January 16, 2002 11:00 pm

This past weekend collegiate, high school and middle school wrestlers gathered in Redmond for the Oregon Wrestling Classic, one of the premier wrestling events in the West. This was the first time in 18 years the event has been held outside of Corvallis or Portland.

The competition hosts the top wrestlers from Oregon and throughout the Northwest. It usually previews the states wrestling tournament that is held later, giving enthusiasts a chance to see the cream of the crop.

So why did the event move out of the valley to the eastside? Because a few years ago the residents of Deschutes County decided to spend $26 million for its new fairgrounds, upgrading the venue with the hope of drawing some of the regions top events.

The efforts are paying off. Besides the wrestlers themselves, who came from as far away as the Ivy League and Canada, thousands of parents and diehard fans converged on Redmond and Bend for the event, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at motels, restaurants and other businesses.

The adage, If you build it they will come, certainly has made sense for those in Central Oregon who had the foresight of investing in this kind of infrastructure.

Every community needs visionaries. They are the people who can look 25 to 50 years out and see what could happen to a community if it would only dream and invest in its future.

We constantly hear locals say that they dont want La Grande to become another Bend. That is the same kind of lack of vision that has kept La Grande and numerous other cities in Eastern Oregon in stagnant positions.

Outside of Bend and a few other pockets of growth, Oregon communities east of the Cascades have seen a steady decline in the number of children attending public schools and a continuing closure of mills and other manufacturers. What we need in La Grande and Union County are the kind of visionaries who can lead us in a positive growth pattern that will help draw jobs that pay $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

We think what happened in Redmond over the weekend was a sign of the kind of vision it will take in the next 50 years to make good things happen for Eastern Oregon communities. If not, maybe some more will end up like Antelope, a virtual ghost town today that once was the sheep capital of the nation.


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