There are no greater advocates for their sport than wrestling coaches and fans. East Valley’s Craig Hanson saw such kindled passion on display when he put on a college invitational tournament last month.
“I’ve just gotten compliment after compliment about how well it went and how good it was to have college wrestling in town,” he said.
He watched his son Clete in a tournament in Great Falls and coaches there were still complimentary about the Spokane event, he said.
More than 300 wrestlers participated, including women. The tourney attracted some 500 fans and more colleges from around the country have expressed interest in joining the party next year, Hanson said.
“I’ve even got Washington officials interested in getting NCAA certified,” he said.
While sitting with University coach and college wrestling referee Don Owen during the event, Owen made a telling comment.
“He said that in all his years as an NCAA official, this was the first time he’d reffed in Washington,” Hanson said.
There are only two post-high school wrestling programs left in the state, at Yakima and Highline Community Colleges. Yakima’s was saved, Hanson told me, only because they added a women’s team.
It got him to thinking. Why does Washington, with the fifth- or sixth-largest number of prep wrestlers among the nation’s states, not have college teams for which they could continue their careers?
“Our home schools are Boise State and Oregon State and that’s ridiculous,” he said.
Wrestlers at the local tourney were of a high ability level because they had been among the best in high school, he said. Their motivation isn’t for money but pure love for the sport.
He believes that Eastern Washington University is ripe for bringing back the sport. He’d love to see Washington State, the University of Washington or Central Washington explore adding wrestling because there’s such a wealth of talent to choose from within the state and vicinity.
But economics, the numbers of athletes associated with football and its effect on Title IX have doomed wrestling at colleges, which is why the move to include women has been a source of salvation at some schools.
The Spokane Valley event will likely grow to include 10 mats next year. Hanson’s points that there’s a need for more college wrestling programs rather than fewer, and that eastern Washington high schools should promote girls wrestling as West Side schools are doing, are good food for thought.
Like father like son
During last weekend’s Deer Park Invitational, Mead freshman Tyler McLean won the 130-pound championship at the school where his father and Panthers coach, Phil, won three state titles.
Dad was pleasantly surprised.
“I knew he was a pretty good little wrestler, but when you wrestle older kids strength is usually an issue,” Phil said. “He showed a lot of guts, which I like. He won some close ones at the end.”
Knights to 2A?
East Valley has been determined to be Class 2A and the school board will meet Tuesday to vote whether the Knights will remain in the Greater Spokane League or move to the Great Northern next year.