Sullivan moves from Alaska to Minnesota for opportunity

The future is heating up for Ben Sullivan. The 17-year-old Apple Valley High School (Minnesota) junior is the most recent high school wrestler willing to transfer in order to find better competition. While some wrestlers in the past have chosen to abscond allegiances and head to cross-town rivals, and other grapplers have crossed county or state lines, Sullivan has chosen to forgo his final two years of eligibility at Chugiak High School, Alaska and head to the Lower 48. In his crosshairs: better practice partners and a chance at a wrestling scholarship.

It's not difficult to imagine the frustration for a competitive wrestler like Sullivan.

Ben Sullivan (Photo/Joshua Borough, Mtnboy Media)
After suffering a close semifinal loss at the NHSCA Sophomore Nationals in Virginia Beach last spring, he began talking with his father, Rodger, about the prospect of a transfer.

"He was determined," said Rodger Sullivan. "He's right there with the kid and if he cleans up a few things he can beat him and go on to the finals. He's putting in the work, but thought he could be just a bit better with tougher guys around him."

Sullivan had a few more close losses and those disappointments mounted until he made the decision that a change of venue would be positive for his career. The plan became to find a boarding school in the Northeast, like Blair or Peddie, but Sullivan's father had some apprehension about the cost and whether or not he'd get the proper school experience.

"We didn't know if it was a good fit and then we saw that 40K a year price tag," said Rodger Sullivan. "It just seemed like too much. My sister-in-law was there in Minnesota and was willing to let Ben come and stay with the family. I looked into some schools and called some coaches and, man, Jim Jackson is a heck of a nice guy. He didn't know me from Adam and didn't know if my boy was any good, and just told me what I would need to do to make it through the process."

The Apple Valley school district doesn't allow transfer students relocating without their parents to compete on varsity in their first season. The policy is meant to deter local talent pools from developing that might skew competitiveness within communities. Rarely would an intra-state transfer draw the ire of competition committees, as they're rarer and usually called upon for reasons of family and work. High-school transfer rules, and athletes like Sullivan who still choose to go ahead and make the move, are often a lightning rod for discussion and draw criticism because opponents claim it removes a layer of amateurism that should innately exist in prep athletics. But the transfer penalty in Minnesota forces Sullivan to abdicate a season of eligibility, which seems an adequate exchange. Sullivan maintains that he wants to win and this sacrifice of family and eligibility was worth it if it means he can be a champion wrestler and make his way into a good wrestling school.

Jim Jackson & Bill Demaray (Photo/The Guillotine)
"We have good coaches back home, but it was hard to find more than a few guys to roll with who could challenge me on a daily basis," said Ben Sullivan, who won an Alaska state title at 135 pounds last season. "I needed to get into a room where the guys would make me better. Right now I'm trying to steal takedowns in this room, which is a lot different and making me better."

The takedowns are more difficult to achieve because Sullivan is facing three InterMat Top 100 recruits inside the Apple Valley wrestling room, including consensus No. 1 recruit Destin McCauley, along with Steven Keogh (160), and Jake Waste (171). Sullivan has reason to be guarded about his expectations for wrestling room success, one of the metrics for determining improvements come time for the season.

"I'd love to wrestle varsity, but I knew when I came here that I'd be JV. Right now, I'm looking to do well in the preseason tournaments." (Sullivan is registered for this weekend's InterMat JJ Classic in Rochester, Minnesota.) Hopefully I can do well enough and continue to improve enough to compete at the Junior Nationals at the end of the season, Fargo and beyond."

Sullivan packed his bags 45 days ago, and while his father was proud of his son for choosing a direction and following his passion, his mother, who supported the move, now misses her son.

Ben Sullivan (Photo/Joshua Borough, Mtnboy Media)
"She thought it was pretty easygoing for a few weeks, but we just hosted our tournament and I think it was tough for her to see all the other parents watching their kids," said Rodger Sullivan. "She was like, 'You jerk!' ... but she gets what he's up to."

Sullivan has a year to improve, to try to sneak takedowns on McCauley, Keogh, and Waste. His plan is to continue to develop as he prepares for a series of offseason tournaments that will be his introduction for college coaches. For now, Sullivan is realistic about the disappointments he may feel in sitting out this season, but confident in his choice to move to the Lower 48.

"I'm sure I'll miss being in the starting lineup during the season, but for right now I couldn't be happier," said Ben Sullivan. "I'm going to keep getting better. I really feel like this was the best decision of my life."


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