Folkstyle Is The USA by Richard Rockwell-OWF Op-Ed Part One
Every year, like clock work after the NCAA championships, there is the "we need to get rid of folkstyle" movement amongst some in wrestling. The most excuses I hear for the change, "the rest of the world competes only in freestyle," "we would instantly be #1 in the world," "the reffing is so much better," "the rules are so much better," just to name a few.
I'm here to tell you why getting rid of folkstyle is a bad idea and why in fact, switching to freestyle would be bad for the sport in the United States and how we can continue to develop under our current system, to improve without making said change. Now this article will be a bit longwinded and all over the place, which for those who know me, its my best quality besides my famous coaching sandals. So forgive me, as I didn't attend some fancy writing school to learn good sentences and words.
First off, our folkstyle is the USA. I'll say it again, our folkstyle is the USA. If you bleed Red, White and Blue, then you know folkstyle is as much a part of our country as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. And before you say, "but Richard, you're dumb. Every other country only does freestyle."
Freestyle wrestling is not the only style of wrestling that every country does. This is a myth, passed off as fact by many, including higher ups in our sport that don't want the everyday wrestler to realize, there are many other styles of folk wrestling around the world that are incredibly popular in those countries. With a simple search of this thing we call the Internet, you can quickly find many other forms of wrestling.
In Japan, they have Sumo. In Mongolia, there is jacket wrestling. In Switzerland, there is Schwingen, where they compete in canvas pants and on sawdust rings. These are just a few of the many, many different forms of folk wrestling around the world, that are far more popular than freestyle wrestling in those countries. And then there is of course, our form of folkstyle wrestling. Nearly 270,000 high school wrestlers compete in what we call folk or collegiate style wrestling. Its a style where control is rewarded with points. Its a style that can be linked back to the beginning of our great nation, as many past Presidents have wrestled. Travel around the country and you will find that folkstyle is the most popular style of wrestling in our country, from youth on up. So popular, that I believe it was in the 90's, our governing body(USAW) sent a memo out to states wanting them to host more folkstyle tournaments.
Getting rid of folkstyle would be like getting rid of the US Flag, and that's something we can't stand for. Just makes no sense to get rid of something so engrained in our American culture to aid something that really isn't a part of our culture(freestyle) at all.
2nd, and here's where I lose most people in this argument, but we simply do not get the best athletes competing in the sport of wrestling. There are many factors why and I'll break them down for you:
1. Wrestling isn't that popular in the US. Wrestling had 270,000 HS athletes, boys and girls. Sports like football had nearly 1.1million, basketball had nearly a million, soccer had 800,000, baseball had nearly 500,000. Part of the reason its not that popular is because outside of a possible college education, there is no future with the sport(money). And in a country where sports parents seem to think spending thousands of dollars in hopes of landing a scholarship and maybe some sort of pro career down the road, wrestling just isn't it. It wasn't until recently that our athletes even received any kind of real money for winning a Gold Medal at the Olympics. However, in countries like Russia, their wrestlers are showered with cash, not only for winning, but to live off of from a day to day basis. The stipends our wrestlers receive are peanuts in comparison and usually our 2nd and 3rd tier wrestlers, receive much less. Wrestling card money does not go to pay our wrestlers a salary.
2. Wrestling is almost non-existant in our bigger cities. I'm from Oregon, and back in the day, most of our best wrestlers came from the Portland Metro area. Anyone remember when Benson Tech won the state title? Nearly half of the state placers that year came from the Portland Metro area. Could you say that now? Now, wrestling just isn't a huge part of those areas anymore. The admin in the PIL(Portland Interscholastic League) just don't care about wrestling. Mostly due to money, as their travel budgets are a fraction of what most programs have to work with. When talking with coaches from around the country, this is the case in almsot every Metro area in their states. And no, this is not a dig on the coaches in the PIL, nor a dig on the club coaches still operating in the Portland Metro area. They are still trying to "Make Wrestling Great Again" but are in a constant uphill battle in doing so. And I will also point out, groups like Beat the Streets are doing a tremendous job of getting wrestling back into our inner cities.
3. This goes back to point #1, but our countries best athletes aren't wrestling. They have other interests now. Between the big three sports(football, basketball and baseball), video games, and other emerging sports(soccer, lacrosse), our best athletes are spread pretty thin, when compared to other countries. Plus, wrestling is not used as an avenue towards a better life to the extent that other countries use. I once had a great talk with Peninsula Club coaches, Roy Pittman and Cleve Thompson. Those who don't know Roy, most definitely know his wrestlers. Most recently would be multiple national champ, Tyrell Fortune. We were speaking at Fargo one year and the name Norman Richmond came up. I mentioned how great of a wrestler he was and how athletically gifted he was. Then Roy stops me and says "Norman wasn't even one of our best athletes." I'm sitting there baffled at how a National Champ, isn't even one of your best athletes. Roy and Cleve talked about a kid named Onate(last name escapes me) and how he was the one of the best athletes to ever come through Peninsula and never wrestled in high school. Roy said, imagine if we got all of our best athletes wrestling and how good we'd be. That point stuck with me and it leads to my next point.
4. Retention in our sport is atrocious. We still operate under the "Top Down" model, where everything we do is all about the very top percentile in our sport, and not about developing our other tiers of wrestling. This goes from our governing body to our media. In fact, if you looked from the outside of our sport as a non-informed fan, you would think there were only 3 high school programs in the country, 5-6 college programs in the entire country, and Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder were our only senior level athletes still competing. I'm sorry but you can only read so many articles about Blair Academy and how many times Tom Brands loses his mind matside, throughout the year. We do a very piss poor job of promoting our sport as a whole. Again, we still operate under the "Top Down" model. IMO, there is only one media person that I feel does a great job of spreading the love in our sport and that's Jason Bryant with his Mat Talk Podcast. The guy has countless of hours of interviews from all over the country.
This is where I'll leave off for today and give people enough time to either agree with me(easiest way to my heart besides a good enchilada) or disagree with me and poke holes in my arguments. Part Two of this article will come tomorrow titled, "Why the arguments you just came up with are invalid." Stay tuned....