Wouldn’t it be great if we could have an actual national dual tournament for high school-aged clubs? We would be able to see who has the deepest, most balanced team once and for all? Imagine getting Pinnacle (MN), Young Guns (PA), Monster’s Garage (CA), Izzy Style (IL) and Askren Wrestling Academy (WI) altogether and running a dual tournament between these formidable squads. Don’t be confused by the tournament that occurred this weekend, the NHSCA National High School Duals, was not such an event. While it was a fun tournament, with a location right near the Virginia Beach boardwalk, on Memorial Day weekend, with a ton of talent on hand, it should not be used to determine who has the strongest high school team or club.
What was initially set up as an event that pits high school teams or clubs against each other for bragging rights, extra mat time and little else, has morphed into an event in which most of the contending teams are just all-star teams comprised of kids from around the country who have little, to no connection to the actual club they are representing. The coaches are seemingly in competition with each other, as to who can bring in the best or most ringers for their respective teams. There are a few teams that I couldn’t even begin to guess what area or region their squad represented because they have so many wrestlers from different states.
Now I understand that I may be in the minority with these viewpoints on the event. My opposition would say, “What does it really hurt” and “Did the kids have fun.” The answers, of course, would be “Probably nothing” and “I’m sure they did.” However, let’s look at it from another angle. Are some of these coaches using their results at the NHSCA Duals when promoting their clubs at home? Do they brag on their home state’s message boards and let prospective parents and wrestlers know that their club placed in x place at the NHSCA Duals? Do they tell these same parents that only a handful of kids from their actual club wrestled on their main team at the NHSCA Duals? I would guess no. A few years down the road, does this coach use these wrestlers to promote his camps or clubs? “Wrestle for (insert club name), the same club that (insert name of future NCAA champion) has wrestled for.” Again we’ll probably leave out the minor details that the coach solicited this future NCAA champion, while in high school over social media, to wrestle this one weekend for his club and their first time meeting was at weigh-ins.
From the competitors standpoint, how does the kid who just missed out on making the state tournament and has been loyally coming to this club for the past two years, react when he finds out that his coach picked up a ringer from across the country, that he has never met before and doesn’t intend on actually “coaching” that will replace him because it increases his teams chance of winning this event that “doesn’t even matter”. Sadly, since he’s a wrestler and has grown up learning the virtues of our sport, he probably wouldn’t say anything and end up wrestling his heart out for his club’s “B” team or Beige team or whatever color is assigned to the “other” teams. I’m sure that as long as the kids that got pushed aside continue to show up to open mat on Monday and pay their monthly/quarterly/seasonal club dues than this practice will continue.
Another argument people will use against me is, “What happens when you have a kid from Oregon that wants to compete, but his entire team can’t fly out to Virginia Beach.” Well, as an organization the NHSCA has a decision to make. They could limit the event to teams only. Do they tell the kid from Oregon and anywhere else that doesn’t field even a partial team, “No,” and limit their potential entries and revenue? I think we know that answer. Another option, if you let single entries like our hypothetical wrestler from Oregon wrestle, them randomly assign him to a team that has an open spot at his weight class. I saw plenty of forfeits at the event, plug him into a team that needs him rather than having three top-20 type wrestlers at a single weight, as was the case with a few teams.
Over the weekend on social media, I saw a picture of the official scoresheet, from one of these “super teams” against a grossly overmatched local club team, was posted. The comments to the image were astonishing. I usually try to stay away from the comments sections of social media and articles, but this time I got lured in. People were asking if the team had handicaps, what string they were and if they understood how to bridge. No, again the team was in way over their heads as their opponents featured six seniors headed to DI schools and a cast of talented underclassmen that will sign with DI colleges, as soon as they are old enough. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that they dominated and shut out teams in this fashion.
A final point that I don’t want to hear is, “It’s good exposure for my kid with college coaches.” As mentioned in the above paragraph, that particular team had six wrestlers who will graduate, or already have graduated, this spring and had signed with DI colleges. The others on that team are highly ranked nationally and are no strangers to college coaches. The wrestlers I’m talking about are not one-time state placers who are hoping that someone notices them heading into their senior season. They are multiple-time state champs and Fargo placers. Trust me; coaches know their names!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not labeling this super team practice as “What’s wrong with wrestling today” it’s just something we don’t need. Take pride in coaching up your kids, letting them compete, and then going home to review and learn from the losses you may or may not have taken. Win or lose these events with your kids rather than getting into a “Keeping up with the Jones’ “ ego battle over who can assemble the best team over a three-day span.
This talk about high school teams and clubs brings me back to an episode of the “T-Row and Funky Show” podcast with two-time NCAA champions Tommy Rowlands and Ben Askren. The topic of discussion was “How to determine if a kids club is successful.” The first answer for most people is how many All-Americans, state champs/placers that a club produces. However, looking deeper into that answer, if they can only create a couple of those kids, and running off any other lesser-talented kids, are they doing that good of a job? Wouldn’t it be better for your teams/clubs/schools and wrestling in general, if you focused on producing ten kids that are passionate about wrestling each year and working from there?