Monday, February 2, 2009

Raising college wrestling fans

Iowa home wrestling meets have been even more enjoyable this year. Watching Dan Gable’s grandkids run around the floor of Carver Hawkeye Arena in singlets and headgear has added a cuteness factor that hasn’t always been there in the past.

The University of Iowa offered a family ticket package last Friday night for the Hawkeye dual with Bucknell. Perhaps fearing that attendance might be off a little, the University ran a “Family Four Pack” promotion – 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas for $40. The influx of smaller kids was noticeable – especially when you saw the line waiting to get Herkey’s autograph.

I don’t know why we don’t do more of this. Many colleges make an extra effort to get more of their own students to attend meets, but it seems like some don’t go after families the way they should. Children get too little exposure to wrestling. They have almost no opportunity to see it on television and high school gyms are generally not “kid friendly”. College arenas should be the perfect venue for a kid’s first look at the “world’s oldest and greatest” sport.

Encouraging family attendance lays a solid foundation for the future of the sport in a couple of ways. First, potential competitors get to see real role models – athletes who work hard on the mat and in the classroom. When they see someone like Brent Metcalf or Jake Herbert or Darrion Caldwell compete they have the opportunity to see how exciting the sport can be.

“Starting them young” may also help build our future support base. The same family has sat two rows in front of me at Carver for 20 years. I have literally watched the kids grow up. They’re still filling those seats.

Four high school wrestlers have sat behind me for the last couple of meets. They’re pretty typical teenagers and sometimes you wish they wouldn’t say some of the things that they do, but, they thoroughly enjoy the meets. Perhaps a side benefit of starting the college season later would be that high school athletes would have more opportunities to see the next level in action.

The challenge for building youth attendance doesn’t have to lie exclusively with the colleges and universities. Fans can play a role. It doesn’t cost that much to buy tickets for youth groups, kids’ wrestling clubs or high school teams – and you can always find someone to take them. It’s one way all of us can help build the sport.

By the way – this young lady will attend her first Hawkeye meet next season.

Piper and I


coachfin said...

Good article Jim, You could not be more on target. Wrestling is a family sport and should be sold that way. The tradition will live long.

Jim Brown said...

coach - thanks for reading and for your kind words.

GoKnights said...

Another great blog! We need to raise our kids to love wrestling and I'm doing that. My little girl....loves wrestling. She's three loves watching wrestling and goes every weekend to tournaments. She can knows who wrestles on the team and knows some even the names of some moves. I'm trying to do my part to bring her up around wrestling as much as I was brought up around it.

Jim Brown said...

GoKnights - Thank you. I wish it were easier for girls to see women's wrestling so they could understand that the sport is no longer just for boys.