Documentary to capture BU's final wrestling season

Mark Palmer

9/1/2013
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

When college wrestling fans learned of the elimination of the wrestling program at Boston University on April 1, the first thought was, "This has to be a cruel April Fools' Day joke."

Sadly, for the Boston Terriers wrestlers, coaches and fans, it was no joke ... but a cruel reality. Their program would be gone at the completion of the 2013-14 season.

Now, two documentary filmmakers are embarking on a project to chronicle that last season of Boston University wrestling -- and, ideally, help save the program -- with a new documentary film titled "It Hurts to Win."

Wrestling fans from Boston and beyond are invited to help make this film a reality ... by supporting its online fundraising campaign.

The "It Hurts to Win" documentary fundraising website describes the film as "the story of the final season of the Boston University wrestling program. After being unexpectedly dropped at the end of the 2012-2013 season, the Terriers were given one final year (2013-2014) to compete and represent the university. This film will document the season, the wrestlers, the coaches, and the local wrestling community. Additionally, the film will also attempt to further investigate why the men's wrestling program was so unexpectedly and unceremoniously dropped."

Background on the decision to eliminate BU wrestling

Carl Adams
Carl Adams, a two-time NCAA champ for Iowa State in the early 1970s (and a teammate of Olympic medalists Ben Peterson and Chris Taylor), had come to Boston University in 1981 to become head coach. Under Adams' leadership, the Terriers compiled a 292-195-7 overall record. In the past three decades, BU had sent 61 wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships for a total of 96 appearances; four earned All-American honors.

The decision to axe the Boston University wrestling program was announced on April 1, ten days after the conclusion of the 2013 NCAAs.

In making the announcement, BU's Director of Athletics Mike Lynch said, "This obviously been a very difficult decision to make. I understand the impact this will have on our staff and students. However, we have to strategically use our resources in the most efficient and effective manner, and the decision to move forward without wrestling, though difficult, is the right one for Boston University."

Senior Vice President Todd Klipp added, "Like all University academic and administrative units, the Department of Athletics is constantly assessing its strategic priorities. That process can necessitate making difficult decisions like this one."

With the announcement, BU made it clear that all student-athletes currently receiving wrestling scholarships would have those scholarships honored for the remainder of their undergraduate careers at the school. Wrestlers seeking to continue their athletic careers at other schools would be eligible to transfer immediately under NCAA guidelines.

Nearly half of the 25-man wrestling team roster were juniors at the time of the announcement. The decision to continue the program one more season was so these members of the Class of 2014 could complete their academic and wrestling careers at Boston University, according to the school's press statement.

Meet the filmmakers

Michael Abelson
The filmmakers, Michael Abelson and Brandon Lavoie, bring unique, complimentary experiences to "It Hurts to Win."

"My father wrestled in high school, and took me to a lot of meets," Abelson, a 2013 journalism graduate from the University of Rhode Island, told InterMat. "The NCAAs are a must-see TV event in our household." In addition to being a lifelong wrestling fan, Abelson is a sportswriter who has written for publications throughout New England, including ESPN Boston, the Eagle-Tribune and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Lavoie, a lacrosse player, attends Emerson College where he is currently earning a degree in film production, with focuses in directing and cinematography. Brandon was a member of the production crew at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and has assisted on many student and professional film sets, including the short film "Caleb," the "Black & White Tribeca Interview Series," and "Key Ingredients," a film-inspired cooking event hosted by The Food Network in conjunction with Tribeca Film.

Brandon Lavoie
According to the film's fundraising website, "Brandon's knowledge of film production, direction, and camerawork will compliment Michael's expertise and experience with collegiate athletics and his ability to ask meaningful questions in important interviews. As a team, we not only believe that we can succeed in this task and make this film, but that we can do it in the most compelling way possible."

A vision for this film

"There are lots of layers to this story," Lavoie told InterMat. "For starters, look at what Coach Adams has built. He's turned kids into men. Men who are now winners in life, in their careers."

"The program is nationally recognized for its graduation rate across all sports," Lavoie continued.

Given those successes, why did Boston University eliminate its wrestling program?

"Coach Adams said they were blindsided by the decision," said Lavoie.

"The school hasn't really said why the program is being eliminated," said Abelson. "The school has not provided a direct answer."

A goal of "It Hurts to Win" is to seek answers to those questions ... and provide a platform for Terrier wrestlers and coaches.

"We want to let them tell their stories, as well as answer bigger questions," said Lavoie. "We seek to provide answers as to why things like this happen."

"We've talked to Coach Adams and the wrestlers, and they are 100% on board," said Abelson.

Using crowdsourcing as a fundraising tool

The makers of "It Hurts to Win" anticipate it will take $25,000 to complete their documentary on the final season of the Boston University wrestling program.

According to their fundraising website, that budget would cover travel expenses (so the filmmakers can accompany the team on road trips), production equipment (cameras and related accessories), post-production, and festival submissions (submitting the completed film to festivals to ensure wider distribution).

To bring their film to reality, Abelson and Lavoie have chosen to raise funds online.

"As a film school student, I saw a lot of folks go to crowdsourcing websites such as Kickstarter or indiegogo," said Brandon Lavoie.

With that in mind, the two filmmakers have created a fundraising website at indiegogo, which allows wrestling supporters to contribute financially to the making of the movie quickly and easily online.

However, as Lavoie points out, "Crowdsourcing websites are time-sensitive. There's a 30-day window for accepting gifts."

"We're actively seeking help from the entire wrestling community," said Mike Abelson. "We don't want to let another wrestling program to die quietly in a tiny article in the back of the newspaper."

"Alumni is doing what they can to save the program." Abelson continued. "We're trying to tell the program's story and see what ultimately happens."

As the makers of "It Hurts to Win" state on their fundraising website, "Our hope is that the audience will leave the film with a better understanding of who is affected when a collegiate athletics program is cut, and the emotional toll it takes on all of the individuals involved. Especially with a sport like wrestling, the loss of a program is much more than a small brief in the sports section; it's the loss of a passion. It is also our hope to convey that at the base of everything, this is an emotional story of loss, betrayal and perseverance in the face of adversity -- which are all very relatable to the lives of most people."

To make a financial contribution to the making of this documentary -- and to learn other ways to support the filmmakers' efforts -- visit the fundraising website for "It Hurts to Win" and follow their progress on Twitter.

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