Sunday, August 12, 2012

National Arm-Wrestling Champions Take On Emmett

Posted By on Sun, Aug 12, 2012 at 10:53 AM

National arm wrestling champion John LaVergne takes on opponents at the Toadstool Billiard Cafe
  • National arm-wrestling champion John LaVergne takes on opponents at the Toadstool Billiard Cafe in Emmett on Saturday.

A group of world champion athletes convened on the evening of Aug. 11, and it had nothing to do with the Olympics. A quiet, family friendly billiard hall hidden in the middle of sleepy downtown Emmett set the scene for the Beat the Champ arm-wrestling challenge, where national champion John LaVergne held a fundraising event for his upcoming trip to the world championships in Brazil next month.

Although the event was held in a setting where attendees could grab a beer and shoot pool, this arm-wrestling challenge was far different from the stereotypical booze-laden macho fest stereotypically associated with the sport. A professional table set up with all the requisite pads and grippers employed by the pros sat against a wall near the back of the Toadstool Billiard Cafe, and former world champion Stan McEntire played referee for LaVergne and his son, former national champion Chris McEntire. The two warmed up, swaying from side to side while maintaining their grip in the middle of the table.

The gathering shattered all preconceived notions associated with the sport, which has a much bigger following in other countries, namely Russia. That lack of notoriety means athletes have to fund their own ways to competitions, which can be pricey, hence fundraisers like the Saturday event at the Toadstool.

LaVergne has a very disarming personality, especially for an arm-wrestler. He welcomed opponents at his fundraiser, shook hands with all of them and spent time teaching the finer points of the sport he adores. The entire body is used to maneuver an opponent's hand toward the mat, various grips are employed and the referee sets up posture for the competitors.

Laughs and pleasantries were shared throughout the gathering, and the sense of community in the arm-wrestling world was apparent. For McEntire, it's a family affair. His wife competed in the sport, which, he said, is "very competitive for women." His three sons all partake, two of whom have earned amateur national titles, and his son Chris' wife also pulls.

"We'll drive 15 hours one way for a little trophy. It's all for the love of the sport," Chris said.

Champions compete for glory and trophys much of the time, as opposed to big pay-outs.

Stan Mcentire explains the finer points of arm wrestling and the professional table.
  • Stan McEntire explains the finer points of arm wrestling.

LaVergne and the McEntires practice as part of the club Idaho Armed Forces. Stan said joining a club is the best way to get started in the sport without risking injury. LaVergne's training regiment includes a surprisingly small amount of time on the table, and a lot of exercises such as pull-ups. Though arms have been broken and tendons strained in professional matches, Stan noted that, "You almost never see the pros getting hurt."

LaVergne's Monday, Sept. 10, trip to Brazil for the world championships will be the third venture to the international competition for the South Middle School counselor. He's optimistic, yet humble.

"I really respect my competitors and want to give myself the benefit of the doubt," LaVergne said. " I guess you could say I'm cautiously optimistic."

LaVergne isn't planning any more table time, but will referee at the Western Idaho Armwrestling Challenge at the Toadstool Saturday, Aug. 18, beginning at 1 p.m. Divisions are made on weight, age and dominant hand. For more info, or to contribute to LaVergne's international venture, call 208-365-1205 or 208-908-2176. Check back at boiseweekly.com to see how the Emmett resident fares in the competition.

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