Pennsylvania high school wrestling has a reputation for producing some of the best wrestlers in the country. Within the Keystone State, District 7, known as the WPIAL, comprises some of the best individual grapplers and is seen as a “hotbed” within the powerhouse wrestling state.
Well, don’t expect that change anytime soon. There is now a USA Wrestling Regional Training Center (RTC) – Knights RTC – operating within WPIAL limits out of Norwin High School in North Huntington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
— Kyle Martin, Ph.D (@Martin_USAWPAWF) August 9, 2021
Knights RTC, which received its official USA Wrestling accreditation earlier this month, will be run by RTC Director/Head Coach Jarrod King and Associate Head Coach / Freestyle Director Kyle Martin. Both are entering their second seasons on the Norwin High School wrestling staff, where Martin serves as the head coach and King as an assistant coach.
The former Connellsville High School teammates turned Norwin Knights coaches began this venture to provide more access, opportunity, and exposure to the Norwin wrestlers and those in the surrounding districts and regions. These efforts are made under an overall mission to “Develop Olympians in Wrestling, Olympians in Life.”
“I remember sitting down in December  with Jarrod, and I was like, ‘Listen, I think down the road, we can do some phenomenal things in Norwin,” Martin recalled of the initial conversation about starting Knights RTC. “We’re five minutes off the turnpike. It’s easy to access, and we can get in high-level athletes.'”
Well, as it turned out, it wouldn’t take nearly as long as anticipated to turn Knights RTC from an idea into a reality. What was expected to take years took just over eight months.
“We were confident that in about four to five years, it would be realistic for us to have the eligibility for an RTC. But things sped up obviously,” Martin said with a laugh. “And that’s all predicated on our parents at Norwin, which are the best. The boosters are so supportive of everything we do. The athletic directors are phenomenal. It’s just an abundance of support.”
While the support from others has been critical over the last year, it’s the successes on the mat by the current crop of Norwin wrestlers that made Knights RTC possible.
“The most important thing was our athletes were doing the work,” Martin said. “They were coming in for second workouts every night. They were grinding out hard workouts. They were looking to get better every chance they could.”
Those extra workouts and time in the practice room paid off.
“They had a really successful for style Greco-Roman season,” Martin said. “We had more State qualifiers to freestyle and Greco States than Norwin has ever had. We had more State placewinners, and more Fargo qualifiers than Norwin has ever had. It was a really successful year. We ended up having eight RTC eligible athletes, which put us over those criteria.”
Other criteria such as a training facility that is operational year-round, a USA Wrestling Gold certified coach on staff, and other necessary requirements were already in place. With that, the decision to go forward with an RTC instead of a club team was an easy one.
“[At that point], the question was, ‘Why not do it [an RTC],” Martin said. “Why not take the risk of being in RTC? Why not run with it? We’re not afraid to fail in any shape or form. We’re just excited to provide this opportunity. I think the kids deserve us [as coaches] to push everything that we can to help them get successful in whatever they want to do.”
“It goes back to why not push the bar a little more?” Martin said. “Why not challenge ourselves as coaches challenge ourselves as a program by choosing RTC status so we can start to try to develop world-class athletes right in Westmoreland County?”
And, one of the important aspects of Knights RTC is that it is to be an additional, purely complementary option. Knights RTC has zero intention of replacing any of the current training offerings in the area.
“The great thing about our RTC as well is we’re not in competition with any clubs,” Martin said. That’s the primary thing I wanted to make clear early on. We’re not out to try to take athletes from other clubs, slap our name on them, and make them ours. We want to be an extra resource for every single athlete that’s RTC eligible in that 250-mile radius.”
“I don’t want to say this is a step beyond clubs because I think there are phenomenal clubs in Pennsylvania. Jody Strittmatter and Young Guns is one of the best clubs in the United States,” Martin said. “Lancaster Alliance on the eastern side of the state is one best clubs the in the United States as well.
“So, we would have no interest in competing with those clubs, what we want to do is provide them an additional resources supplement to their training,” Martin continued. “And then also give them access [to our RTC]. Because of our RTC status, we hopefully bring in senior-level athletes.”
While the Knights RTC is in its infancy, still less than a month old, that hasn’t stopped the staff from setting some broad expectations for the near future.
“We hopefully [will] bring in Senior-level athletes, which is the ultimate goal that we’ve already discussed,” Martin said. “We want to be able to partially sponsor some Senior-level athletes and hopefully, one day down the road, fully fund Senior-level athletes to where they can train full-time while they’re in competition.”
As for the non-Senior-level athletes, Knights RTC still has some goals in mind for the short-term.
“We don’t have any formal goals, but I know we want to have our numbers higher for Fargo primarily next year, then we want to have an athlete on a World team in this cycle,” Martin said. “So, whether it’s a Cadet World Team, or a Junior World Team, or U23 World Team, we want to have representation in these next four years.”
“That’s gonna take a lot of work by our athletes, by the coaching staff, by our parents, and by our boosters, but I feel confident that we are going to put in the work.”
And, as the Knights RTC has now formed during this new era of college athletics, complete with student-athletes now having the right to profit off of their name, image, and likeness, Knights RTC hopes to help athletes any way it can in that regard.
“There are so many things that are open now for wrestlers, and I think it’s positive for the most part, because now, these guys who have spent their whole life training, they can actually make an income off of it,” Martin said of the new NIL guidelines for college athletes.
“It might not be the best income for it, but it can be something, it can open doors for them, It can help them start building their brands,” Martin continued. “And if we can help with that, that’s, that’s what we’ll do. We’re open to all the possibilities. We’re not going to abruptly say no to any opportunity for any of our athletes.”
While there have been times that the process has been stressful and daunting over the last eight months, Martin, King, and everyone involved behind the scenes, have never wavered, and the outpouring of support has been plentiful.
“We’ve had an outpouring of support. We’ve had an outpouring of people that are willing to help out in any shape or form as well, which has been eye-opening,” Martin said. “I’m not from Norwin, I didn’t wrestle for Norwin, and neither did Jarrod, but we’ve both been welcomed with open arms. And we’re part of the family already. So, it’s very exciting. The feedbacks has been 100% positive so far.”
This is huge for the wrestling community.. RTC in Southwest PA the heart of wrestling country!!
— AMC APE🦍 (@KyleBurkk) August 15, 2021
Moving forward, Martin and the rest of the staff at Knights RTC are all-in, ready to Develop Olympians in Wrestling, and Olympians in Life.
“Honestly, nothing has made us hesitate to do it [the RTC],” Martin said. “We’ve never second-guessed anything because we have this mentality of if it fails, it fails, then we’re going to go to the next thing, and we’re gonna keep pushing, pushing the envelope, doing whatever we can for athletes.”
To learn more about the Knights RTC, please click here.