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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Wrestling Alumni and Fan Interaction: The Army West Point Way

    Army West Point head coach Kevin Ward (Photo/WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    Raise your hand if you are subscribed to some website or company and you get automated emails. What percentage of those do you even read? Do you just delete them without reading? Is this really the best way to reach out to customers? To me, it seems old school. Many wrestling coaches still do this to their loyal fanbase. An email blast to hundreds or thousands of fans with very little, if any, communication back and forth. There has to be a better way to keep wrestling alumni and fans involved. What's the next "thing?" Coach Ward and his crew at Army West Point are as forward-thinking as they come. Their alumni-run podcast entitled "BHAW Radio" is the perfect idea.

    Before we get to the podcast, what does "BHAW" mean? BHAW is Army's team motto. If you've been inside their wrestling room recently, you'll see it written out on the walls: "Brotherhood Heart Attitude Warrior." Are there any four words that better describe the Army West Point wrestling team? Probably not. This motto was created a few years ago, after talking with academy sports psychologists. It has been the program's motto ever since, even after Coach Ward took over the program. This is a rare thing to do because, most of the time, a new coach is hired, and they introduce or create their own team motto with the team. Coach Ward bought into "BHAW" immediately.

    The podcast sprung up during the beginning of the COVID outbreak in March of 2020. Hosts Brian Rowan (class of 2009) and Jordan Thome (class of 2013) met with Coach Ward and introduced him to the idea. He was on board from the start. He loved that it was something new and exciting that not many programs are doing. The best part about the podcast is that Brian and Jordan have no affiliation with the school currently. They volunteer their time to do this - showing how much they support the program and really believe in what they are doing. Listening to just one episode, you can really hear their passion. After talking to Brian, he mentioned that Coach Pat Popolizio's podcast at NC State was an inspiration behind this idea. Almost all wrestling fans know how Coach Pop is on the leading edge of introducing new ideas to the sport in many different avenues. I really think more teams will start to do this in a similar fashion.

    During the season, Coach Ward is a typical guest on BHAW Radio and likes to discuss past results and upcoming duals. There is just something about seeing and hearing the head coach talk about these things, compared to an email blast. It really helps showcase his personality and the excitement he has towards his program when you can see and hear it for yourself. When I talked to Coach Ward about BHAW radio, he emphasized how the podcast gives fans "a more in-depth look into our program and goes on behind the scenes." Plus, it is refreshing to hear what alumni have to say about the current state of the program. Much of the time, they are pretty honest about feelings - both positive and negative. It plays very well into what Coach Ward wanted out of the podcast - "an effort to build more community around our program."

    BHAW radio is more than a podcast, however. It's a way to connect alumni from various generations. During the off-season, since there is not a ton of wrestling to talk about, BHAW will have guests appear on their podcasts. Many times, these guests talk about their stories about a wide range of topics. These guests get to discuss their time at Army West Point, success stories after graduation, why they decided to attend West Point, among several other things. Sometimes, there is very minimal wrestling discussed. You can only imagine the numerous potentially incredible guests this special school has to offer. It is a great way for alumni to hear how the program has changed over the decades. The listeners can really get fascinating stories in 45 to 60-minute chunks at a time. Personally, I believe this is the perfect length for a podcast.

    One episode I highly recommend checking out is the 9/11 special (episode #15 on their YouTube channel). Brian and Jordan brought a few of the team captains from the 2005 class. This was the first class to complete their entire four-year career at the academy after the tragic 9/11 attack in 2001. Listening to this one makes you bleed red, white, and blue. Another great episode is the story of Bob Steenlage. If interested, this is episode #16 on the YouTube channel. Bob was a Vietnam veteran who wrestled at West Point. He also was the first 4x Iowa State Champ and a very good wrestler in the 1960s. His story is simply incredible.

    I've always had the belief that it takes a special athlete to wrestle at the Division 1 level. Athletes who attend the military academies are (as the kids say these days) "built different." In all seriousness, the classwork, plus practices, plus extra activities they need to do, takes someone very serious about what they want in life. This makes it harder to recruit, as the number of prospects is somewhat limited. They work hard at everything, plus they're a pain in the butt to wrestle! I always hated wrestling guys from these schools. I knew I was in for a battle every time, no matter who it was.

    BHAW is only 45 episodes deep right now. It's still building momentum but seems to be gaining some steam. Coach Ward confirmed to me that the response has been "incredible" and that they "will definitely keep it going." Why would you not? It's a phenomenal idea that the sport needs. Co-host Brian stated the ultimate end goal of the podcast is to eventually build it into a networking tool to include former, current, and future Army West Point wrestlers. Imagine one central location where alumni can look to hire a candidate they trust with a common interest in Army wrestling. Another positive that could come from this is that it could be a great recruiting tool. Prospective student-athletes, and their parents, can watch episodes and see the success stories of former wrestlers. This is a priceless addition to help attract recruits to West Point.

    It's entirely possible that I'm out of the loop, but I do not know of many programs that produce a podcast like this. If there are podcasts like this out there, I cannot imagine there are many. I honestly believe this could be the future when it comes to connecting alumni of various generations. I see this as an easy way to help build up excitement for any program, and keep alumni involved with the team as much as possible. Every fan base has alumni willing to put in the work to help create this content. Why is every program not doing this; especially since podcasts are "so hot right now" (yes, that's a Zoolander reference). I would love to see every program start a podcast like this.

    As I mentioned before, you should check out a few of these episodes. They are entertaining, smart, and doing good things for the sport of wrestling. I'm hoping the podcast craze catches on to all wrestling programs!

    BHAW Radio YouTube Channel

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