Master wrestling promoter Lipoli brings excitement to the beach

By Gary Abbott | May 16, 2007, 4:41 p.m. (ET)
Ask anyone. Frank Lipoli of Virginia knows how to promote wrestling events.

Lipoli, who has been putting on wrestling tournaments with pizzaz for almost 40 years, has found a new passion within the sport. Frank Lipoli is turning his considerable experience and talents in promotions to Beach Wrestling. Now into his second summer presenting Beach Wrestling events, Lipoli has found a new spark in his commitment to building the sport.

"You will never find anybody with more passion for wrestling than Frank," said Bill Pittman, who has worked over a decade with him putting on big wrestling events with the Virginia Challenge. "With him, it is 24-7. When it has to do with wrestling, he is a non-stop go-gettem guy. He will get the job done, and he does it in a Frank Lipoli way. Frank is blessed with the gift of gab. Give him a wrestling concept, and he will run with it."

His involvement in putting on events goes back to his days as a high school and college wrestler, and has not stopped since. He competed at Norfolk Catholic High School in Virginia, then went on to wrestle at Temple University. As a wrestling camp counselor, Lipoli was put in charge of running the camp wrestling tournament. Even then, Lipoli had a style and flair in how he presented the sport.

"I have never done anything on a small level," said Lipoli. "I try to make things bigger, to place them on a grand scale, and to have fun doing it. That has always been my theme, to have fun."

After college, Lipoli became a self-proclaimed "lifer" within wrestling. He returned to his Virginia roots, getting involved in the sport as an educator and a coach. Lipoli found success in coaching, leading Bethel High School in Hampton, Va. from 1975 - 1981. His teams won district, regional and state team titles. At the time, Lipoli became the youngest coach to win Virginia's AAA state team title. He is currently a teacher and wrestling coach at Blair Middle School in Norfolk.

He also went right on working on building big events. Lipoli was one of the local leaders who helped create the Virginia Duals, which has grown into one of the most prestigious college and high school events. He was also a founder of the Virginia Challenge, an organization that puts on numerous major youth tournaments. Among the events that is hosted by the Virginia Challenge is the VAC/USAW Wrestle-FEST, one of USA Wrestling's Ultimate Challenge Series events.

"I have a simple process. When you go to a tournament, you have a tier level. There's a kid who ends up on the top of the award stand. I have never been concerned with that kid. He takes care of himself. I care about the up-and-coming kid and his family. I am concerned if that kid has a good time and that kid wants to come back again," said Lipoli.

Lipoli takes pride in using all the tools available to jazz up a wrestling tournament. Often, large kids tournaments can seem to drone on for hours. Lipoli uses all the tools at his disposal, with music and talented PA announcers and a flair with presentation.

"I have believed in pomp and circumstances," said Lipoli. "There has never been enough bells and whistles. I believe in good awards, good announcers, keeping the people loose, keeping the referees loose."

Although he has built a reputation for his promotional abilities, Lipoli takes pride in building a team effort for success in his events.

"It has never been the Frank Lipoli show. It can only be done with people with the same passion and vision. I have always been blessed to be around those kind of people, like Bill Pittman, the founder of the Virginia Challenge," said Lipoli. "It takes a team to do this. I don't know how to do everything, such as pairing competitions or being a referee. I do know quality people. I try to compliment their jobs. I have always relished to be that person, who does the extra things. I believe what we do for these kids will affect their entire lives."

Then Beach Wrestling came along. Frank Lipoli's life has never been the same.

Lipoli first heard about the new wrestling style while attending the Virginia Duals. Mike Switzer, an active referee, told him about it, and said it was perfect for him, with the sun and beach atmosphere. At that time, he didn't know much about it. However, when a story about Beach Wrestling, written by Gary Mihoces of USA Today, went national, people who knew him reached out to get Lipoli involved.

"After the story broke in USA Today, Dick Whalen, who runs the North American Sand Soccer Championships, read about it. His event has 8,500 competitiors from 820 teams and is in its 13th year. He is a retired commander of an aircraft carrier and runs his events like that. He contacted Billy Martin, Jr. and they put together a meeting. It was a setup. Billy told Dick that if he wanted to do it with fun, Frank needs to do it. Billy asked me to do it for Dick. I was enthusiastically hesitant about getting involved," said Lipoli.

Whalen was looking to expand his event, which over the years also added beach tennis, beach volleyball, foot volley, coed beach flag football and beach rugby. The idea of beach wrestling intrigued him.

"I started adding side-kick events that are good on the beach. If it adds value for our sponsors and our 50,000 spectators a day, we want it," said Whalen. "We want to show things that are positive and creative. As the organizer, I am concerned with the sand soccer. I rely on them bringing a turn key event that doesn't take up my time."

Martin remembers the meeting, and how they hooked Lipoli into spearheading the wrestling effort.

"I said I had the right guy for it," said Martin. "He promotes a ton of tournaments. I've worked with him a lot. He is a great promoter. We basically blackmailed him into doing it."

His first event was the 2006 North American Beach Wrestling Championships, held in Virginia Beach along its famous boardwalk on the Atlantic Ocean. The fledgling wrestling tournament was held next to Whalen's massive soccer tournament. About 120 wrestlers showed up to compete, and Lipoli had his first success.

"I learned it was fun. We had a blast," said Lipoli. "We never had less than 2,000 people watching us all day. It also got a ton of attention. The soccer tournament had 8,000 participants, but on the TV and in the newspapers, we were the lead story. We stole their thunder."

"Frank used his local and regional contacts to bring in the first couple of people," said Whalen. "Ken Berger supplied the music and they popped up some tents. He didn't know what he would get until the day of the event. The people started showing up. I drew the best crowd of fans of the side-kick events we organized over the years."

Lipoli has decided to adjust the rules of Beach Wrestling that had been developed for international competition. He put together a modified format he calls "the Virginia Style." Instead of a one-period match, he made each match a best two-of-three periods. He also decided to run both an individual tournament and a team dual meet tournament at his events.

"I call it freestyle, with a 20-foot circle and collegiate out of bounds rule, meaning both feet need to go out. It was easy. The wrestlers understood it. The spectators on the boardwalk understood it. They knew that if you win two out of three, you get your hand raised. It was both fan friendly, and also provides more sand time for the wrestlers," he said.

After running an individual tournament, Lipoli hosts a dual meet event the next day. Not only were teams allowed to enter, but he also found a way for individual athletes to get placed on a team and also participate. Working with InterMat's Jason Bryant, who was the announcer for his event, Lipoli set the team scoring rules. If a wrestler wins a match in three periods, his team gets three points. If the wrestler wins in two straight periods, the team gets five points. If the wrestler gets a throw to a pin, the team gets 10 points. The response was positive. In addition, his unique system of making teams was also popular.

"We remember our fondest memories from childhood. You line kids up in the schoolyard, pick teams and play games. We decided to have a draft. We lined them up, according to size and we picked teams. They had 10 minutes to pick the name of their team. The Hungry Hungry Hippos, a group of some kids from Great Bridge, Va., won the first dual meet tournament," said Lipoli.

Lipoli fell in love with fact that Beach wrestling is easy to do, and it appeals to those outside of the sport.

"The simplicity of Beach wrestling is this: it is easy to do and is fun. It is taking our sport to the general public. It was amazing how many people would stop over and tell us that they were wrestlers or their sons wrestled. It is simple to run. There is no wrestling mat. You only need a 20 foot rope in a bag. Have a tournament, will travel," said Lipoli.

Whalen learned a lot about Lipoli at that first event, and is excited about working with him this year and in the future.

"He has got a knack for running the event and making it fun to watch. The promoters of the spinoff events usually have great big hearts for their sports, but in most cases don't have the marketing to take it anywhere fast. Frank is wound tight and very energized. He has gone farther and faster than any of them, especially with the media aspect of getting out the word," said Whalen.

People noticed. A number of others who do beach sports activities were in Virginia Beach and saw Lipoli's wrestling show. After the success of the North American Beach Tournament, the organizers of the Neptune Festival, another major beach festival in Virginia Beach in the early fall.

This year, two other beach activity organizers contacted Lipoli to help bring Beach wrestling to their events. Now, in addition to doing his wrestling tournaments in Virginia Beach, Lipoli is also working to organize events in Oceanside, Calif. this weekend, and in Wildwood, N.J. in August.

Marc Koehler is creating a new beach soccer tournament in California, the Southern California Sand Soccer Championships, and has added a Beach Wrestling division, presented by Lipoli and sanctioned by USA Wrestling.

"I saw the first Frank Lipoli Beach wrestling event. I thought it was exciting. I asked Dick if he would do the Beach wrestling again, and he said yes. We are trying to make this a big beach event. I am trying to recreate what they do in Virginia Beach, to kick off the summer. Beach wrestling fits right in. It is a healthy sport. Once people see the information about it, they say it is neat. I love Frank's passion," said Koehler.

Lipoli has tapped into some leaders within wrestling in California, including his high school teammate Dennis Beardsley, as well as active San Diego leaders such as Jerry and Stephanie Matsumoto, to help promote this weekend's tournament. He will also have a special guest at the event, former NCAA champion and movie producer Wayne Boyd, who will be there all weekend to sign autographs and show his new DVD Champion of Champions.

Lipoli next brings his show to the Mid Atlantic Beach Wrestling Championships in Wildwood, N.J. which will be held at a major amusement area on the oceanfront, Morrie's Pier on August 4-5.

Pittman has an understanding why Lipoli and Beach wrestling have become such a good fit.

"He is a visionary," said Pittman. "Frank is an unusual guy. He involves the crowd. He is informative. In Virginia Beach, the Beach wrestling was the most fun. We had big crowds. We were able to present the sport both to the wrestlers and the crowd. He made it fun. He is very good at communicating wrestling to others."

Lipoli also sees a bright future for his new "favorite" wrestling style.

"I see the numbers growing. I think there will be a lot of small tuneup events, to prepare for the major events. It is a family fun activity. People will plan vacations to go to beach events. I am very excited about the future," said Lipoli.

Beach Wrestling events directed by Frank Lipoli

Saturday, May 19 - Sunday May 20, 2007
Southern California Beach Wrestling Championships at Oceanside, Calif.
Contact: Frank Lipoli at 757-652-7861
E-Mail - flipoli@cox.net
http://www.beachwrestlingevents.com/
Click here for event flier

Friday June 8-Sunday, June 10, 2007
North American Beach Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.
Contact: Frank Lipoli at 757-652-7861
E-Mail - flipoli@cox.net
http://virginiachallenge.org/
Click here for event flier

Saturday August 4-Sunday, August 5, 2007
Mid Atlantic Beach Wrestling Championships in Wildwood, N.J.
Contact Frank Lipoli at 757-652-7861
E-Mail: flipoli@cox.net
http://www.beachwrestlingevents.com/
Click here for event flier

Friday, September 28-Sunday, September 30, 2007
Neptune Festival Beach Brawl at Virginia Beach, Va.
Contact: Frank Lipoli at 757-652-7861
E-Mail - flipoli@cox.net
http://virginiachallenge.org/
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