Wrestling in Missouri and the United State is in trouble!
Over the past 10 years high school numbers have dropped drastically. In 2007, our state had 7,082 total wrestlers in 2016 nearly 500 less took to the mats with only 6,636. Wrestling is struggling all over the country, in the 2006-2007 scholastic year there was a total of 257,246 wresters all over the country and in the 2015-2016 year there was a drop of nearly 7,000 athletes with 250,653 total wrestlers. What has caused this drop in participation over the past 10 years?
Over the past 10 years there has been a large culture shift in the United States. In 2017 99% of boys and 94% of girls regularly play video games. There are hundreds of professional video game players making millions of dollars in the eSports world. Just this year alone Team Liquid has made nearly $12 million. The highest paid athletes in our sport will not make that in their careers combined. In wrestling there are untold thousands of hours spent alone in a workout room getting better. Countless hours spent sweating and drilling. Countless hours cutting weight and barely eating. Over 99% of those wrestlers spending those hours will not see a financial benefit from it. In the US, out of 250,000 athletes 72 wrestlers get paid from USA wrestling a year. And in eSports you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas to start making money. There has to be more of a monetary goal for kids to look forward to. In the NFL, NBA, and MLB kids favorite stars are making millions upon millions of dollars. Every kid on the football field looks at them and thinks “that could be me one day” and they’re right some of them will go on to fame and fortunes on the field or court. In Missouri you can look no farther than 2009 Lebanon State Champion Justin Britt who is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks and making nearly $1,000,000 a year in the NFL. The highest payday an American wrestler can look to is $250,000 for winning Olympic gold.
When a jr. high or high school kid is thinking of going out for wrestling they do what every other person does when they don’t know what something is about, they google it. Some of the first imagines they will see are of Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder. Burroughs is a physical specimen he has the muscles and the looks that will rival any athlete in the world. Snyder is a college heavy weight that has 6 pack abs and huge arms without an ounce of fat. They’re both wearing singlets. In todays culture body image is a HUGE issue. Most young athletes are not boasting abs or biceps. They’re just your average American teenager with self doubt and self esteems that need boosted from time to time. When they see what the singlet is they do not want to be put in it. If your average high school heavyweight puts on a singlet he does not want to be seen by the rest of their high school much less the rest of the state. If high schools would go to the two piece uniform that would alleviate some of these issues. Athletes would be wearing compression shirts and shorts, much like the MMA stars do, instead of a one piece singlet. This could allow for kids to feel more comfortable and for them to feel as if they’re not showing to much skin. High schools should immediately start moving towards the two piece uniform. It will be a major change in wrestling and some of the old guard will not approve of it, however, if it will get kids to start participating again then it has to be done.
Could it possibly be that the season is to long or runs through a bad part of the year? I coached high school wrestling for 4 years and USA wrestling 7 years prior to that. One of the worst times of the year is winter break. Kids are visiting their grandparents for Christmas and families taking trips to go skiing in the mountains. These are moments that no high school age kid wants to miss out on. In Missouri teams are allowed to start practices in the first week of November and it runs through the middle of February. Three and a half months doesn’t seem like a long season, however, when you look at the time spent then athletes are putting in more time than other sports. Most teams will have a morning workout at least 3 days a week and then a 2 to 2.5 hour practice in the afternoon. With most teams beginning open workouts months before hand. These are voluntary workouts of course, but, it is generally looked down upon if an athlete wasn’t there when they were expected to be. Every wrestler and coach has heard kids told that if they hadn’t of skipped a workout or an open mat then maybe they would have won the match or scored the takedown. In wrestling everyone is doing all the work together there isn’t spots to take a play off or to let the 1st team run plays. This means that hours upon hours upon hours of continuous work on top of their school work and social lives.
Almost every high school has some sort of student cheering club. At Branson High School we had the “Rowdies” they had t-shirts and banners and flags to wave nonstop. They were at every home and away football game. They would cheer for the football teams touchdowns and boo the opposing teams scores. It would not matter what the score was. There would be 50-100 kids at every game showing school spirit. If you walk into the average school dual there will be less than 100 people combined to cheer on the teams. If you look in your local paper you will see articles on the football and basketball teams several times a week. They will range from player spot lights to game breakdowns. Wrestling will have maybe one article per week that will quickly wrap up that weeks duals and tournament. Kids love to be showcased. Every kid loves to have their name in the paper or have the school screaming for them as they wrestle an opponent from the rival school. We need the school administrations and athletic directors take a firmer role in making sure that, not only wrestling, but all sports are being attended and showcased like football and basketball are. When the Friday night lights are on you will see dozens of teachers at the games showing their school pride! Over the 4 years that I was a high school wrestling coach there was less than a dozen teachers total that would show up to cheer the wrestlers on. Teachers, coaches, and parents have to be more active in getting spectators to the duals and tournaments. They need to start calling the newspapers and news channels and demand that coverage be shown of our local teams. Kids want to be the stars they see on TV and as parents and coaches we need to do our part to get fans in the stands!
The last reason I will mention is college related. In FBS football EVERY team is given 85 FULL RIDE scholarships. In Division 1 wrestling there is 9.9 scholarships given. 9.9 is not even enough for the entire starting lineup to be on scholarship. It is understandable that a football team is much larger than a wrestling team that only has 10 starting spots in college. However, it is laughable that there is not at least 10 scholarships given. Young adults who are looking at colleges want to know how cheap they can go. They NEED scholarships! With only 9.9, college coaches are only giving money out to the very best wrestlers in the country and the amount of kids on full ride in college wrestling is very small. This has to be changed. More donations have to be made and more money has to be allotted to the wrestling programs in the country. This is no small task but efforts must be made to get this change.
I am sure people all have their own ideas and suggestions for how to grow our sport. Some people may agree and some people will disagree. However, I urge people to have an open mind about change. What is happening now is NOT working. As a community we have to come together and sacrifice some things for change. If that means going from a singlet to a two piece uniform or something as simple as missing your favorite TV show to go and support the local high school dual or go and help your local youth club with a fundraiser. We have to change or wrestling will fall by the wayside.
*data provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations