had front row seats for the action. Hicks, currently residing just outside of Denver, Colorado, would arrive at the junior high school as early as 2:30 on Saturday afternoons back in the day for an 8:15 bell time, just for the opportunity to mingle with fellow fans who had just watched Mid-Atlantic wrestling on WTVR TV Channel 6 in Richmond. According to Hicks, wrestlers would often park in the front parking lots of the school, unaware that there was parking available behind the school. This led to some strange sights when the talent arrived at the front door of the gym! Hicks recalls, “One time Tim Horner did just that, walking up to the front door before fans advised him to drive around to the back. This was in 1982 on a card where Horner wrestled Carl Fergie.”

Even the main event wrestlers weren’t immune from having issues entering the building in Culpeper. Hicks remembered, “A year earlier, Blackjack Mulligan did the same thing. He was in town for a February 14, 1981 tag team main event match pitting him and Ric Flair against Greg Valentine and Roddy Piper. Because Mulligan arrived to the building sort of late, I’d say around 7:00 or so, maybe a few minutes later, he walked right in the front door, crossed through the upper bleachers. The junior high school had two sets of bleachers on both sides of the gymnasium, one on the floor and one upstairs.” Like many of the high school gym spot show venues, Mulligan made his way to the baby face locker room, which was the girls’ locker room during school hours. The heels were housed in the boys’ school locker room.

The first card in Culpeper sponsored by Jim Crockett Promotions was held at the junior high school gym on August 22, 1980, and of course was attended by Michael Hicks. The gym was packed, and the crowd was at a fever pitch. When thinking back on that first Culpeper card, Hicks said, “Without a doubt the memory that sticks out about that first card was the aftermath of the main event, which saw current U.S. Champion Greg Valentine wrestle former champion Ric Flair in a non-title bout. Valentine had really gotten the crowd’s ire up when he, on a televised promo for the event, had asked the following question: ‘I’ve heard of a bell pepper and a green pepper, but what the hell is a Culpeper?’ Instant heat! Flair rebutted the comment later in the show when he talked about the fine town of Culpeper and all the beautiful women who lived there.”

While the first Mid-Atlantic main event match in Culpeper was special, the post-match activities were even better. Hicks related, “After Flair had scored the pinfall victory, the younger fans around ringside had converged on the ring. They stood around the ring, as if they were lumberjacks, and started pounding the mat, chanting ‘loser, loser’ at Valentine, who had nowhere to go. Eventually, the ringside area was cleared out by security and an announcement from the public address announcer Bob Houck, who was president of the Lignum Ruritan Club, which sponsored the matches. But that was the signature moment of the first night when the promotion knew it had the town hooked. It set up a rematch between Valentine and Flair, this time for the U.S. Title, on November 22nd which Flair won by count out.”

Mid-Atlantic wrestling would then return to Culpeper every three or four months, and over the next several years fans in the area were treated to a plethora of big name stars from the Mid-Atlantic talent roster. Hicks recalls, “Culpeper was fortunate to see a lot of wrestlers come through the area in those five years, from Flair, Jimmy Valiant and Jake Roberts to Johnny Weaver, Piper and Paul Jones. The list also includes Ole Anderson, Dewey Robertson, George Wells, S.D. Jones, the Sheepherders, Don Kernodle, Jim Nelson, Bruno Sammartino, Jr., Nikolai Volkoff, Chris Markoff, Lord Alfred Hayes, Killer Kahn, One Man Gang, Dick Slater, Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Jack Brisco, Mike Rotunda, King Parsons, Dizzy Hogan (aka Brutus Beefcake), Kevin Sullivan, Mark Lewin, Chavo Guerrero, Black Bart, Ron Bass, James J. Dillon, Buzz Tyler and Denny Brown.”

During 1984 Jim Crockett Promotions took a hiatus from coming up to Culpeper, and the last Culpeper card occurred on February 9, 1985, and was memorable to Hicks just like the first card was back in 1980. Hicks recollected, “That final card was headlined by NWA Television Champion Tully Blanchard defending against the Ragin’ Bull Manny Fernandez, one half of the NWA World Tag Team Champions. Blanchard was accompanied by Baby Doll at the time. Just like how the first show grabbed the fans, this one did too, but for the wrong reasons. A fan got into a post-match skirmish with Baby Doll following the 20 minute time limit draw. It didn’t appear to be all that serious, but it was enough. Jim Crockett Promotions never ran Culpeper again.”

Fans such as Michael Hicks who frequented the Culpeper Junior High School Gym in the early and mid 1980s paid consistent ticket prices during Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling’s five year run there. Ringside prices were $6.00; general admission prices were $5.00 with kids under eleven getting in for $3.00. A trip to see Mid-Atlantic wrestling in Culpeper could also make for a long evening, as with only a single exit available to get out of the parking lot, a one hour plus traffic jam loomed before fans could make their way home. However, prices and traffic were no impediment whatsoever for the loyal fans in and around this far afield Mid-Atlantic outpost. And like many other smaller venues for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the Culpeper Junior High School Gym served the wrestling needs of this northern Virginia area oh so well. Yes, it surely did…hit the spot!

Newspaper clippings and poster image courtesy Michael Hicks