Wrestling

Tuesday, Feb 12 2013 08:44 PM

Kern County wrestling community to fight back

BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

In a wrestling community as strong as Kern County's, the International Olympic Committee's recommendation to drop wrestling as a sport for the 2020 Summer Games was met with the expected reactions.

Shock. Anger. Denial. A vow to fight back.

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"Here locally, we've taken a couple of hits, but we're a strong (wrestling) area. But this could have an effect on college wrestling, on high school wrestling. We've got all these fathers that look at their son when he's 7 years old and they've already got him pigeon-holed into a sport. Surely not wrestling, because there's no money there."

"I'm confident that wrestling will be back. It's going to take time, because of the all the politics involved with the Olympics, but I think they're going to have wrestling. It's such a powerful sport in Russia and Iran, the Eastern Bloc. I have all the confidence in the world it'll be back."

-- Mike Stricker, president of the Coyote Club, a local wrestling organization.

"(My wrestlers) can't believe it. Some of them are really upset. Some said they'd never watch another Olympics if wrestling wasn't in it."

"Wrestling people tend to defend themselves and fight for what they believe in. There's a lot of people globally that are going to fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics, and hopefully it gets added back."

-- Mike Mendoza, CSUB wrestling coach.

"The world has gone to hell. Wrestling is the oldest Olympic sport. To turn your back on a sport, it's beyond comprehension."

"I think it's stupid, and I think they'll regret it. There will be some fighting going on, and it'll come from a lot of different angles."

"Everybody's just going to dig in. It's just like anything else that has gone on. We'll put up a really good fight and get everybody together, and if we lose, we lose. We'll fight another day. That's what wrestling people are all about."

-- T.J. Kerr, retired CSUB wrestling coach.

"Wrestling has met its demise on the West Coast, and now it (might) Olympically. But everything evolves and changes. People in power will make decisions, but wrestling will survive. This is a preliminary action. It's alerted everybody. Everybody's ears are up, and when they meet again, we're going to see what happens. A lot could change."

-- Bill Kalivas, Bakersfield College wrestling coach.

"When I see that wresting has been taken out of the Olympics in 2020 I ask myself is trampolining really a sport? #pathetic #politics"

-- Kevin Harvick, Sprint Cup driver, former North High wrestler.

"The world has gone to hell," said T.J. Kerr, the former Cal State Bakersfield wrestling coach. "Wrestling is the oldest Olympic sport. To turn your back on a sport, it's beyond comprehension."

Although the IOC could recommend that wrestling -- one of seven sports in this position -- be added back to the Olympic program during its May meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday's news hit close to home in Bakersfield, one of the West Coast's hotspots for the sport.

In two weeks, Rabobank Arena will host its 10th consecutive rendition of the CIF State High School Wrestling Championships, and the downtown arena is scheduled for at least the next two. Cal State Bakersfield remains one of three Division I wrestling programs in California, despite the school's refusal three years ago to fund one of its most successful athletic programs. Last year, Bakersfield High graduate Jake Varner won the gold medal in the 96-kilogram freestyle bracket at the London Olympics.

"Here locally, we've taken a couple of hits, but we're a strong (wrestling) area," said Mike Stricker, president of the Coyote Club, a local wrestling organization. "But this could have an effect on college wrestling, on high school wrestling. We've got all these fathers that look at their son when he's 7 years old and they've already got him pigeon-holed into a sport. Surely not wrestling, because there's no money there."

CSUB coach Mike Mendoza said his wrestlers -- some of whom have Olympic dreams of their own -- were crestfallen with the news.

"They can't believe it," he said. "Some of them are really upset. Some said they'd never watch another Olympics if wrestling wasn't in it."

Still, this is a combat sport that knows how to fight. Mendoza nearly lost his program three Februarys ago when CSUB announced that it could no longer fund the sport. But the local wrestling community has stepped in and virtually funded the program itself through fundraisers and community events. When Jake Varner's family needed help traveling to London to watch their son compete, the community stepped in.

"Wrestling people tend to defend themselves and fight for what they believe in," Mendoza said. "There's a lot of people globally that are going to fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics, and hopefully it gets added back."

Stricker, Kerr and Mendoza all mentioned that wrestling will get support from plenty of areas, not just Bakersfield. The sport is popular in the Midwest and East Coast and in many places around the world -- 29 different countries won wrestling medals in London.

"I think it's stupid, and I think they'll regret it," Kerr said. "There will be some fighting going on, and it'll come from a lot of different angles."

Stricker went a step further.

"I'm confident that wrestling will be back," Stricker said. "It's going to take time, because of the all the politics involved with the Olympics, but I think they're going to have wrestling. It's such a powerful sport in Russia and Iran, the Eastern Bloc. I have all the confidence in the world it'll be back."

And what if all the fighting and arguing and defending of wrestling doesn't work? What if the IOC sticks with its decision when a final vote on the 2020 program is taken in September in Buenos Aires, and wrestling's days as an Olympic sport are really over?

Kerr said the world championships, currently held every three years, could then become wrestling's Super Bowl. Bakersfield College wrestling coach Bill Kalivas said the sport could eventually be replaced at the Olympics by grappling or submission, variations more closely related to increasingly popular mixed martial arts.

"Wrestling has met its demise on the West Coast, and now (it might) Olympically," Kalivas said. "But everything evolves and changes. People in power will make decisions, but wrestling will survive. This is a preliminary action. It's alerted everybody. Everybody's ears are up, and when they meet again, we're going to see what happens. A lot could change."

If nothing else, local wrestling people say, they'll keep promoting and participating in the sport they love, anyway.

"Everybody's just going to dig in," Kerr said. "It's just like anything else that has gone on. We'll put up a really good fight and get everybody together, and if we lose, we lose. We'll fight another day. That's what wrestling people are all about."

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