The History of Top Gun

The Top Gun Wrestling Tournament began in 1987. In 1986, co - founders John "Jack" Webb (Alliance H.S. asst. Principal) and Chuck Kreiner (Head Wrestling Coach) ran an 8 team JV tournament. They decided to elevate it the next season to a varsity one. The tournament expanded quickly in the early years, attracting teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, New York and Kentucky. It also attracted a Florida and Utah team. The tournament originally ran at the end of January and was especially aided by teachers who used their records day to work the tournament. The tournament settled on Martin Luther King weekend to allow an extra day of travel for out of state teams. Alliance businesses and sponsors jumped on board and have provided a generous amounts of food, money and resources over the years.

The Top Gun hit a 25 year milestone in 2011. The Top Gun started with 16 teams but has settled between 40 and 48 teams. The last few years have seen a rush of teams, some of which have to be turned away. Alliance won the first tournament. Austintown Fitch H.S is the only other school besides Alliance to have entered every Top Gun.

There have been many exciting matches over the years but perhaps none as exciting as Zak Kallai's (Wadsworth) upset over Jeff Ratliff (Marion Harding) (1999) and Ben Jordan's (Graham) last second take down of Tony Jameson (Fitch) (2008). Both matches prevented a 3 time Top Gun Champion from gathering the elusive 4th title. No wrestler has won 4 Top Gun Championships. Sonny Marchette (Walsh), Brian Singleton (Alliance/Crestwood) and Tyler Warner (Claymont) are the only two time champions who received the Kit Baucum Outstanding wrestler award twice. St. Paris Graham has the most team titles at 7 followed by St. Edward with 5 and then Claymont and Walsh with 3. Claymont has been among the most loyal State wrestling powers to enter the Top Gun over the life of the tournament.

The Top Gun uses 5-6 mats in the main gym and 2 in the auxiliary gym. The finals use 3 mats in the main gym. 7th and 8th place is wrestled in the afternoon before the finals. The Top Gun has had a wide variety of entertainment before finals throughout its history. An Elvis impersonator, sumo wrestling, para troopers repelling out of the ceiling, jump rope exhibitions, bands and DJ's have entertained large crowds before finals. Between 1300 and 1400 fans attend the finals for Top Gun each year. The Top Gun is proud to proclaim the best Comp room of any tournament each year. A super-human effort goes into feeding over 300 coaches, workers and officials each year. A variety of baked goods by Alliance staff, parents and administrators complimented with a generous donation of Alliance restaurants and food vendors have made it easy to return each year for the coaches and teams.

In 2012 Top Gun went to Sikora systems online and software program to run the tournament. Top Gun has used software since 1994. In 2013 Clovis California became the furthest school to travel to Top Gun. They won despite a valiant effort from Ohio State Champion Massillon Perry. The 2015 Top Gun will tie the most ever teams with 48. Perry, Lake, Claymont, Carrollton, LaSalle and Marysville bring strong teams from top to bottom from Ohio. Fort LeBoeuf HS (Pennsylvania), Huntington (West Virginia) and Trinity Area HS (Pennsylvania) are the only out of state teams. An important local battle will ensue this Top Gun as many area teams boast a solid wrestling line up. The Review area contenders encircling Alliance this weekend include Marlington, Alliance, West Branch, Southeast, Louisville and Minerva. Who will be crowned Top Gun review area champs?

The 2016 Top Gun boasted 48 teams. New teams that have never wrestled at the Top Gun Tournament include Newcomerstown, Perrysburg, Dayton Christian, St. John School, Ripley, Perkins and Tuslaw. Corey Shie (11) won his 3rd title for LaSalle. Juniors Ian Sharpe (West Branch), Hunter Kosco (Northwest) and Andrew McNally (Lake) successfully defended their titles. Flo Wrestling returned to cover the Top Gun and covered the greatest match in Top Gun Finals history. The match featured David Carr (Massillon Perry- soph.) a 2 time HS State champ in 8th grade from Kentucky, 9th grade for Dayton Christian in Ohio faced his former teammate two time state champion Logan Lacure (senior) in a match that resulted in a ultimate tiebreaker rideout win for Lacure. However, both wrestlers were the star of the show. A bout filled with edge line calls, lightning shots, stellar defense and before the final whistle both wrestlers had their hands raised in premature mistakes by the referee. The match ended much to the dismay of the fans who hoped there would be as many overtimes added as to make the match carry into Sunday morning with Lacure hanging onto Carr's leg fully extended like Hurricane David was sweeping him away. Lacure held on and secured a rideout point to win. Interesting enough the seeming mistake by the referee of the premature hand raisings of both wrestlers was only fitting as both wrestlers are truly winners and champions of the Top Gun. Even the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima had 2 raisings and so did the Top Gun 145 pound finals in 2016.

The 2017 tournament was a tough one for many of the Alliance faithful that have been around the program for an extended time. This would be the first Top Gun without Tournament founder Chuck Kreiner who passed away. The presentation of a slide show honored Chuck before the finals. As well, the passing of Bill Nagy, long time youth coach from Alliance made 2017 a somber event. Chuck had always bragged that Top Gun was so tough there would never be a 4 time champion and many great ones had won 3 and lost the 4th attempt. Not this year. Corey Shie from Cincinnati LaSalle was the first wrestler to win 4 titles in easy fashion with a pin. The best match of the tournament pitted Hunter Kosco from Northwest and Jordan Decatur from CVCA. A match filed with brilliant shots and counter wrestling ended with a TD by Kosco to win. The surprise of the tournament was West Branch’s Christian Wayt, up a weight class and winning 113 pound championship with finesse and perfect execution.

The initial topic of conversation at the 2018 Top Gun was the weather. While other tournaments and matches cancelled, the Top Gun went on. There were however three teams that could not make the tournament, but the “Show must go on”. Jake Marsh from Marysville easily won the 152 pound weight, his third title and 4th consecutive placement. He was 21-1 over his 4 years at Top Gun and gathered MVP honors. Christian Wayt won his second title for West Branch in dominate fashion. The host Aviators had a brilliant tournament without star Duce Johnson, but lost all six consolation placement finals to fall out of contention for the team trophy. Akron St Vincent-St Mary won the team honors having to fight off Austintown Fitch and their two champs Gus Sutton and Michael Feree. Both won in OT. Feree won in the rideout period on top, a most illogical conclusion having no luck the first two times holding down Luke Reicosky from Hoover. However, an official called Reicosky for fleeing the mat with near 17 seconds left to give the win to Feree, an unpopular call to say the least. It was the most exciting bout of the night. 

The 2019 TGT opened with the fear of another snowstorm and the finals were moved up to allow more travel time for teams to get home. Aurora, the new superpower of Northeast Ohio Division Two powered its way to a strong showing with a young and talented squad with their first Top Gun title. The tournament raced thru at a record pace on Friday finishing at 5 pm even with an extra consolation round added. Rudis again sponsored the tournament and Top Gun was blessed to have state officiating guru Fred Feeney in his last season of officiating. Christian Wayt (West Branch) won his 3rd title putting him in elite status and his second outstanding wrestler trophy. Jeff Boyd (McDowell) won by a come from behind pin gathering a second outstanding wrestler award and Hudson Jump (Grandview) won the third Outstanding Wrestler award. Long time official Toby Dunlap was on hand with Nathan Tomasello (CVCA-OSU) to get a HOF plaque as was Mike Brown (Alliance Review). 

2020 Top Gun saw a tight team battle between Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Aurora. Both teams battled back and forth with several lead changes. Aurora won in the end by a score of 230 to 224.5 thanks to the dominating finals wins from the top two outstanding wrestlers Lillard and Fishback. 50 teams scored at this years event. There were several new teams including Elwood City (1 finalist), Point Pleasant (five finalists) and Owings Mills from Maryland (one finalist).  Outstanding wrestler awards went to Tyler Lillard (Aurora)152, Dylan Fishback (Aurora)160 and Max Millen (Perry) HW.  The Top Gun had little controversies outside the normal head butts, screaming fans, and vein popping coaches. Rudis ran the massive shop in the hallway and the Aviators youth wrestling association pushed home made treats on the crowd as the Alliance training staff worked overtime with all the blood cleanups and ice bags filled. Harrison Hightower (University School) and Ryan Cubberly (Eastwood) were two former wrestlers that sent in videos for their HOF presentations. Dave Riggs and Doug Shields were also inducted. 

The 2021 and 2022 Top Gun tournaments were cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2023 Top Gun struggled back after a two year absence from Covid cancellations in 2021-22. The tournament came off without an athletic director. Jeff Graffice, Sue Donohoe , Janene Pennington, Marcus Lambdin, Curt Hamilton, Doug Sikora, Frank Mancini, Doug Shields, Milly and Bill Hurford plus the entire Alliance Wrestling, High School and community  stepped up to help get this tournament back. The tournament brought in 42 teams and finished quite early Friday night.  The finals were broadcast online as well.  Donovan Paes of Streetsboro 132 lbs. was the First Outstanding Wrestler while Aidan Mozden Alliance 215 lbs  lit up the gym and was second OW. Aidan wrestled a tenacious style, upset 3 quality wrestlers while being named 2nd OW. Johnny Green Aurora 113 lbs  was  the third OW. Team champions were Nordonia. Hall of Fame inductees were Bill and Milly Hurford, Virginia Mozden and Mike Keating.

Top Gun 2024 made history. It was the first time in tournament history that girls wrestling was included in the tournament. Girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing sport in the United States and the lady wrestlers did not disappoint during their one day tournament on Saturday, January 13th. The Alliance Aviator Girls Wrestling team won the overall tournament with a score of 158. The girls portion of the tournament featured 23 teams and 97 total wrestlers. The boys had 48 teams in attendance with 432 wrestlers. The boys continued their normal format of a two day tournament. Harrison knocked off defending champion Nordonia to win the tournament with a total of 214 points. Once again snowy weather made an impact on the tournament. The finals were moved up so teams and officials could travel home safely. In a scene that captured the growth of wrestling, both the boys and girls wrestled the placing matches side by side. This year the First Outstanding Wrestler was Dickie Engel from Harrison who won the 175 lbs. championship. The Second Outstanding Wrestler was awarded to Dom Propseri from Canton South after winning the 106 lbs. championship. Lastly, Adam Heckman from Howland captured the Third Outstanding Wrestler for his efforts in winning the 132 lbs. weight class. This years Hall of Fame class was represented by Alex Utley (CVCA) and Curt Hamilton (Marlington).