Area mat fans dealing with IOC decision
The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference has produced just one Olympian in the sport of wrestling.
That being Bobby Douglas, who took part in the 1964 Tokyo Games and was the American team captain in the 1968 Mexico City Games.
Despite the area’s lack of Olympians, wrestling has long been one of the more popular and competitive sports the Ohio Valley offers.
Area wrestlers began their quests toward next month’s Ohio State Tournament in Columbus this past weekend, just a few days after the International Olympic Committee announced it had voted to remove wrestling from the Olympic program for the 2020 Games.
Some area wrestling junkies are torn on just how the IOC’s vote will affect the sport over the long haul.
“I think (removing wrestling from the Olympics) can be nothing but detrimental,” said West Liberty University head coach Brian Davis. “(The vote) is a shame, especially since wrestling has grown in America the past decade with more athletes participating in the sport at the high level and with more colleges adding programs.”
Recently hired Wheeling Jesuit head coach Sean Doyle, a former Buckeye Local and Cornell University grappler, was obviously upset about wrestling coming out of the Olympic program, but he doesn’t believe it’s “a death sentence for wrestling.”
“I’d say at the high school level, 99 percent of the wrestlers don’t have the Olympic Games on their radar,” Doyle said. “Obviously, a very small group of wrestlers grow up to become Olympians or Olympic champions. I just don’t think the general kid will feel a punch in the stomach, but a lot of your major collegiate wrestlers will be taken aback.”
Doyle’s point makes sense, especially when you look at the Ohio Valley wrestling program.
Some of the younger wrestlers may have their goals set for the Olympics, similarly to the way that aspiring football players want to play quarterback for their favorite NFL team in the Super Bowl or baseball players want to pitch Game 7 of the World Series.
It’s the old, ‘dare to dream big’ adage.
However, many Ohio Valley high school wrestlers will tell you their goals are to win the OVAC Tournament, qualify for their respective state tournament, place there with the aspirations of climbing the podium with each passing season and if they’re fortunate enough get the opportunity to continue the sport at the collegiate level.
“To be honest, high school and colleges in the United States wrestle a different style,” Doyle said of the folkstyle that’s utilized in the prep and collegiate ranks. “I actually think the rest of the world will be more greatly affected. In the United States, I think more kids train to be state champions and then hopefully NCAA champions.”
Over the course of the last 15 years, 95 colleges have added wrestling as a varsity sport. The total number of participants has gone up 40 to 50-thousand over that time span. That’s impressive, especially when you consider Title IX has caused a lot of major colleges to drop the sport.
Douglas, who coached at the collegiate level at Arizona State and Iowa State, believes the educational opportunities that wrestling provides will certainly aid the sport’s battle to remain relevant even though the Olympic dream has been eliminated for now.
“Olympics is a nice goal to have, but getting an education should be the bigger goal,” Douglas offered. “We want wrestlers to go to school, be good students, good citizens and great representatives of the sport and of America.”
Martins Ferry head coach Scott Roth, who like Doyle wrestled collegiately at Cornell University, pointed out that wrestling is the sixth most popular sport among high school students.
“In other countries, around the world, wrestling is the main sport,” Roth said. “It’s like our NFL.”
Roth achieved all of the steps along the way during his career. He won the OVAC title, was an undefeated state champion as a senior and had the opportunity to compete at the major college level.
Still, though, the quest for the Olympics was something that he dreamed about.
“I remember I was about 10 years old and the Olympic Trials were held at Duquesne and I got to see some of the best wrestlers in USA Wrestling history compete that day,” Roth recalled. “I sat and watched, in the stands and dreamed of that being me one day. I never reached those levels, but it gave me something to strive for. The Olympic gold is the pinnacle of our sport.”
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org