HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - George Keeney saw a need and jumped right in.
"I was at a match when my brother wrestled in 1970 and I saw a referee who was supposed to be one of the top guys,'' said the longtime wrestling official.
"I saw the match and this guy stayed on [my brother's] hip and just kind of stalled the match out. I thought, 'I need to do something. I need to go do this.' ''
Keeney became a referee in 1973 and spent the next 40 years overseeing the sport's growth. He will close out his career at this week's state tournament, which will be his 35th straight.
"My life has been wrestling,'' said the 65-year-old during a break at last month's WSAZ Invitational. "I started off doing this because I wanted to see better officiating. I developed I guess into a pretty good official, from what people say.''
Keeney has shared his vision for better officiating in his four decades, mentoring up-and-coming referees on the finer points. He was also instrumental in founding the Kanawha Southern Board 35 years ago.
"I really enjoyed teaching,'' said the DuPont High School graduate. "We've gone to the Tournament of Champions [in Columbus, Ohio]. [I was the] West Virginia representative and could bring whoever I wanted so I'd take different young guys to get that experience.
"We've done the Cliff Keene Eastern Nationals. I've taken guys to another level, the toughest tournaments so they can get that experience and react under pressure. When they come down [to the state tournament] it's easy because you're seeing the best guys in the nation.
"Without question we have guys in my association and other associations that are top notch. Probably the officiating in West Virginia is as good as anywhere in the country. I think we could take our 12 guys and call anything anyplace, and we've done that.''
Keeney and grappling have been intertwined ever since he can remember.
He only wrestled one year at DuPont after dislocating his elbow, but continued competing until he was 40 in AAU tournaments. His nephews Mark and Greg Samples were state champions at George Washington High School.