'Gateway Boys' help keep Mid-Atlantic wrestling memories alive

David Chappell (far left) and Dick Bourne (far right) with legendary announcer Bob Caudle in front of WRAL-Channel 5 television studios in Raleigh, N.C. WRAL was the home of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling television from 1959-1981.

For nearly 16 years Dick Bourne and David Chappell have formed one of the top teams in professional wrestling.

And that's without having ever stepped inside a wrestling ring.

Instead of making history, this dynamic duo has documented history, notably the history of the storied Mid-Atlantic wrestling territory.

The two first began comparing notes in 1990, and 10 years later decided to share their love of Mid-Atlantic wrestling with fellow fans. They have been preserving and rekindling memories ever since through their popular Mid-Atlantic Gateway website.

“We had all this material and memorabilia — from old programs and newspaper clippings to audio recordings going back over 40 years,” says Bourne. “Message boards and forums were popular at the time. This was before the days of social media and people sharing common interests in that way. We just thought the Mid-Atlantic Gateway site was the perfect way to share our love of the old Mid-Atlantic territory with people who shared that similar interest, and to help keep these memories alive.”

It was a perfect fit, adds Chappell, a Virginia career prosecutor who met Bourne, a North Carolina-based human resources professional, in the early days of the Internet.

“Dick posted a question on a new professional wrestling message board about the supreme sacrifice angle in June of 1975 where Gene and Ole Anderson regained the NWA world tag-team title in a TV match with Paul Jones and Wahoo McDaniel,” relates Chappell. “I told Dick I had an audiotape of that match, and shared it with him, and we immediately became fast friends.”

Ironically, says Chappell, that same match was one that forever hooked both on Mid-Atlantic wrestling. It also would mark the beginning of a dream-team pairing made in cyberspace wrestling heaven.

Over the past 16 years their site has become the definitive resource on the web for information and reference on Mid-Atlantic wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions. Everything a fan wants to know about the territory — from interviews to anecdotes to results — is featured on the extensive site.

Bourne, 55, admits the tremendous response the two received was a big surprise.

“We wondered, of course, would anyone care? Does anyone besides us remember the great days of Mid-Atlantic wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s? And how would they find us? Well, it was sort of like 'Field of Dreams' and 'if you build it, they will come.' We have thousands of website visitors every day from all over the world. It is truly amazing what it has grown into.”

For their tireless efforts and unwavering dedication to Mid-Atlantic wrestling, the “Mid-Atlantic Gateway Boys” will be honored at the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest in Charlotte where they will be inducted into the prestigious Hall of Heroes.

“We certainly are honored to be included in a program of recognition like this that is now in its 10th year,” says Bourne. “Especially to be recognized alongside some of the biggest names in the pro wrestling business, many of whom were our childhood heroes.”

“Being inducted into the Hall of Heroes is an incredible honor, and a surreal feeling for me,” adds Chappell. “The wrestling greats that are in the class of 2016, and those from prior years, are truly heroes for me and have contributed so much to making professional wrestling great. Growing up and going to the matches around Richmond, Va., I never sought out the wrestlers in person. They were larger than life to me.”

While Chappell, 57, admits he felt some initial trepidation in eventually meeting many of those iconic figures from the past, he was amazed by their graciousness and humility.

“I had always heard you don't ever want to meet your heroes, because they will disappoint you. Well, the Gateway has allowed me to meet those heroes later in my life, and they have never disappointed me. To the contrary, many have become dear friends.”

“Through the website, we've been blessed to get to know people within the wrestling business who have supported us as well,” says Bourne. “People like Bob Caudle, George South, 'The Masked Superstar' Bill Eadie and many others.”

The late Blackjack Mulligan was the first person within the industry, says Bourne, to make contact after viewing the site. Bourne received an email “from someone named B.J. Windham” (Mulligan's real name) thanking him for bringing back so many great memories. Bourne initially thought it was a joke.

“We were blown away that he had found the site on his own and liked it and took the time to tell us so,” says Bourne. “He emailed us, and we didn't believe it was really him at first. We became great friends afterwards.”

While the Gateway is designed toward older fans who share a love for the territory days, notably the Mid-Atlantic circuit, Bourne and Chappell have found that the website also has attracted many fans who weren't even born during those early days. They attribute that interest to the advent of social media. In fact, a majority of the site's traffic now is generated directly from Facebook and Twitter.

“The Gateway has turned on many young people to Mid-Atlantic wrestling; people that weren't even born during the time period our site primarily covers,” says Chappell. “To me, that's a testament to how believable the wrestlers and the storylines were, to still reel people in all these many years later.”

Bourne and Chappell note that the site is a tribute to the performers and athletes that made Jim Crockett Promotions such a magical place. It's an  homage to what many consider to be one of the greatest eras and territories in pro wrestling history.

There was, indeed, something mystical and magical about Mid-Atlantic wrestling. The '60s through the '80s, in particular, produced some of the most celebrated names in wrestling lore. Longtime fans will never forget performers such as Johnny Weaver, the Scott Brothers and the Andersons. The feud between Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel is the stuff of legend.

And what longtime follower can ever forget when a brash 25-year-old named Ric Flair strutted, styled and profiled into Charlotte and never looked back, setting the wrestling world on fire and letting fans know what the excitement  was all about.

Wrestling fans who visit the site can relive some of their most cherished childhood memories.

“We did it to share our love of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling with fellow fans using this new thing called the Internet,” says Chappell. “We were shocked when pretty soon wrestlers and other people in the business started contacting us about our website. In almost every instance, they wouldn't believe us when we told them how many fans still remembered them from the Mid-Atlantic era. One of the most gratifying things about doing the Gateway is that I believe we've proven to many of our Mid-Atlantic heroes just how much they mean to so many people, and that they have not been forgotten.”

The annual Fanfest gathering in Charlotte, where fans come from as far away as Japan and Australia to attend the four-day event, is proof positive.

“The Fanfest gatherings are amazing events,” says Chappell. “During the early years of the Gateway, Dick and I were approached by a number of people asking us to put together a Mid-Atlantic fan convention. We just didn't see how it could be done. Greg Price has done an incredible job with these events over the years. It still boggles my mind how he pulls off these great wrestling conventions year after year.”

While constantly updating the website can be very time-consuming, it's been a labor of love for both.

“We've met so many wonderful people and established great friendships with folks who want to pitch in an help out, who love it just like we do,” says Bourne. “From photographers to collectors to general enthusiasts — it's become like a big family.”

If you're expecting any dirt or scandalous stories on the Mid-Atlantic site, you might want to look for another source.

“Our website is all about the positive, about reliving and sharing good memories,” explains Bourne. “We don't get into any of the backstage drama. We like to try and present the history of the territory just as it was presented to us back then on television in the arenas. It's like back in the days when people passed along folk tales from generation to generation; we want to pass along these great stories told decades ago so that new generations of wrestling fans will know them, too, and those great names will never be forgotten.”

To Dick Bourne and David Chappell, the Mid-Atlantic days will never die.

“People often tell me that I'm stuck in the '70s, but I wear that as a badge of honor ... especially when it pertains to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling,” says Chappell.

The ninth annual Hall of Heroes dinner and awards ceremony will be held Aug. 5. For more information on Fanfest Weekend activities, which will be held Aug. 4-7 at Hilton University Place Hotel in Charlotte, contact NWALegends@aol.com.

Visit the Mid-Atlantic Gateway site at www.midatlanticgateway.com.

Last week's column featured a look back at Ilio DiPaolo, a wrestling favorite in the '50s and '60s who went on to become a successful restaurateur in the Buffalo, N.Y., area until his death at the age of 68 in 1996. The native Italian's story was an inspiring one and prompted a response from a reader who waxed nostalgic regarding the late wrestler.

James B. Abt passed along this touching recollection of DiPaolo and what he meant to the community:

“Just a few days ago, I was remembering how my great uncle would take me to his Rotary Club's annual Christmas party. Memories of multi-colored lights hung on wood-paneled walls, heaping servings of spaghetti and piles of gifts in shiny wrapping.

“My uncle would always give me one of his cigars to chew on. It would remain in the plastic wrapper and did not provide any practical purpose. Yet, in a room full of WWII vets, it made me feel like one of the boys, a real man, despite being only a few years removed from riding a tricycle.

“The main event was always when the clouds of cigar smoke would be parted by a giant of a man, his hands held almost above his head, palms up and a grandchild sitting in each one. They were my age, but compared to Ilio, you would have thought they were infants. It was a show of strength and enormity, something that would typically intimidate not only a young boy, but everyone else in the room. With Ilio though, this entrance projected love and pride of family; setting just the right tone for the party.

“As the restaurant filled with calls of 'Ilio, Ilio,' he visited every table as if reuniting with childhood friends. When Ilio came to our table and extended his hand, it looked big enough to bear hug me. He was such a large man, he could easily make anyone feel small. Yet, for anyone who attended those parties, and really anyone that ever met Ilio, a pat on the back and a shake of the hand from him and you immediately felt like one of the boys.

“I almost feel badly for the kids that went to other Christmas parties. All they had was Santa. We had Ilio.”

Former WWE star Carlito (Carly Colon) will make his first Old School Championship Wrestling appearance on July 31 at the group's “Summer Heat Wave” event at the Hanahan Rec Center.

Also featured will be former WWE star Gangrel and PWX champion John Skyler.

Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.

General admission is $10 (cash); kids 12 and under $5.

For more information, call 843-743-4800 or visit oscwonline.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.