Dake: It’s all about having fun on the wrestling mat

WHEELING – The Wheeling Jesuit University wrestling program is still extremely new, having completed just one full season of competition.

However, the Cardinals’ program is already establishing a strong brand in the tri-state area.

That was on full display Monday afternoon when more than 200 wrestlers ranging in ages from elementary to high school were inside the Alma Grace McDonough Center for the inaugural Wheeling Jesuit Wrestling Camp.

“For any camp, let alone us trying to do our first one, this is an unbelievable turnout,” Wheeling Jesuit head coach Sean Doyle said. “I think 170 of the kids are staying on campus, so they’ve come from all over the area. We had a really good reach in terms of getting out into different geographical areas because we have kids from Jersey, Michigan, Virginia and all over the place. We’re excited.”

It certainly didn’t hurt that Doyle had a very strong drawing card on hand as well.

Arguably the greatest collegiate wrestler of all time, Kyle Dake, was the chief clinician for three sessions of the camp, which formally got underway Sunday evening.

“I used to do a lot of these, but I’ve scaled back and not run around as much and be more selective in my camps,” Dake said.

While both Dake and Doyle are Cornell University grads, they didn’t formally meet each other until this past March in Oklahoma at the NCAA Division I nationals.

“Sean’s a great guy and it was good to meet him,” Dake said. “As long as everything could work out, I knew I wanted to come down here and work this camp. Thankfully, it did.”

Dake’s wrestling resume speaks for itself.

In four years at Cornell, Dake became the third wrestler all time to win four consecutive national championships. He’s the only one to do so in four different weight classes (141, 149, 157 and 165), however.

Three of the four wrestlers that Dake defeated in those championship matches won at least one national championship of their own. He defeated reigning champion David Taylor of Penn State and St. Paris Graham in 2013.

Dake was able to work with both the younger and older kids during the camp and was able to make sure his message got across clearly for both age brackets.

“I like (having different age groups) because if I get tired of the older kids, I can go hang out with the younger kids,” Dake said. “But, then once the younger kids start attacking you from everywhere, you go hang out with the big kids. It’s good to have that and creates a good dynamic.”

Doyle just sat back and watched how well Dake interacted with the campers of all ages.

“He’s unbelievable at involving himself (with the kids) to a level where they’re just having fun,” Doyle said. “Whether it’s playing games in the spare time or on the mat, he’s great with these kids. He stayed late just signing autographs, taking pictures with kids and throwing frisbee. He’s just a guy who’s having fun and enjoys it.”

Obviously, not all of the wrestlers at the camp are at the same level or may even have the same aspirations in the sport as it pertains to wrestling at the collegiate level, but Dake doesn’t have to simplify his message too much.

“I just give them things that work,” Dake said. “I am not going to show them some crazy move that only works in high school. I am going to show things that work in college because there things are much more basic. You get to college, everyone knows the crazy moves and how to stop them, so they fade away.”

Quite simply, for Dake it was all about having fun and getting back to the basics.

“I’ve tried to keep the mood light and make sure everyone’s having a good time,” Dake said. “Whether it be having little competitions or just trying to make them not hate wrestling.”

Along with the wrestlers on hand, several coaches have brought their entire teams to the camp and are taking in the camp as well.

“There are certain things that kids will pick up on and then there are other things, maybe technique wise, that the coaches will pick up on,” Dake said. “I’ll put the kids through some drills and may decide to use that in their practice. I just do what I can to help the kids and the sport as much as I can.”

Just 23, Dake still has the competitive juices flowing. After coming up a win short of making the 2012 Olympic team in London, Dake’s focused on not only getting to Rio, but bringing back the Gold Medal.

“My focus lies on winning the gold,” Dake said. “But, if I can help some kids out (by coaching and teaching) whether it’s at Cornell or somewhere else, I’d be willing because I like helping people out.”

Dake thinks the state of the sport is in a good position now that it’s back into the Olympic program.

“It’s booming right now,” Dake said. “When they were going to remove wrestling from the Olympics, it was pretty scary, but it really brought the wrestling community together. We fought hard to get it back and now we’re adding new programs every year. Maybe not at the Division I level, but at the lower levels. It’s a great thing for wrestling.”

To continue the boom and growth, Dake believes the sport needs to remain fun for kids and part of that deals with not having to cut weight at a young age.

“Cutting weight at like seven years old or something is pretty much child abuse in my opinion,” Dake said. “Just let the kids go out, eat and wrestle as much as they want and have as much fun as possible.”

On top of working the camp, Dake got to spend some time with relatives in St. Clairsville Sunday night.

“It was nice to see (my relatives),” Dake said. “I get down here about once a year or so. My cousin (Turner Provost) graduated last year, so I was here for the graduation party.”

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com