Locals wrestle over the thought of not competing at the Olympic Games
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Shock and disappointment sum up the politically-correct feelings of those involved with and participating in local wrestling, a sport the International Olympic Committee has voted out of the summer games beginning in 2020.
Other, more appropriate expressions of outrage can’t be printed.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted Tuesday to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games and the reaction has been immediate and sharp from wrestling organizations throughout the United States and the world, even locally.
“I’m surprised and shocked,” said Hall of Fame wrestling coach Dick Lang of Royalton, one of the men responsible for guiding Middleport wrestler Lou Rosselli ultimately to the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.
“My first thoughts were, ‘This can’t be,’” Lang said. “Wrestling is the oldest sport in the modern Olympics (1896) and even the Greek Olympics. This will eliminate 17 countries that won medals in 2012 — and that shows its diversity. In some of those countries, wrestling is their national sport. And to our athletes, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Local wrestling coaches and participants are hoping that the move won’t be ratified for good by the committee in September.
“I think it’s a slap in the face to everyone who wrestles,” said Lockport High School junior Marshall Taylor, who will compete this weekend at the state wrestling championships in Albany at 220 pounds.
“Wrestling is one of the first sports ever invented — no offense to the other Olympic sports. It’s just very disrespectful to our athletes. There’s no wrestlers on the committee, because if there was, they would know that it’s one of the toughest sports out there.”
LHS varsity wrestling coach Joe Scapelliti and other other local coaches are also surprised and perplexed by the announcement.
“It’s definitely very disappointing to say the least,” Scapelliti said. “I don’t think it’s over from what I’ve seen. I think the IOC will listen to USA Wrestling and some of the other organizations pleading their case and hopefully, they’ll reconsider.”
Scapelliti said the implications of eliminating wrestling are less students in the future trying out for the sport.
“Certainly this will have an affect on us and our sport because the Olympics is the pinnacle. If you win an Olympic gold medal, you’ve reached the top of the sport. This will chase a lot of dreams away,” Scapelliti said.
“Look at other sports like swimming and the impact of Michael Phelps winning gold medals. It draws young kids into that sport. The biggest name in USA wrestling today is Jordan Burroughs, who won an Olympic gold medal last summer. He’s someone our kids look up to and aspire to be. If they take wrestling out of the Olympics, it will take away one of the most visible exhibitions our sport has to offer.”
Royalton-Hartland varsity wrestling coach Kevin Lawson said in the last 15 years, the number of Division I wrestling programs has dropped from 96 to 78. This announcement further cripples the sport.
“It’s going to trickle down. It’s going to get rid of the Olympic training tournaments and freestyle tournaments and a lot of things. It’s even going to trickle down to the Empire State Games,” Lawson said.
“It’s devastating. I’ve got a wrestler, Drew Hull, who signed a National Letter of Intent recently to attend Division I University of Virginia. One of his dreams is to be an Olympian and there’s a slim chance of that ever happening now.
“It’s hurting the sport in a vast number of ways. We’ll lose exposure and kids chasing their dreams,” Lawson said. “Wrestling isn’t very glamourous. It’s not a popular sport because it’s so demanding. There’s a lot of training and sacrifice involved. There just isn’t a lot of revenue and it’s a financial decision that’s driving the sport away.”
Former Barker wrestling coach, now Barker/Roy-Hart football coach Bill Bruning, said wrestling is a sport for high school kids who don’t want to play other winter sports like basketball or swimming.
“It’s crazy. I just can’t see them getting rid of the world’s oldest sport,” Bruning said. “I’m optimistic and truly believe they don’t know what they’re doing. Wrestling coaches and wrestling alumni are very passionate people. We’re going to find a way to bring it back and to make it work.”