HERMISTON — The last time most of us saw them, they were grappling for state championships in February. But when a collage of Eastern Oregon’s best prep wrestlers get together in Hermiston this weekend, the matches will have a more international feel.
Hermiston High is playing host to the final stop of a cultural exchange wrestling tour through Oregon, with representatives from Hermiston, Pendleton, Riverside and Mac-Hi squaring off with a team of New Zealand all-stars. Matches for the roughly 20 local competitors will begin in Hermiston’s purple gym in a dual-meet style event beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
It was through those endeavors that Hermiston became a target for foreign wrestling visitation. The New Zealand team has crisscrossed the state this month, making stops at Thurston, Sweet Home, Crescent Valley and Newberg high schools.
And now lastly Hermiston.
Sunday is an exciting chance for the Hermiston wrestling community to again see some of the school’s greatest wrestlers — a few for the last time.
“They get to showcase their talents in front of the home crowd again,” said Hermiston assistant wrestling coach Rob Berger. “Like Joey (Delgado). It’s the last opportunity for our crowd to see him in our home gym.”
Delgado, a senior, won four state titles for the Bulldogs and will wrestle for Oregon State next year.
Hermiston drew a hosting duty for the event because of its string of successful teams — five state titles in a row until this year’s third-place finish — but Berger said it was important to spread the good fortune. So he contacted other area schools with the offer.
“All I know is we were driving back from wrestling last weekend (at the Oregon Wrestling Association’s state championships in Forest Grove) and I got a call from Rob,” Pendleton coach Fred Phillips said. “He asked how many of my kids would be interested. Now all I know is we show up at 5 p.m.
“This happens every so often around the state, but it’s not too often that we get times like this in Eastern Oregon.”
Though wrestling is at the heart of the exchange, the New Zealanders’ tour of Oregon is about sharing culture, Berger said. The foreign team, which is made up of 10 wrestlers of roughly high school age along with two coaches, will be housed by local wrestling families. They get to learn from each other, briefly live together, eat together and yes, wrestle together.
“It’s a lot like our Pendleton, Hermiston thing,” Berger said. “It’s a great battle and a great rivalry but you’re friends. We try and beat them, they want to beat us, but afterward, you sit around together and talk and you’re friends.”
Admission to the freestyle-wrestling event is at the door: $3 for adults and $2 for students. Kids under 6 years old are free.
The money raised by tickets and at the concessions stand will go to helping the New Zealand wrestlers’ travel expenses, with any leftovers going toward the Bulldogs’ trip to South Africa.