Orlando Sentinel – July 29, 1988
By Alan Schmadtke
MOUNT DORA — Gene Bebber can remember watching television as a child and changing channels to watch professional wrestling. It was something his friends did as well, he said, something about which they could see drama unfold with each fireman’s carry.
For Bebber, it proved to be a short-lived love, something forgot as he grew up.
But as Mount Dora High School’s athletic director, Bebber has picked up his enthusiasm for pro wrestling. More and more, it seems, pro wrestling is responsible for adding money to the school’s booster club. On Aug. 9 it will do so again when the World Wrestling Federation brings a five-match card to the Hurricanes’ gymnasium.
It will be the biggest wrestling event Mount Dora’s boosters have managed to swing and likely will provide a handsome amount of money for the school’s spring sports programs.
While sports purists turn their noses up at the mere mention of Hulk Hogan, maintaining pro wrestling isn’t a sport, Mount Dora cashes in on its popularity.
”These wrestling fans are faithful fans. They come to see their favorites,” Bebber said. ”I think it’s a good way to raise money.”
Mount Dora isn’t alone in that thinking, just the most recent example of it. As best he can recall, Wildwood started the local trend of setting up matches to raise money for athletics. Tavares, he said, followed suit, and Bebber began coordinating matches for Mount Dora after success at Wildwood at Tavares. Leesburg also has benefitted from the phenomenon.
”Mike Wood started it when he was football coach here, and we all laughed at him,” Wildwood Principal Jim Tylk said. ”But what a tremendous fund- raiser. You make $200 or $300 off concessions and $500 off the gate — that $700 or $800. You have to wash a lot of cars and sell a lot of popcorn to get that.”
Wildwood had one wrestling match last year, Tylk said. Bebber estimated Mount Dora has held seven nights of wrestling in the last three years, more than any other school in Lake and Sumter counties. The biggest payback, too, could come from Aug. 9, when ”The Rock” Don Muraco wrestles against Greg ”The Hammer” Valentine in the main event.
In other matches, the Ultimate Warrior faces Hercules, Brady Boone wrestles Steve Lombardi and Rockin’ Robin faces Sensational Sherri Martel. A tag-team match features The Young Stallions against The Killer Bees.
With WWF’s Superstars of Wrestling show airing at least once a week in Lake and Sumter counties, Valentine and Co. are well known to fans. That bodes well for Mount Dora’s spring sports.
”The first time we ever had wrestling we had close to 1,000 people,” Bebber said. ”We knew then that this would work.”
Reserved tickets are selling for $10, and in one week Bebber already has sold more than 100. Mount Dora, which Bebber said was contacted by WWF about hosting the fund-raiser, will earn 25 percent of the total gate and 25 percent of any T-shirts, posters, programs and other souvenirs sold. All concession stand profits also are Mount Dora’s.
When tailored to fit the wrestling ring, Mount Dora’s gym will seat 1,036, Bebber said. Millman said the average arena hosting WWF events seats 2,500. Mount Dora is small by WWF standards, but it likely will be profitable.
”We sell our matches to towns all across the country as fund-raisers,” said Shari Millman, WWF’s non-profit events coordinator. ”Our television programs tell viewers they can write for information, and we get letters all the time. The city of Mount Dora is smaller than a lot of towns we go into, but the small towns are excited because they haven’t had an event there before. It’s good for community support for us and for the school.”
In his wildest dreams, Bebber imagines Mount Dora making $4,000 off the event.
”That would be outrageously great,” Bebber said. ”A success would be making a minimum of $1,000.”
The key, he said, is the card. Top-name wrestlers create more interest and draw more fans. More fans and more money. While Bebber is happy with having a Tuesday night event, Friday or Saturday night would be better.
”But that’s just good business from their WWF’ point of view,” he said. ”They go to the bigger cities on Fridays and Saturdays.”
”We mix up the wrestlers, who goes to the fund-raising events and who doesn’t,” said Jerry Brisco, a WWF promoter and a former world tag-team champion. ”For the working folks who work all day and get yelled at by their boss, this is just like a football game. This gives them a chance to yell at people, just like a football game. It’s tension relief.”
And Hurricane relief.