Former wrestler gets in the ring once more to inspire students

Drew Toney, stage name Drew Blood, wrestled his final match on Sept. 2 in Monroe to inspire his students. (Photo courtesy of Bob McAteer)

Credit: Bob McAteer

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Drew Toney, stage name Drew Blood, wrestled his final match on Sept. 2 in Monroe to inspire his students. (Photo courtesy of Bob McAteer)

Credit: Bob McAteer

Credit: Bob McAteer

Drew Toney thought his days as professional wrestler Drew Blood were behind him, but on Sept. 2, he returned to the ring for one more fight — not for glory, but to inspire and entertain his students. It had been four years since he donned his finest spandex, but wrestling, Toney said, is like riding a bike: You never forget how it’s done.

Wrestling has been an interest of Toney’s since he was a boy.

“My earliest childhood memory is watching wrestling at my grandmother’s house,” said Toney, 41, of Travelers Rest, South Carolina. “Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, I loved them all. I couldn’t sit still and watch. I’d use pillows, people, whatever, to do what the wrestlers on TV were doing. I’d extend my hand as I walked down the hall in school, accidentally knocking things off walls as I high fived my invisible fans.”

Toney wrestled in high school and went right into the Army after graduation. While stationed in Fort Stewart, he took leave to train with Adrian Street, a professional wrestler who ran a wrestling school in Florida.

“He was very knowledgeable, and I wanted to learn from him,” said Toney. “Some schools have a reputation for abusing guys, but he wasn’t like that at all. He got to business and harped on the showman aspect of wrestling.”

Credit: Courtesy of Bob McAteer

Credit: Courtesy of Bob McAteer

During Toney’s five-year stint in the Army, he began using Drew Blood as his stage name and he wrestled weekly at shows across South Georgia, at places like fairgrounds and abandoned flea markets.

“It was just fun. I really enjoy storytelling, improv, involving the audience — all the stuff I learned from Adrian,” said Toney. “It’s a lot like improv comedy, but you can add drama, or heat as they call it in wrestling, where you get people angry. It’s entertainment.”

Toney realized early on that wrestling wasn’t going to be a full-time vocation. The expense required to create a gimmick with a wide-ranging wardrobe along with all the costs for travel outweigh the pay for the small shows and the small shows were what Toney preferred.

“I never wanted to be on TV,” said Toney. “I like the local spots, the dingy buildings, and skating rinks. They just don’t pay enough.”

Toney continued to wrestle on the weekends, but it became less frequent when he became a father in 2010. Though wrestling was something he enjoyed, he never allowed it to take from his personal life.

Years passed. The wrestling shows dwindled until they eventually stopped. Toney, a married father of four, is a teacher for the Greenville County Alternative Program. His students, who are all boys and range in age from 11 to 21 years old, are in group homes for an array of reasons, from their own behavior, to neglect and abuse. Many of the students are orphaned and many struggle with mental health issues.

Credit: Courtesy of Bob McAteer

Credit: Courtesy of Bob McAteer

“I have a great repertoire with the students. I love them and feel bonded to them,” said Toney. “I want to be consistent with them and show them I care. I know some of them have no one else.”

To reward his students for working hard and meeting goals, Toney shows them his old wrestling videos. Back when he was still wrestling, he’d even let the boys choose his outfits, making them feel like part of the act.

Though he wasn’t wrestling anymore, Toney’s passion for the sport continued through his writing. He self-published a book, a western with a wrestling theme called “Catch as Catch Can,” in 2021, and is in the process of writing the sequel. Still, his students craved the action.

“The kids who’ve been around a while ask all the time when I’m going to wrestle again,” said Toney. “Then my old tag team partner, Timothy Coursey, wrestling name David Raines, asked me to join him for one more show to fulfill his bucket list. It’d been years, but I decided to go for it one more time.”

Toney made his return at the Wild Card Match hosted by Southern Fried Championship Wrestling in Monroe at The Boys & Girls Club.

“There was no practice beforehand,” said Toney. “If I was going to get hurt, I’d rather it be in the ring.”

Toney, clad in red and yellow spandex, and his partner had the crowd roiling with laugher over their elaborate entrance which mimicked a scene from “Titanic.” The duo lost the match, as was their role, and Toney walked away with both a sense of finality and excitement to share the experience with his students.

“It was definitely worth it,” said Toney. “I’m fortunate that I was able to have a nice bookend, whereas some guys don’t stop until an injury forces them to. My wrestling days are over, but I’m glad I could do this for my students. It shows them that it’s OK to be vulnerable and funny. They see me lose, they see how I embrace it and accept it, and for inner-city youth, that is a hard pill to swallow. I want to show them unwavering confidence, win, lose, or draw.”

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