"Well, we're movin' on up…"
To quote the lyrics to the theme song for the popular 1970s sitcom "The Jeffersons", the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wrestling program is moving on up in more ways than one... relocating from a lower-level facility upstairs to a new space that's larger, brighter and better.
The move actually involves two Olympic sports at the public university located in northwestern Wisconsin. The Blugold mat program is moving into what had been home to the school's gymnastics program, which is relocating out of the on-campus McPhee Center into L.E. Phillips YMCA Indoor Sports Center as part of a partnership between UW-Eau Claire and the community YMCA.
Both wrestling and gymnastics will gain additional space to prepare for competition. As UW-Eau Claire athletic director Dan Schumacher described it: "It's a classic win-win for both programs."
Head wrestling coach Tim Fader offered a description of the Blugold's current home… and the new wrestling facility set to be ready this fall.
"The existing room has about 2,000 square feet of space, and a low ceiling -- no more than 9 or 10 feet tall," Fader told InterMat. "It's on the lowest floor of the building. No windows. It's merely functional."
"The room was about right for 15 wrestlers, which is about what we had when I came here five years ago. We now have a team in the 40s, so there's simply not enough space for that many wrestlers to work out effectively."
Here's how coach Fader described the challenge of a too-small wrestling room to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram in terms even a non-wrestler could understand: "If I want to take you down, I'm going to take you down and probably run into three people that are also doing the same thing or we're going to hit the wall. … If you put a wall right around the out-of-bounds line on a basketball court, a brick wall, and said, 'Ok, play,' it would change the way you play."
"The new space has about 5,400 square feet -- about two-and-a-half times bigger than what we have now," Fader told InterMat. "And it has much higher ceilings -- about 20 feet tall."
With that additional space, there is an additional benefit: There will be room for workout equipment and bikes right in the new wrestling room. With the old room, wrestlers had to go down the hall.
Adding up all the benefits of the new Blugold's wrestling room -- greater square footage, taller ceilings -- coach Fader said, "It feels grand. The gymnasts told us, 'You're going from the basement to the penthouse.'"
UW-EC AD Dan Schumacher said, "It'll be one of the best Division III facilities in the Midwest."
"This new room will help coach Fader recruit top talent," Schumacher continued. "It'll deliver a great student-athlete experience."
There are two phases to the relocation of the Blugold wrestling program. Phase 1 is what coach Fader described as "making a functional wrestling room" -- or, as he said later in the interview, "to make it nice enough to preserve and grow the program."
That work will be taking place this summer. Phase 2 will incorporate additional features and upgrades, including a student-athlete lounge, and offices for the coaching staff.
The new wrestling room will feature the school's blue-gold color scheme on the mats on the floors and walls -- complete with their branded "E" logo -- along with bright, white walls.
What's more, "we plan to honor the past," according to Fader.
"We're going to tell the story of 60 years of wrestling at UW-Eau Claire. We're going to honor the greats of a program that started here in 1961, so, when they return for a visit with their families, they can see themselves in a place of honor in the new room."
"We want the place to be eye-catching. Impressive. First class," said the four-time WIAC (Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) Coach of the Year. "We want recruits to be able to picture themselves here."
It's not just about attracting the best wrestlers from northwest Wisconsin… but also retain top talent already enrolled at UW-Eau Claire.
Work on the new wrestling room will get underway after June 1, with Phase 1 slated to be completed by Sept. 1.
"I can't wait to see the look on the faces of our wrestlers when they see the completed room," said Fader.
The new wrestling room at UW-Eau Claire is a tremendous reversal for Blugold mat program.
"We had a long-time coach, Don Parker, a University of Northern Iowa wrestler, who really built the program," coach Fader explained. "After he retired, the program went through six coaches in seven years. There had even been a proposal to eliminate wrestling here.
"I am really excited that UW-Eau Claire did a 180 and went from considering elimination to investing in the sport on our campus for the long haul."
Want to see the current UW-Eau Claire wrestling room before it's replaced? Check out this brief video with a beginning that looks like it was recorded when the room was new in the early 1970s (but was actually recorded in 2016) to see what the Blugolds have been dealing with all these years.