Monday, November 24, 2008

A man on a mission

Johnny Cobb has a mission – to bring intercollegiate wrestling to Texas. Cobb, the wrestling coach at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, is working to establish men’s and women’s teams at West Texas A & M. He is joined in his efforts by one of his former wrestlers – Olympic champion, Brandon Slay – and Amarillo Palo Duro coach, Steve Nelson.

I asked Coach Cobb, a former Oklahoma State University wrestler, when and why he started this journey.

“…Seriously thinking about it 20 years ago when I first took the wrestling program at Tascosa H/S.

I knew we had great Tx. kids, yet many would never have a chance to pursue a college dream because of the cost of out of state tuition. It was also ridiculous that there was not one NCAA college program in the entire state. Tx. has an Olympic champion and this year Mohamed Lawal missed the team by a few seconds and we had a female bronze medallist (Randi Miller). Texas needs a program!”

According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association participation statistics, Texas has approximately 6,700 high school wrestlers. What makes Texas unique is that roughly 1,600 of those participants are girls (that’s almost 30% of all high school girls wrestling in the country). To make the need greater, there are also no four-year college wrestling programs in the neighboring states of Arkansas (which just recently sanctioned high school wrestling championships) and Louisiana.

If the mission of a state-funded college system is to meet the full educational needs of its constituency, then clearly wrestling should be available to Texas college students.

Coach Cobb and Slay first approached West Texas A & M with a proposal soon after Slay’s triumphant return from Sydney in 2000. They recently demonstrated their total commitment by presenting WTAM athletic director, Michael McBroom, nearly $50,000 in pledges and equipment to go toward establishing the two teams. While AD McBroom was impressed, he painted a challenging picture.

“I am interested in wrestling. (College president) Dr. O’Brien is interested in wrestling, but only when we have the facilities and funds to support it appropriately.”

An expansion of athletic facilities is the first hurdle. The university has proposed just such an expansion, but the national economy is making it more difficult.

AD McBroom estimates that it will cost just over $300,000 a year to fund wrestling. His numbers:

Head Coach: $60,000 (includes benefits)
Graduate Assistant: $10,000
Scholarships: $105,000
Athletic Trainer: $40,000
Sports Information GA: $10,000
Team Travel: $60,000
Recruiting Travel: $10,000
Supplies/Equipment: $15,000

He states that the annual expenses can be met in two ways – attract enough new students that the increased athletic participation fees generate enough revenue or FULLY ENDOW the program. The latter option would require raising $5 million.

There’s a real Catch 22 involved with raising that kind of capital. You have no wrestling alumni because you don’t have a wrestling program. You have no wrestling program because you don’t have the primary type of donors that can fund one – wrestling alumni.

So - Coach Cobb and Brandon Slay are doing it the hard way – knocking on doors, writing letters, looking to the wrestling community for support. They have the backing of some major names in the sport. What they haven’t found yet is someone like Art Martori who was instrumental in saving Arizona State wrestling.

I don’t personally know all those that read this little blog – but I know some – and there aren’t many that have an extra $5 million lying around. However, in the time that I have been writing the blog I HAVE been introduced to people who are very generous to the sport – who work hard for the sport. Most of them do so without much fanfare.

Just Friday I read a set of testimonials from several individuals who have succeeded in all walks of life. All credited their college wrestling experience as a building block of their success. I suspect that there are hundreds – maybe thousands – more who have used the lessons learned from wrestling to excel. Are all of them still connected to wrestling in some way? I don’t know. But if they’re not we need to re-engage them with the sport.

We’re just a bunch of fans – what can we do to help. Well first of all, you can email a pledge of financial support to Johnny Cobb at Just as importantly, perhaps, is to show the rest of the world what wrestling means to us – show up at meets, do what we can to attract new fans, tell anyone who will listen the Henry Cejudo story, email links to videos of the inspirational heroes of our sport like Anthony Robles or Kyle Maynard. The more we ourselves support wrestling the more likely we are to attract the kind of support that can help people like Johnny Cobb achieve his mission.

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