Local coaches shocked by cancellation of wrestling from Olympic program
Like most of their brethren worldwide, area wrestling coaches and officials were dumbfounded at Tuesday's news that the International Olympic Committee had decided to drop the sport after the 2016 Summer Games.
Now wrestling, along with some other sports, such as modern pentathlon, field hockey and taekwando, is on something of a probationary list with the IOC, and must present its case to remain on the Olympic schedule for 2020. The wrestling community in the world at large feels blindsided by the decision and figured the sport, one of the ancient Games' mainstays along with track and field, was inviolate.
"It's disappointing," said Southern Columbia head coach Jerry Marks, a two-time PIAA state champion. "We just had a practice with Bloomsburg and it was the talk of the day. We were in shock, really. Every boy that wrestles has Olympic dreams, and now they're going to take that away.
"It's tough enough to get guys to come out for our sport; now they're going to take away that goal?"
Line Mountain head coach Mike Martz, who has coached three state champions during his tenure and was a state placewinner, said he thinks the decision is reflective of what's going on in the world.
"My first thought was that it's like anything else - if something is tough, they drop it," Martz said. "I think it's another indication that as a society, we're getting soft."
"I really don't get it," Marks said. "I thought wrestling would be an Olympic sport forever. I hope people get together and fight this thing and get it back."
"Anything like this is a blow to the sport," said Shamokin head coach Todd Hockenbroch.
Long term effects
Marks said he didn't think the sport would be hurt at the lowest levels, but keeping kids' interest as they grow older might be a problem without the Olympics as a goal.
"I don't think kids coming out is the problem," Marks said. "But it's a demanding sport. I've been saying for a long time now that we have to do some things to make the sport more acceptable for kids. I think we should start our season on January 2 and go to March 31. The way it is now, we start in November and these kids don't get Thanksgiving, they don't get Christmas, they don't get New Year's. I haven't had a real Christmas in 20 years. I get that day, then we have practice the next day, then a tournament a day after that."
Martz said he thinks the decision might affect collegiate wrestling, ironically at a time when it seems to be on a bit of a rebound.
"If you're a top-level collegian, that's the final step. You look at a guy like (Penn State coach) Cael Sanderson. The Olympic gold medal was one thing to add to his resume. They know he's a top dog with that. I think it's going to hurt in that regard," Martz said.
Martz coached Tyler Erdman, Jon Fausey and Zain Retherford to state titles. Erdman is wrestling at Shippensburg University, Fausey at the University of Virginia and Retherford, who now is a senior at Benton, won a world youth championship last summer.
"It's going to be tough for the really elite guys," Hockenbroch added. "We'll still have worlds every year, but to see what those guys put into it and then not to have the Olympics, it's mind boggling."
Former North Schuylkill coach and veteran official Joe Cesari said he really wasn't that shocked at the decision, and added, "People have to remember, it's not a done deal. A lot can happen between now and 2020. But a lot of people are going to have to get on the (wrestling) bandwagon and support the sport."
What mystified all the respondents was that wrestling and track and field, the two original Greek Olympic sports, were apparently vulnerable.
"I don't know who comprises the Olympic committee, but it does seem odd," Martz said.
Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, figured his sport was secure, he told Sports Illustrated. "From the ancient Olympics to the modern Olympics," Bender told SI, "in every corner of the globe, nobody could dispute wrestling's importance to the Olympic movement."
But Cesari added a realistic note, saying everything comes down to money and that it was perhaps time for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, which is done internationally, to give way to American folkstyle wrestling.
"I'm going to tick some people off but freestyle and Greco-Roman aren't the most exciting things to watch," Cesari said, "and it's all about drawing an audience."
But Line Mountain Superintendent Dave Campbell, who runs the Southern Sectional tournament and helps to operate the district and regional tournaments in Williamsport and formerly coached at South Williamsport, said getting the rest of the world to adopt folkstyle rules would be a tough sell.
"That would give us (Americans) an advantage," Campbell said. "I'm just shocked the way this happened. I heard rumors during the day, then all of a sudden, it's a done deal. What this tells me is that there is some corruption within the Olympic committee."
"Getting the Russians and Iranians (international wrestling powers) to change their style would be tough," Hockenbroch said. "They've been trying with some rules changes and things to make the sport a little more exciting at that level. They're going to have to try something."