Wrestling programs make a difference in their communities

Updated: October 8, 2014

By Sandy Stevens

Oyster shells are providing a pearl of an experience in community service for wrestlers at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.

In just their second year of competition, the Division II Cobras volunteer at Kalmia, the school’s 30-acre botanical garden.

“When a new oyster is born, if it does not attach to a hard substrate, it dies,” head coach Cy Wainwright explained. “We have a project with (the Department of National Resources) where the community donates old and used oyster shells to Kalmia. After a few months, we help gather them up, bag them and assist the DNR in getting them back to intercostal waterways.”

Coker wrestling coach Cy Wainwright

Coker wrestling coach Cy Wainwright

Recycling oysters and relocating them in heavily populated areas helps the oyster population, but service projects help more than the oysters, Wainwright stressed.

“Being a new program to Coker College and the community of Hartsville, I felt it was imperative to make ourselves known,” he said. “Thus far this year, we have helped local churches and food banks.

“By getting out in the community, we were able to have civic pride and provide a service. By reaching out, we see a plethora of different opportunities that range from manual labor to reading at local schools.”

“The projects enable student athletes to develop a relationship with community members, which led to high attendance at matches and potential job opportunities,” Wainwright said. “Community service allowed my program to build a sense of community and camaraderie.”

Many coaches agree that in addition to opportunities for wrestlers to get in shape for the season, fall is a prime time for teams to bond and to form positive community relationships.

Northern Illinois coach Ryan Ludwig

Northern Illinois coach Ryan Ludwig

“Community service is an integral part of the student-athlete experience at Northern Illinois University,” said head coach Ryan Ludwig. “There’s a tangible connection made with others outside our world that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

“The tiny microcosm in which we compete allows for tremendous growth as a disciplined competitor; however, getting out there in the community and interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds allows for development as a human being and member of society.”

The Huskies start the school year by volunteering at the DeKalb Corn Classic 10k race, directing and encouraging runners navigating the course.

They also run games and activities at elementary school fun fairs, hold canned food drives for the less fortunate and chip in to buy Christmas presents for families in need.

“One of my personal favorites was last spring when my staff and I took some of the wrestlers to my son’s daycare to read to the kids,” Ludwig said. “Our guys walked away from that experience with a better understanding of how much little kids look up to them and of taking that responsibility seriously.

The wrestling Huskies were cited as NIU’s Community Service Team of the Year.

“We want to win!” Ludwig declared. “It simply involved the general philosophy of most wrestlers, which is to outwork the rest and get more community service hours in than any other team.”

At Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., wrestlers clean up the grounds and fix and stain decks at a training center, set up tables for an Alzheimer’s charity walk and move floats the morning of the Vikings Day Parade, said Augies head coach Jason Reitmeier.

Augustana coach Jason Reitmeier

Augustana coach Jason Reitmeier

Also, the Women’s Historical Society typically asks the wrestlers to spend the day cleaning and working on small house projects during the college’s annual community service day.

More than a dozen team members will be picking grapes at Tucker’s Walk Vineyard for the dad of an alumnus. “His crop has gotten so big he is unable to harvest it himself,” Reitmeier said.

The most meaningful annual project, however, is Rake the Town, which is set up by the Meals on Wheels, Reitmeier said.

“We rake and clean up disabled or elderly people’s yards,” he said. “The people we do it for are very appreciative, and you can see that it makes their day having the kids come there. The boys get a sense of giving and also see how much it means to community.”

Volunteering gives wrestlers a sense of community and service, the coach said.

“They come from other towns, cities and states, which were their homes and communities. This helps them feel at home and have a new family, a community that they can help, take care of and be proud of.

“Everyone needs to be in service to their home, and when you help others, it again gives you that sense of home and family,” Reitmeier said.

For the Wabash College wrestling program, community service is family. For the last three years, their service focus has been Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Conner Lefever (right), an NCAA qualifier for Wabash, and Kelsey Anderson, the daughter of Wabash coach Brian Anderson, live with Type 1 Diabetes

Conner Lefever (right), an NCAA qualifier for Wabash, and Kelsey Anderson, the daughter of Wabash coach Brian Anderson, live with Type 1 Diabetes

“Type 1 diabetes has touched the Wabash wrestling program in a couple very close ways,” said head coach Brian Anderson. “Conner Lefever, a 2014 national qualifier at 174 pounds, is a Type 1 diabetic, and Kelsey, my 11-year-old middle daughter, was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as well. Conner has been an inspiration for my daughter.”

The program has rallied around JDRF since 2012, and program goals have gone up drastically. “In 2013 we raised over $8,000 (more than double the goal), with a goal of $10,000 this year,” Anderson said. “Without a doubt, it has been the most meaningful service project for the program.”

In August, the NWCA honored Wabash with the “Solid Service Award” for best capturing on video its community service involvement. “The award was a very proud moment for our program,” Anderson said.

“It’s very important to live a humane life,” he said. “Helping others with no personal gain or personal agenda is to value and learn.

“We preach to our team and recruits that the Wabash wrestling program is more than just wrestling. The lessons learned from service projects like this will serve our student-athletes well long after their wrestling careers at Wabash College are over.”