Scholastic wrestling needs to regain its panache!
I had an epiphany, and it was at a recent Nailer hockey game. Allow me to explain the solution for truly rejuvenating high school wrestling's popularity throughout the Ohio Valley, and the nation.
We have lost perspective in the pursuit of "quantity" wrestling matches - tournaments, more and more tournaments. We forgot what really works in promoting enthusiastic "fan-following" involvement, and what can be a very competitive experience as well - DUAL MEETS! Consider the following narrative.
Once upon a time, there came a wrestling coach named Wise to the high school at Matville, WV, a member of the OVAC. Coach Wise completely revamped the wrestling team's schedule, with emphasis on dual meets.
Since mat men in the Mountain State are allowed 18 weigh-ins, Coach Wise created a schedule that included a tough holiday tournament, the OVACs, and 14 dual meets - seven home matches and seven away dual meets.
His time-tested philosophy for the Matville High School wrestling squad encompassed the following promotional aspects, the rationale, and down plays a "petty concern" regarding robust dual meet schedules.
The Promotional Aspects
1. First and foremost, create a very rigorous dual meet schedule with the best schools you can find. A schedule that guarantees exciting meets that go "down to the wire." That way, your wrestlers will feel like they were competing in a "tournament finals" at every dual meet. Note, this cannot be accomplished with triangular and quadrangular meets. You want the audience's total attention on the two competing dual meet teams. In essence, it is the one-and-only "main event" for that night.
If you have a young team, schedule opponents of equal status and beef up the schedule from year to year, as the wrestlers become more mature regarding their mat skills.
2. Make a spectacle out of each dual meet! Have lots of bells and buzzers! To do this, find the right people to put in charge - enthusiastic parent/boosters, mat maids, a dynamic assistant coach or teacher. These individuals must love wrestling, be creative, and know how to dazzle the crowd with such ideas/props as exciting music, strobe lights, a mascot running around throwing school t-shirts into the stands, cheerleaders dancing, youth and middle school night, special ceremonies, etc.
3. Get the media involved. There should be an action photo in the morning paper after each home dual meet. This can be accomplished by assigning a person who has a good rapport with the media - the newspapers, radio, and TV - and can prompt them to publicize wrestling in a positive manner. The publicity should occur before and after each dual meet.
1. Wrestling fans will come to a well-established home dual-meet program, and the following will grow. In a recent telephone conversation, I asked Wheeling Park head coach Sean Doyle what he thought about his recent away match with Claymont High School (Ohio). The Claymont wrestling program has always emphasized dual meets. Coach Doyle was in awe. It was youth-wrestler night, and over 1,500 people attended the match - standing room only. Now that's a following!
Moreover, these same fans are much more likely to drive to away dual meets and cheer their team on for two hours, rather than travel to day-long tournaments. In fact, this is a reality of life regarding many present wrestling schedules dominated by away tournaments. Keep in mind, very few partisan supporters will attend such faraway, mat-sport marathons.
2. I understand that the contemporary mindset regarding wrestling schedules is to expose the wrestlers to as much "competition-experience" as possible via tournament after tournament. Besides losing your fan base, there are two other drawbacks. First, a wrestler often ends up competing against the same opponent four to five times during the season. "Familiarity can sometimes breed ultimate defeat" in wrestling. Second, and even more important, grueling daylong tournaments can be very tiring - "Fatigue often breeds injury," especially with your more physically-aggressive, superior wrestlers on the squad. Is it worth losing them for the year-end qualifying tournaments, leading to states?
I don't think so.
Addressing a Petty Concern
"Will my boy be able to reach the 100-victory mark with a schedule dominated by dual meets?"
My answer: He will if he is truly a GREAT wrestler.
First, today's wrestlers with 100-plus victories are a dime a dozen. Nationally, over 95-percent with such winning figures don't win states, 60-percent don't place at states, and approximately 40-percent don't even qualify for states.
Second, another angle to what was previously mentioned: Many of these victories are earned against inferior opponents they have competed against four or five times during the season. You can't get better wrestling the same guys from week to week.
Finally, I am reminded of a wrestling hero of mine as a kid - Mike Johnson. Mike was an All-American for the University of Pittsburgh. In high school, he had a puny 84 wins throughout his four years as a varsity performer. Of course, wrestling back then was comprised mainly of highly competitive dual-meet schedules, with a tournament over the holidays.
As I said, Mike Johnson only had a mere 84 victories. But here's the kicker. Mike Johnson NEVER lost a single match and was a FOUR-TIME Pennsylvania state champion. It's the quality of the competition, not the quantity of matches wrestled, that really matters.
Coach Wise made the right decision developing a strong dual meet schedule. Not only did his fan-base grow and grow, but more kids wanted to be a part of his dynamic wrestling program. This means the much less likelihood of open weight classes (forfeits), and the resurgence of full junior varsity squads.
In sum, there's no better athletic "high" than running through a "gauntlet of spectators" to reach the mat, and peering at a "packed house" for the dual-meet competition.
I know the feeling.
Mat Message "There's no labor a man can do that's undignified - if he does it right."
-- Bill Cosby
(Dr. Welker can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)