Paul, Linda, Zac and Kaci honored with tourney’s dedication
In 2010, when the Welton was still being held at the original Garden at the Main Street GCHS high school, Paul and Linda volunteered to help with the overall organization of the tournament.
“I was always running kids tournaments and then had been helping at the Rocky Welton,” Paul said. “I’d find new (software) programs to try and streamline the brackets and it has just evolved a lot through the years.”
Since 2013, Paul and Linda have been the Welton coordinators, with each having specific duties that have provided the volunteer structure that makes the tournament one of the best run events anywhere.
On Saturday, Paul and Linda, as well as their son Zac (a Kansas State University student) and daughter, Kacy (former wrestling manager and now student at Fort Hays State University) were recognized with a dedication plaque for the 2020 Welton.
Residents of Garden City since 1991, Paul is the Operations Manager at Tyson and Linda is the principal at Plymel Elementary School south of town.
“They’ve done an incredible amount of work through the years,” GCHS head wrestling Coach Carlos Prieto said. “They’ve certainly made my life easier with the tournament. I don’t have to worry about how the tournament is running because Paul has it running like clockwork. Linda has done a great job getting the table workers and teaching them how to work the computer programs that we use for scoring. It allows me to just focus on coaching during the two days.”
Linda says she begins each year contacting her regular corps of volunteers in November and early December to get the lined up again, but also sees a few new volunteers each year that need that first level of training.
“Paul sets up the program, and builds the brackets,” Linda said. “From there, I handle all the training and get the workers and spotters for the two days. We are fortunate to have a lot of people who support the program who are willing to come and help during the tournament each year.”
It’s a massive undertaking with 40-plus teams competing in each of the past two seasons, thus Paul has to build brackets that allows them to wrestle out to 16 places in each of the 14 weight classes.
“I’d still like to tinker with it some more to see how we can do a 32-place bracket and have the space to increase the number of teams and wrestlers here,” Paul said of the tourney that had 29 teams when they began using the popular software program “Track Wrestling.”
With the two of them handling each of their respective responsibilities, the tournament seems to run on cruise control, with the recent event completing the opening day’s competition around 6:30 p.m. and the final day on Saturday concluding at approximately 7:15 p.m.
“The last few years, we have had little to no changes in how we run things, so it does seem to be a smooth operation,” Paul said.
Another aspect of the Welton that is not typical of most tournaments is the fact they use two independent wrestling experts – one in Kansas and one in Colorado – to see the weight classes.
“We no longer have two to three hour seeding meetings with coaches,” Linda said. “Everybody used to try and make the case for their own kids. Now, this just takes the subjectivity out of it and we get very little complaining.”
Their two children have been returning each year to help during the Welton despite being full-time college students, so when Kaci surprised them by showing up on Saturday morning at the gymnasium, Paul said he thought something might be amiss.
“I had talked to her all the week before about whether she would be back, or not, and she said she wasn’t coming,” Paul said with a big smile. “But, I wasn’t paying any attention to the announcer when they were talking about the tournament dedication, until our names were announced. So, while I had inkling, it was still a surprise.”
Linda, too, said she was caught off guard by the announcement.
“Our kids really enjoy being part of helping out and the Welton has a special place for all of us,” she said. “I don’t think Paul and I ever expected anything like this, but it was very meaningful and very emotional. Last night, there was a moment when I just bawled. We don’t do this for any recognition for ourselves. We do it for the wrestling team, the kids and the community.”
For the immediate future, Paul and Linda see no slowdown in their involvement in the Welton.
“We want our kids in Garden City to have this experience and we want this to be the best tournament in Kansas and for the community,” Paul said. “I have a pact with Carlos that as long as he’s coaching here, I’ll be helping with the tournament.”
With an early Friday start at 9 a.m., most schools arrive on Thursday and are here for two full days and nights, filling up local hotels, fans eating at local restaurants and availing themselves of the retail shops in town.
“It brings a lot to the community, and we’re glad to just be a part of it,” Linda said.
Prieto is one person who doesn’t take the Finch’s for granted.
“If not for them, a lot of the stuff would be delegated to me,” Prieto said. “People don’t understand the time commitment they make. They spend months working on different parts of the tournament to make it the best tournament possible.”
Prieto said he had discussed the annual dedication with a couple of his assistants more than a month ago, and it just eventually made sense to honor Paul and Linda with this year’s recognition.
“They’ve helped us not only grow the tournament in size, but also have made it a much better tournament in the overall way it is run,” Prieto said.