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Christilaw: College wrestling fighting to get off mat

I did not come by my enthusiasm for the sport of wrestling naturally, and I try very hard not to dwell on my early experiences with the sport.

Like most junior high kids, I was introduced to a wrestling mat in a P.E. class. In my case, that meant the better part of two weeks with an arm hammer-locked behind my back and my nose alternately smashed into the mat or buried in the armpit of a kid who refused to shower for the entire wrestling unit, just for that purpose.

It’s not that I was a more gifted basketball player in those days, it’s that the sport smelled far better.

My love of wrestling goes back to one man, former Spokesman-Review sports editor Jeff Jordan – the most enthusiastic fan the sport has ever known. To be sure, Jordy simply lit the kindling. The things that make amateur wrestling the great sport it is took care of the rest.

There are only a few pure sports, events that boil down to a one-on-one competition. Wrestling is one of them, and it was included in the first Olympic Games. Of course, in those Olympic Games, all competition was done nude, and I have to admit that my junior high self offered more than a few prayers of thanks for the invention of the singlet.

High school wrestling is strong and vital – with girls wrestling catching on and growing across the state.

It’s at the next level or two where the sport has gone off the rails.

Collegiate wrestling isn’t an endangered species, but it’s on life support in the Pacific Northwest since the University of Oregon dropped the sport after the 2007-08 season.

Division I college wrestling does not exist in the state of Washington. At one time, 18 colleges, junior colleges and universities had wrestling programs: Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, University of Washington, Washington State, Western Washington, and Central Washington among them.

The list of schools in California alone dwarfs that list: Fresno State, Long Beach State, Sacramento State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Southern Cal, Saint Mary’s, California-Berkley, and UCLA headline the long list.

Today, in this corner of the country, only Boise State and Oregon State have programs.

Not that there hasn’t been a push to bring it back. Groups in both Oregon and Washington have lobbied hard to bring it back – even offering to fully endow both wrestling and a women’s sport to offset Title IX concerns. To date, such pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

While administrators like to blame the elimination of wrestling programs on the gender equity demands of Title IX, expert number crunchers are on record disagreeing. They may scapegoat Title IX, but the numbers say they’ve simply invested more money into football and men’s basketball.

 The sad thing is, once a sport gets cut, it’s incredibly difficult to bring it back.

When Fresno State President Joseph Castro took his job a year ago, he said his top priority would be to bring back wrestling, and his efforts appear to be on track. Here’s hoping they become contagious.

The biggest slap came on the international stage, where the Olympics dropped wrestling.

The outcry from around the world was long and loud, and last year the International Olympic Committee announced it would bring the sport back for the 2020 Games.

It’s not right that such a rich, historically relevant sport should face these kinds of challenges. The sport boasts some of the most storied Olympians this country has ever produced, from Dan Gable to Cael Sanderson to Rulon Gardner.

If you have a minute, and you love wrestling, send an email to Bill Moos, Washington State University director of athletics. Tell him that, along with the new football operations building and the renovations to Martin Stadium that have thrilled alumni, and along with plans to build an indoor practice facility for the football team and improvements for the baseball team, you’d like him to bring college wrestling back.

Correspondent Steve Christilaw can be reached at

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