Top-ranked Minnesota among four programs spending the holidays in Hawaii

Updated: December 8, 2014

By Mike Finn, WIN editor

As a two-semester sport, one of the bigger dilemmas college wrestling has is what to do during the holiday break when schools are out of session.

That is one reason that events like the Midlands in Evanston, Ill. (Dec. 29-30), and/or the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Jan. 1-2), were created.

Now longtime Minnesota coach J Robinson has another idea … and destination … for wrestling teams to compete in during the dead of winter.

Minnesota coach J Robinson

Minnesota coach
J Robinson

“We are bringing wrestling to the state of Hawaii … and wrestling fans from that state and our programs,” said Robinson, whose Gophers will join fellow wrestlers and fans from Oregon State, Oklahoma and American University for nearly a week-long period in Honolulu; highlighted by the first-ever Aloha Open on Dec. 30.

“The tournament is not a dual meet nor a (traditional individual) tournament. Instead, there will be a round-robin at every weight class so everyone gets to wrestle everyone no matter what.”

USA Wrestling and the Hawaiian Wrestling Federation were also involved in bringing these four programs to the 50th state, which does not offer any college wrestling programs, but is a perfect recruiting tool for these programs.

“I got the idea from my wife (Sue) who competes in the Ironman, which are now called destination events,” said Robinson, who has taken his team to the Southern Scuffle the past four  years. “She would go to an Ironman event and stay there to vacation. Now we are giving something special for our fans, who could go to Hawaii, Chattanooga or Chicago. Where do you think they’d like to go?

“It goes back to my favorite saying, ‘I’m not very smart but I can take what other people have done and make it work for me.’ ”

Actually, Robinson believes this event will be good for everyone involved.

“I want wrestling to grow,” said Robinson, whose top-ranked team won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last weekend. “I wanted an event that everyone would get value. If we go to the Scuffle, we are gone over New Year’s so we are away from our families over New Year’s. We wrestle the same people all the time and some of our younger kids may go 0-2 (at the Scuffle) and they are out.

“We want to get into an environment where we can get some training done, too. After the tournament, the teams are going to stay there and they are going to train together and get different people to wrestler other than their teammates.”

Oregon State coach Jim Zalesky likes the idea of doing something different over the holidays.

“It’s something different instead of going to the Midlands and the Scuffle,” said Zalesky, who has led the Beaver program since 2006. “We will go over there and get some great competition and train … and at the same time your team and fans get to spend time in Hawaii.

“I think it’s good for our kids who may never get to go to Hawaii. Hopefully we can promote the sport to those in Hawaii as well.”

After the competitive event, each of the programs as well as USA Wrestling are expected to feature as many as 16 clinics for wrestlers and coaches in the state of Hawaii, where — according to the National Federation of State High School Associations — 99 high school programs and 2,533 athletes compete in wrestling. (In addition, 56 high schools also offer wrestling for women, including 408 who participated in the sport in 2012-13.)

American University, which is located in Washington, DC, features at least two wrestlers from the state of Hawaii: brothers David and Josh Terao, who compete at 125 and 133 pounds for the Eagles.

Each team is expected to take 10-15 wrestlers to compete and train at this event with the winners of the Aloha Open expected to make up a team for USA Wrestling and compete overseas in the off-season.

Robinson also hopes that this event expands to as many as 20 or 24 teams with five or six of those teams competing/training every four years.

“Teams can’t afford to do this every year, but say every four years they are in the mix of 20 teams and Hawaii has a stake in bringing us back year after year,” Robinson said. “You are creating value for everybody and when everyone wins, it becomes a great event.”