Monday, November 17, 2008

The Road to Cedar Rapids - Volume 2

Last year when Brandon MacWhinnie became the first wrestling All-American in the history of Stevens Institute of Technology it was more than a personal triumph. It was also a victory for Athletic Director Russ Rogers and a group of enthusiasts who were instrumental in returning wrestling to varsity status in 2004.

Stevens dropped wrestling from its roster of varsity sports in 1992. I asked AD Rogers about the resurrection.

“We had a very active club that was eager to take the program to varsity status. Our thought process at the time was centered around trying to meet our students' interests and provide them with the best possible experience. We also felt confident that we could carry a strong program. New Jersey is a great state for wrestling and our institution offers a high quality education.”

Reinstating a program requires commitment from many people. One of those is Stevens head coach Mike Clayton. Coach Clayton was hired last season and was named NCAA Division III Rookie Coach of the Year after the Ducks finished 23rd in the 2008 Championships in Cedar Rapids.

A native of Brooklyn, IA, Coach Clayton wrestled at the Naval Academy, where, after graduation, he was an assistant coach. During his time in the Navy and then, after leaving the service, he coached at the Apprentice School in Virginia. In 2004 he became the head assistant at the US Military Academy.

As we’ve seen all too frequently in the past few years, a wrestling program can be dropped almost instantly. Bringing one back takes a lot more time. Building numbers “in the room” is one of the key challenges. As Coach Clayton noted in a pre-season press release, “We’re excited to see our roster up from 17 wrestlers last year to 27 this year.”

I asked Coach Clayton about the outlook for the 2008-09 season.

“This season we return 9 of 10 starters but will sit one starter out to rehab an injury at 125. We are pretty solid from 133 up through the line-up and for the first time at Stevens actually have depth at several weight classes that will help our dual meet success. We are young and still building. We’ve started the season out ranked #27 in the pre-season coaches poll. This is the first time in school history we’ve earned a coaches’ poll ranking so it’s nice to be recognized by our peers for the hard work we’ve been putting in.”

He’s also excited about the recent hiring of former Division III All-American, Danny Song, to be his assistant. Song has been competing the last couple of years with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club while completing graduate work at the University of Iowa. According to Clayton, “(Song) really brings a great work ethic and strong background to the room having trained with Hawkeye Wrestling Club for the last 2 years.”

In addition to coaching, Clayton is a tireless promoter of his team, his school and his sport. He’s started both a fall clinic and a summer camp and writes a regular blog.

Ducks Blog

As at most Division III schools, academics are first and foremost. According to AD Rogers the wrestling team GPA last year “was almost a 3.2.”
Coach Clayton also talks about the education available at Stevens, “We are listed as one of the top 100 colleges in America each year. Our engineering and business technology departments are excellent as well as offering great opportunities in pre-medicine, pre-law and computer science.”

Coach Clayton is looking forward to returning to Cedar Rapids for the 2009 Championships and continuing the successful rebirth of Stevens wrestling.

Cedar Rapids update

Flood recovery continues. Downtown is now sprinkled with red and white “We’re Back” banners marking businesses that have re-opened.

One of the treasures of downtown Cedar Rapids has always been Penguin’s Comedy Club. Unable to re-build in their old location, Penguin’s has relocated to the Clarion Hotel. They have booked TC Hatter and Marcianne for the weekend of this year’s Division III Championships. It’s a unique act that is “family friendly”. Shows will be Friday at 8:00 and Saturday at 7:30 and 10:00. The late show Saturday will be a perfect way to finish the night after finals. The Clarion is convenient to all of the “southwest side” hotels. For more information visit

Make your trip to this year’s championships even more fun – take in a show.


EPHFAN said...

It is great to see Stevens back on the mat and to have seen Macwhinnie make all-american last year. I recall watching him as a section 4 N.Y. high-school wrestler and then to see him in Cedar Rapids was a treat. It would be great if other colleges would follow in Stevens footsteps and get wrestling programs started.
I enjoy reading the Road to Cedar Rapids, and look forward to more.

Jim Brown said...

Thanks for reading.