Thomas Simpson, who is part owner of OMEGA wrestling, has played several roles in the sport in the past 20 or so years. (Matt Walsh | Index-Journal)
As I ducked into the Mill House just before noon on a bright, sunny Monday in June, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dark, comfortable environment in the venerable pizzeria.
My eyes scanned the room, which was fairly quiet except for the employees hustling about getting ready for the impending lunch rush. The sounds of ESPN's SportsCenter emanated from a mounted flatscreen TV.
In the newspaper business, I tend to come in contact with a vast array of characters.
I also come into contact with a bunch of people who want to be characters, but are really just posers who wish they were as much of a character as they think they are.
(Got that? Yeah, me neither. Let's move on.)
But on that Monday in June, I went to the Mill House to meet with an actual character: Thomas Simpson, a mathematician and longtime college instructor who is pursuing his doctorate and who, oh, by the way, has been involved in the independent professional wrestling business for more than 20 years.
After glancing around the pizzeria for a moment or two, I spotted Simpson at the bar. The math wiz/wrestling connoisseur saw me and waved me over. He had a frosty beer in his left hand.
"I hope you don't mind, but I went ahead and got started," Simpson said with a big grin.
THE REASON I CALLED UPON Simpson was because I was looking for someone to lead me down the rabbit hole into the world of pro wrestling. As you can probably tell by reading the 100-column-inch story that accompanies this column in today's paper, Simpson graciously agreed to point me in the right direction.
Simpson, 44, was raised in Abbeville and went to Abbeville High School. He graduated from the College of Charleston and got his master's degree in mathematics from the University of South Carolina. He is now pursuing a doctorate in statistics from South Carolina, as well.
He has been a math instructor for a number of years. He taught at McCormick's Long Cane Academy for a year, and later had a long teaching stint at Piedmont Technical College. For the last 13 years, he has been a math instructor at USC Union. He now plans to take a break from teaching to finish his doctorate.
I attended Piedmont Tech my first two years of college, before transferring to Lander University. Thankfully, I didn't have Simpson for math during my time at PTC. If he ever discovered how terrible I was/am at math, (4+4 = 371, right?) he likely wouldn't have agreed to help me with my wrestling opus.
Alas, I was able to keep my math deficiencies a secret from him, so he agreed to talk. And let me tell you, sitting on a bar stool and listening to Thomas Simpson spin wrestling stories for two hours is a unique experience.
A large man with glasses and close-cropped hair, Simpson has a perfect Abbeville accent and one of those voices that carries across a room. He peppers his tales with an infectious laugh that ranges from a low-rumbling chuckle to a sudden cackle.
As he weaves in and out of various anecdotes and stories about wrestling, he slips the names of people, places and events into the conversation in such an honest, casual way you realize he might not grasp just how unique his life as a math teacher/wrestling guru has actually been
Simpson's role in wrestling during the last 20 or so years has been multi-faceted. He's been a promoter, a performer, a booker. He's had ownership in independent promotions, including OMEGA, an organization which helped catapult the careers of Matt and Jeff Hardy to another level.
One thing is certain: The guy loves wrestling.
I ASKED SIMPSON WHEN HE BECAME a fan of wrestling.
"The first time I ever saw it (live) was actually 35 years ago," Simpson said. "I had never watched it. My parents would not watch it. Some of my cousins and my uncle did, but my parents never did. I went to Friendship Baptist Church in Abbeville at the time, and my Sunday school teacher was a monster wrestling fan. He wanted to take the Sunday school class to wrestling, so we came over to the Greenwood Civic Center. ... It was the greatest thing I had ever seen."
Simpson said he still remembers the main event from that long ago show at the civic center: a tag team match pitting Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and Paul Jones against Baron von Rashke and The Masked Superstar.
"I used to have nightmares about The Masked Superstar," Simpson said with a chuckle. "He was so big and scary. ... He scared the daylights out of me. He was like something out of Star Wars with that mask and stuff."
Simpson said he later got to know The Masked Superstar - real name Bill Eadie - and notes there is nothing scary about him in real life.
"He is a sweet, wonderful man," Simpson said. "Bill Eadie is the nicest guy."
The first wrestling show Simpson ever promoted was in 1993 in Abbeville, and he has continued to promote shows, off and on, since then. He has promoted wrestling shows in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and beyond.
He was a part owner of American Championship Wrestling for a time the mid-1990s, then was a part owner, with Matt Hardy, of OMEGA in the late 1990s.
OMEGA was known among independent wrestling fans as a promotion that featured high-flying, risk-taking wrestlers.
Simpson said OMEGA was a gamechanger in indy wrestling.
"Before OMEGA, indy wrestling was very traditional," Simpson said. "It was fat old guys who had been wrestling forever. ... (Wrestlers in OMEGA) raised the game. They changed the way things were done."
As established earlier, I'm not very good at math. And, while I've been a wrestling fan since I was a kid, I didn't have a real knowledge of what goes on inside the wrestling business. Still don't, if we're being honest.
But Thomas Simpson? He has a deep knowledge of math and pro wrestling.
And while he is still pursuing his doctorate in statistics, I'm going to confer upon him a doctorate in wrestling.
Thomas, you hereby have your PhD in Flying Elbowology.
Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-5650; email email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.