photo courtesy of Richard Immel
The high school wrestling arms race is here, and it is glorious. At least according to some people you ask. Others may have a less glowing view of the transfer game.
If you’ve followed high school wrestling at all, you surely know the names Blair Academy and Wyoming Seminary. The two prep powerhouses, located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania respectively, have dominated National Preps over the last two decades and have taken over at tournaments such as Beast of the East and Walsh Ironman.
Of course, the issue at hand is that these two teams are usually chocked full of talent from around the country. Because of their prep school status, both Blair and Sem can cherry-pick talent from wherever they’d like. Now, to some, this is problematic. Understandably, it often rips elite talent away from programs that may not always produce wrestlers of that caliber. Of late, this has become a serious issue at schools in the southeast, something we’re about to address.
In 2019, we seem to have reached the peak of this recruiting arms race. At least, relative to what we’ve seen in past years. Both Blair and Sem are loading up with incoming talent from across the country.
Wyoming Seminary has added Gregor McNeil from Hilton (NY), Brennen Cernus from Ohio via Culver Academy in Indiana, Nic Bouzakis of Lake Highland Prep (FL), Andrew Donahue, also an Ohio transplant who was at Culver Academy, and Kolby Franklin from St. Joseph’s Academy in Pennsylvania, along with a stud freshman Gabe Arnold (GA), a third-place finisher in the middle school division at the Super 32.
McNeil, a Canadian cadet world team member, joins his older brother Lachlan on the team. Donahue and Cernus both had stellar freshmen campaigns in Indiana and are two highly-rated 2022 prospects. Bouzakis is the top prospect in that class and Franklin is in the top 10.
Not to be outdone, Blair adds to plenty of firepower to an already loaded team as well. The Bucs welcome freshman Cadet world champion Marc-Anthony McGowan of Florida into the lineup at 106 along with Fargo All-American Cody Chittum from McCallie in Tennessee. Both are ranked in the top 10 in the Class of 2023. They also brought in National Prep third-place finisher TJ Stewart of St. John’s in Washington DC, as well as, 2018 Fargo champ Noah Pettigrew from Valdosta, Georgia. Both Stewart and Pettigrew are ranked in the top 10 in the Class of 2022.
Given all the added firepower, you can expect the two to have epic battles when they cross paths both at the season’s top tournaments and in their annual dual. But is this all good for high school wrestling?
I’m of the belief that offering athletes the freedom of choice and the ability to improve their training environment is the best practice. We wouldn’t give it a second thought should an exceptional student opt to attend a well-regarded school, why do we so for athletes?
On the other side of that argument is the question of what it means for the programs that these wrestlers are leaving. The Hilton’s and Lake Highland Prep’s of the world will be fine. Both programs have well-established roots and will find another elite talent to fill the hole at some point. But what of the Valdosta’s and the St. John’s of the world? Would having a Noah Pettigrew or a TJ Stewart change the fates of those programs? Would more kids see their successes and want to get involved in the sport? It’s a valid argument and one that is difficult to quantify.
I’m not for legislating out any type of freedom of movement for athletes and I believe it’s wrong to criticize a kid or their family for trying to improve their circumstances, but is there a way to incentivize kids who stay?
What I do know is that I’ll enjoy watching the nation’s two top high school programs go at it this year with a ton of firepower on both sides.