If you were driving around Punta Gorda this weekend you may have noticed some traffic around Charlotte High School.
That’s where 10 teams from around the state, including top-ranked Tampa Jesuit, were slated to gather for the Gene Gorman Showcase.
The event is a chance for high school wrestlers from around the state, and especially in our area, to showcase their talents for college recruiters. That includes those from the highly ranked host school.
There is one question that many of the participants may be asking themselves this weekend: Who the heck is Gene Gorman?
Well, aside from being the guy who signs the $1,000 check that goes to the athletic fund of the school boasting the tournament’s outstanding wrestler and a $500 stipend to the team that comes in second, Gorman is a local car dealer.
And the story of how he ended up sponsoring a wrestling tournament and how he ended up in the area in the first place is almost as compelling as some of the action on the mat this weekend.
Gorman grew up playing baseball rather than wrestling in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
After high school he went to serve in Vietnam and when he returned home, he got a job selling cars.
All of which sounds pretty straight forward, except there was an underlying issue.
By his own admission, he was struggling with alcohol addiction and “I started off selling cars (while I was) drunk.”
Like many other young men of the era, his experiences in Vietnam had left their mark on Gorman.
“I got home from Vietnam and I was pretty much out of whack,” he recalled on Friday afternoon as he sat outside the tournament bearing his name. “I started drinking and going crazy for about seven years and I ended up on the street. I had become a full-blown alcoholic.”
With plenty of help from others, Gorman eventually got things under control and turned his attention toward his career.
“Then I gave up drinking and that was about 43 years ago,” he said. “When I finally got sober in 1976, I started developing a plan for success for myself.”
Eventually, in 1994, the plan led him to a dealership in our area and a year later to open up his own small dealership. That dealership would, over time, become three dealerships, a service center and a finance company.
As he achieved more success, Gorman looked for ways to give back to the community and when a natural disaster ravaged the area, he saw the opportunity to help.
“We started the tournament in 2004. It was right after Hurricane Charley had devastated everything,” he recalled. “The first thing started with a girls basketball tournament. The athletic departments needed money and we put up a $1,000 scholarship for teams that won.”
The basketball tournament evolved into a volleyball tournament, which is still held in the fall.
So where did the wrestling connection come from? Well that strikes a little closer to home.
Despite the fact Gorman himself never wrestled, the sport seemed to have put a headlock on his family.
“Two of my sons were high school All-Americans in wrestling, one right here at Charlotte (High School),” he said. “And my son-in-law is a wrestling coach.”
Gorman said his younger son, who’s now a doctor in Tampa, often talked about how the mental toughness he developed as a wrestler helped him get through med school.
“Our youngest received a scholarship to UF and we felt it was a way to give back,” Gorman said. “Even though he graduated in 2000, it’s something we like to do.
“The idea was to draw attention to local schools and try to get some scholarships here. … It’s our honor to do it and we enjoy it.”