Wrestling’s past meets its future at 2015 All-Star Classic in Atlanta

Updated: October 16, 2015
When the 2015 National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic is held in Atlanta, Ga., on Nov. 1, it will be a time to look backwards and forwards at the sport of collegiate wrestling.

While this year’s event will mark 50 years since the first All-Star Classic — then called the East-West Classic — was held in Stillwater, Okla., 1967, this year’s event could provide a look at the future of wrestling … especially in the southern United States.

For while the 2015 Classic will be held in McCamish Pavilion on the campus of Georgia Tech — and will feature many match-ups of some of the top NCAA Division I wrestlers in the ten weight classes — there is no NCAA Division I program in the state of Georgia and many other locations south of the Mason-Dixon line.

1st all star gameThat’s because many of the former Division I programs at Southern schools like Georgia Tech — which produced one All-American before the school dropped the sport in 1986 — no longer sponsor the sport, primarily because of the impact of Title IX.

But despite the geographic challenge to current Division I fans, Rob Larimore, who heads up this year’s All-Star Classic, believes there are plenty of wrestling fans in the Peach State as well as bordering states to Georgia who would love to watch the top collegiate wrestlers in this country.

“The fans are there,” said Larimore, a former collegiate wrestler at William & Mary, which also dropped its program in the 1990s. “The Georgia state high school tournament draws a couple thousand people and we have tournaments every week in the USA Wrestling circuit.

“We have 20,000 athletes on the distribution list on Team Georgia alone. There is that appetite and we’ve been doing a grass-roots efforts in communicating with the high school coaches. We believe we will sell out the clinic for sure the morning of the All-Star Classic.

“Our goal is to put several thousand fans in the stands and give the student athletes the event they deserve.

“The scholastic wrestling in Georgia has come on strong over the past two decades. High school participation is at an all-time high. The club programs are doing pretty well in national competition.

“The states of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee as well as the Carolinas are sending up studs to the NCAA Division I level and the college coaches are getting some confidence.”

Larimore, who also heads up the Wrestlers In Business Network in Atlanta (which has over 90 dues-paying members, hosts this year’s Classic and hopes to raise as much as $150,000), said he hopes this year’s event will make Georgia Tech and other schools want to reinstate wrestling.

“There are some small-college programs that have started wrestling,” said Larimore, referring to schools like Shorter University, Truett-McConnell, Brewton Parker, Life University and Emmanuel College . “But the reality in a small way is that an ACC school like Georgia Tech is receptive to the sport.

“We are a long way from helping them start a program, but if we can show them something, maybe it will give them a thought.”

The NCAA is also looking at Atlanta as a possible host of the Nationals sometime after 2018.

“The city is built to host big events and if we execute on this All-Star Classic and put on a big show for the fans, I think we will get a more serious look,” Larimore said. “We will continue to compete and bring the national tournament to Atlanta.”

Larimore and his group have also sent out over 700 invitations to wrestlers who have competed in this event over the past half-century.

“It’s neat to see these people come back into the sport and get recognized for their accomplishments,” said Larimore, who is also thrilled that ESPNU will broadcast the event live.

“The only other live college wrestling event we have, reaching out to 75 million households, is the NCAA Championships. This will be a considerable milestone.” n