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Rocky Mountain High: OTC becoming summer home for young wrestlers
By Mike Finn
During the 152-pound final of the Cadet National freestyle tournament, Mark Hall of Michigan looked like he was in trouble when New Jersey’s Myles Martin got in deep on a takedown attempt.
But instead of giving up points, Hall simply kept his balance and not only eventually cleared himself from danger but defeated Martin in two straight periods for his first Fargo championship.
“I think it’s just experience,” said the 15-year-old Hall. “I’ve been wrestling for so long that I get comfortable in positions. Wrestling at the OTC, I’ve been put into positions that I had not been put in before. I have to think I’m one of the best in that position.”
The OTC that Hall spoke off is the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., which is the place where most of the Senior-level stars prepare for events like this year’s summer Olympics.
But with the work of Bill Zadick, USA’s Developmental coach and Brandon Slay, the Resident Coach for freestyle, many more opportunities have come up for wrestlers transitioning from high school to college. And also in some rare situations for younger wrestlers like Hall, who earned a reputation as a “mat rat” this past summer while training and living at the OTC.
“He’s done a great job,” said Zadick, who was in Fargo for the freestyle tournament and was nearby when Hall won 10 matches en route to the Cadet title. “He gets in our room and mixes it up with Senior-level guys and scores points against them. It’s been an amazing experience for a 15-year-old kid to be training with Senior-level athletes and learning the same skills and tactics and assimilating them into him at a much earlier time in his career.”
Zadick, a former World champion, said this is the perfect time for young stars to see what the highest level of international wrestling is all about.
“We’re not only getting them experience but getting the right experience at the right time in their career so they can perfect it,” Zadick said. “These ages, 15-20, are at a critical point in their careers, where competition means a whole lot.
“They are making FILA Cadet World Teams, FILA Junior World Teams, Pan-Am teams. That puts them on a map for college coaches’ eyes and gives them a chance to have a future and an education. That is truly what development is all about. I feel we are giving them a pipeline and a future.”
Hall, who won a gold medal at the Cadet Pan Ams this summer shortly before the start of the Cadet Nationals, said the idea of attending the OTC came from Destin McCauley, the former Apple Valley (Minn.) star who lives and trains full-time at the center.
“I wanted to follow in his footsteps because it has been working pretty well for him,” said Hall, who is originally a native of Davison, Mich. He’s competed the past two years at Apple Valley where he won Minnesota state championships as a seventh and eighth grader. “I didn’t know it would be happening so early.”
Hall said he would like to continue living and training at the center during the summer months over the next four years of high school wrestling. But he also said he wanted to wrestled collegiately.
“Beyond the wrestling world, it’s very important to get an education,” he said. “There are on-line schools and stuff. I want to go to college and meet new people and see different styles.”
Zadick also wanted to point out that he is not trying to compete with college coaches for talented wrestlers.
“I want to work with kids consistently through their careers,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get them for a two- to three-month period in the summer while they are underclassmen and maybe a year after they have graduated from high school and before they go on to college. Hopefully, when they are ready to burst onto the international scene, they are ready to make an immediate impact on a World Team and win a medal.
“For me it’s pretty clean cut and clear. I help them anyway I can and help them with their careers. It’s about the individual. If we can promote programs to help individuals, then we are doing our jobs and making a better system.”
Hall said he likes to be considered the future of USA Wrestling.
“I think it’s pretty cool even though I have a target on my back,” he laughed.
Hall admitted he was pretty intimidated when he started wrestling older wrestlers.
“I felt like I was a boy among men in there,” said Hall, whose hair was colored both black and yellow in honor of Penn State’s NCAA champion Ed Ruth who wore a similar look this past March.
“It took me a month or two to get a takedown. I figured out now I can score on anyone.”