For many of America's best wrestlers the summer is no longer a time to relax and attend a camp or two with friends. Instead the summer has turned into a 12-week, non-stop travel session to tournaments and high-level training sessions all around the nation. Though there are some, maybe even as many as 100, youth wrestlers who could emotionally sustain that type of vigorous summer training session, there are thousands more who simply can't take the grind.
Wrestling has almost prided itself on the ability to push out the weak from the sport. It's a theme that's been ongoing for decades and seems unlikely to cease. Summer camps like J Robinson's 28 Day Intensive Camp were originally modeled off military training techniques, meaning that the summer was more about building mental toughness than physical toughness. That's not a terrible concept when contained to something extraordinary like four weeks. The kids can prepare and learn a lesson about gutting out a commitment. However, the ups-and-downs of a summer spent on the road in (mostly) meaningless competitions is leaving many more exhausted, frustrated and disenfranchised.
I spoke to a college wrestling coach recently who told me that the summer camp system is essentially dead. There are fewer and fewer casual high school wrestlers. There are only the elite and they are spending that time at Disney Duals or Fargo and not on a college campus with all-you-can-eat buffets. That's too bad because the casual high school wrestler is an important barometer of our sport's health, and a vital part of the growth process.
I was a casual high school wrestler. When we were in high school wrestling season was November to early March and a week at camp in the summer. I remember that I'd occasionally attend practices at some clubs and maybe did a second week of camp one summer, but for the most part I worked my summer job, lifted weights and prepared for football. There was no stress about the upcoming season and I think that allowed me to be more dedicated and excited when it came time to walk on at the University of Virginia. I wasn't burned out by years of travel, stress and lost friendships. I felt fresh, excited and newly challenged.
While the coaching ranks are (rightly) filled with the very best our sport has produced, there are many more in the sport who make things tick and many of those people were casual high school wrestlers. They are the backbone of the sport when it comes to administration, fundraising, and even media.
There are many who give back to the sport and I hope that the next few years we can correct the direction and focus on the positive aspects of the sport, rather than prioritizing dedication and brutality.
To your questions …
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson talks to Bo Nickal before his NCAA finals match (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Penn State has received verbal commitments from five of the nation's top six wrestlers in the Class of 2018. How can they afford to sign all of them with all the talent they already have, and other guys coming in like Mason Manville?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I wish I could insert the shrug emoji because I have no idea how they can afford all these guys. Maybe Penn State has a lot of financial aid that they are utilizing for their wrestlers, but that typically would count against the total number of available scholarships. The only other way they can afford what looks like a massive spending spree is they've capped all incoming freshmen at a max (maybe 50-60 percent) and linked any increase in payment to performance on the mat (and in the classroom).
On the mat the wrestlers are choosing Penn State because 2-3 years as a starter would mean 1-2 NCAA titles. That's a more secure ROI than any other and those titles (even one) is more valuable to most kids than the chance to simply wrestle at the NCAA Championships for four years.
Though there is no way to level the factors recruits place on their college choice, ask yourself if it makes sense to take 60 percent scholarship money at Penn State over 90 percent elsewhere in the Big Ten.
Q: Penn State continues to get commitments from top 10 prospects. Is this level of dominance on the mat and recruiting good for NCAA wrestling?
-- Dylan R.
Foley: Yes. Dynasties provide an easy-to-follow storyline for the media, which in turn helps create heroes within the sport. Parity at the collegiate level can lead to confusion over who is great, why they are great and if they are a fluke. With dynasties we tend to see a wider mainstream acceptance of the sport, as seen with Dan Gable's coaching career at Iowa.
Also, when a dynasty takes hold it challenges other programs ... cough Iowa State ... cough to pony up and start to support their program in a more complete manner. That grows competition at the AD level and pushes the sport to a new technical level along the way.
There is potential downside for much smaller programs, but it's far outweighed by the advantages to having programs show how an increase in support can translate to stability and success on the mat.
Q: What percentage of big boy commits eventually defect from Penn State?
-- Binny B.
Foley: Can you name any in the past five years? I can't …
I can't stop watching this …
Link: CSU Bakersfield to hold "ride in style" raffle
Link: Dangal: India's wrestling blockbuster delights China
Q: What does Mark Perry leaving Illinois mean for Isaiah Martinez? Perry has been like a big brother to Imar.
-- Mike C.
Foley: I don't know the relationship between Imar and Mark Perry, but I think it's best to always look at what the coach can accomplish in his or her professional life when presented with a new opportunity rather than one relationship (Note: He'll be fine).
Perry taking over the Hawkeye Wrestling Club gives him wide berth to do what he does best, which is coach on the mat. He can also spend more time up close as a coach of a top tier program. His progression from Cal Poly to Illinois to Iowa shows he's willing to engage in professional development and that he has incredible success with coaching up athletes. Will this move allow Iowa to keep a developmental lead on Iowa State? Maybe. But I think that it well also lead to Mark Perry being the head coach of another program by 2020.
Q: Do you still have the tape from your answering machine with Dan Gable's voice on it?
-- Salty Walkon
Foley: Lost to time, but definitely a really cool moment for me to have Coach Gable wish me luck on voicemail. The man is motivational even after hearing whatever immature voicemail message was on the house phone in my apartment. Pre-cell phone days!
Q: Any takeaways from the Beat the Streets benefit, either in presentations or on-the-mat results?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I was able to attend the first gala back in the early 2000's and have dropped in on a few over the past several years. This year's matchups didn't have as compelling a narrative as with Russia and Iran, which probably reduced the amount of press. However, I thought that Flo did a nice job of broadcasting the event online and the Americans wrestled very well.
While at the gala a very, um, intoxicated guest had me believing this could be the best talent the USA men's freestyle team has ever had heading into an Olympic cycle. I don't have a complete knowledge of the prior teams and what they looked like 3-4 years out from competition, but I do like the composition of young talent and agree that their training situations are set, and beneficial.
Toghrul Asgarov competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: I read that Toghrul Asgarov tested positive for a banned substance. When did the positive test occur? What does it mean? Will any of his medals get stripped?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Asgarov tested positive for a substance that is often found in common products and commonly left off labeling for basic products. I don't have any specifics of the case, but you could speculate that he was able to demonstrate that the substance was not intentionally taken. He probably got dinged for the act of not being more careful, which is like what happened to Geno Petriashvili a few years ago.
MYLES MOLNAR UPDATE
By Frank Molnar
While participating in a combined school wrestling practice Myles Molnar was involved in a freak accident. Myles suffered a spinal C5/C6 dislocation leaving him motionless on the mat. He is paralyzed from the nipple line down and without function in his hands.
Myles first started his rehabilitation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Then he was moved to Shepherd, in Atlanta. Now Myles is at Craig Hospital in Colorado.
Myles has been doing an outstanding job at regaining his independence. His transfers from his wheelchair to the bed, bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to shower bench, etc.
Myles can also transfer from his wheelchair into a car. Craig has a full-size car, inside the building (because it snows in Colorado), to practice getting in and out of a car from a wheelchair.
We own a Toyota Corolla. Myles will have a lot of difficulty transferring from his wheelchair into our car.
We are in need of funds to purchase either a full-size car, or our ultimate goal, would be to buy a van that can be converted to an adaptable vehicle.
Link: GoFundMe Page