DIXFIELD – Dirigo High School will unroll its wrestling mats for a good cause next Monday, June 25, when it hosts the third leg of the 23rd annual Maine/Nebraska Friendship Series.

The Cougars’ venue will feature competitors from Mountain Valley, Oxford Hills, Mt. Blue and Dirigo high schools.

Monday’s event will be the third of four competitions for the Nebraska wrestlers, who will also compete at York today, Winslow on Thursday and at Morse on Wednesday, June 27 at 6 p.m.

The Friendship series was created in 1985 and is the longest running exchange between two states in the country.

“The kids were eager to be able to get back on the mat,” Dirigo coach Doug Gilbert said. “Several have styles that could lead to being successful. Time will tell, so I hope they get in a little bit of practice time in before then. Live wrestling will be helpful.”

The area high school wrestlers have won a combined nine state championships, including Dirigo two-time champions Jon Smith (140 pounds) and Kyle Miele (176). The Cougars’ Derek Daley (127) is a former state champion, while Mike Jonaitis (135) and Josh Palmer (150) are two-time state finalists.

Another standout is Sam Webber (130), who won a Class A state crown and placed fifth in New England. The Mt. Blue wrestler is a takedown specialist, and combined with a punishing style is expected to be able to counter his opponent. Nebraska wrestlers are well known for secure legs to control matches.

Webber’s teammate, Gary Begin (155), placed third in the state.

Current Maine team leader Shawn Guest said that while the wrestling is fierce on the mats, the main purpose is to initiate friendship and develop an understanding of different ways of life. It is a sharing of two similar, but different life styles, and the bonding of athletes with one great common interest – wrestling.

Mountain Valley has 2007 Class B state champions Ernie Matthews (125), Ben Matthews (145) and Kyle Dow (255). The Falcons’ Tyler Childs (215) won a state title in 2006, and Devin Roberts (165) was a state finalist.

State champion Brad Smith (160) will lead four Oxford Hills wrestlers. Nick Paine (112), Craig Varney (118) and Jake Pike (170) each won medals.

Mountain Valley and Oxford Hills have each hosted the series previously.

Lisbon state champion Mark Stambach will compete at Winslow.

Nebraska’s travel team is well conditioned. State champions Simon James (32-1 at 112), Cory Steiger (40-1 at 176) and Taylor Foss (40-0 at 285) will lead the Cornhusker State representatives this week.

“We plan on giving them a good visit,” Gilbert said. “We’ll have the water skiing on Weld Lake, and if some seek adventure, they can climb up Tumbledown (Mountain). Hopefully, that will tire them out.”

The two states have alternated hosting the event, with the visiting team typically wrestling at four different sites. Given the great geographical and economic diversity of the two states – one amid the great plains and the other along the Atlantic seacoast – the exchange has provided new scenery and unique experiences, which have given participants lifelong memories.

Nebraska leads in the all-time series, however, there has been plenty of competitive matches. Maine has had 933 wrestlers participating in 1,388 matches.

“We have a young team, this year,” said Nebraska team leader Tom McCann, who was the 2001 National coach of the year award winner. “I think the series has lasted so long because the people at both ends work so very hard at making this such a positive experience for the wrestlers.”

Coach Marc Bauer from the University of Nebraska-Kearney agreed.

“The Maine exchange was the greatest wrestling experience I had while in high school,” he said.

Local participants in 23rd annual Maine/Nebraska Friendship Series wrestling exhibition

Jon Smith, Dirigo

Kyle Miele, Dirigo

Derek Daley, Dirigo

Mike Jonaitis, Dirigo

Josh Palmer, Dirigo

Sam Webber, Mt. Blue

Gary Begin, Mt. Blue

Ernie Matthews, Mountain Valley

Ben Matthews, Mountain Valley

Kyle Dow, Mountain Valley

Tyler Childs, Mountain Valley

Devin Roberts, Mountain Valley

Brad Smith, Oxford Hills

Nick Paine, Oxford Hills

Craig Varney, Oxford Hills

Jake Pike, Oxford Hills

Mark Stambach, Lisbon

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