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For Chertow Camps, it’s all about teaching the kids

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Updated: June 2, 2021

Photo: Two-time Hodge winner Zain Retherford (right) attended Ken Chertow’s camps and club for a decade and continues coaching at camp annually. 

By Pat McDonald

For three decades Ken Chertow has had one mission: Train kids for life through the sport of wrestling.

The former Olympian and three-time All-American at Penn State has been running clinics and camps since his time in Happy Valley. Since his early days, Chertow has created one of the most well-respected camps in the country … and he’s still going strong.

“I started doing camps when I was in college. I was running day camps when I was in my late teens going to Penn State,” said Chertow, who coached in the Big Ten following his collegiate career. 

“When I finished at Penn State, I immediately started my overnight camp and during those six years of college coaching at Ohio State (and) Penn State, I was building my camps up, so by the mid-90s my camp was over 1,000 children coming and basically I was working full time for college coaching and just part time doing camps.”

Chertow decided to walk away from college coaching and focus on helping younger wrestlers.

“I got married and wanted to raise a family, and decided to step away from college coaching to focus on just my camps and I’ve never looked back,” he said.

The move from college to youth and high school wrestling has allowed Chertow to affect more kids over the last three decades.

“I think you have a more powerful impact on kids ages 6 to 18 than you do with the college athletes. College coaching is a great challenge because you’re trying to get these great kids to have peak performances and get the most out of themselves at the very end of their careers,” he said. 

“But, ultimately, in the developmental years, you can impact kids not just in wrestling but in life tremendously during their youth and their teens. I’ve really had a positive experience working with that age group, so I chose to leave college coaching to just focus on those age groups.”

Chertow’s camps would quickly take off in the 1990s, but he would eventually stop doing camps across the country and focus on his main camp in Pennsylvania.

“They grew like crazy for a long time. I decided to stop doing them all over the country and just focus on my main summer camp (which) is in Altoona, Pennsylvania, just south of Penn State,” he said. “We attract kids from all over the country. We have a huge convention center, it’s attached to a hotel, and it’s just a great situation. We eat, sleep and wrestle full time there.”

While he’s not doing week-long camps across the country anymore, he will still make a trip to a school or town to run clinics.

“I still do clinics across the country during the course of the year like any time somebody reaches out to me and wants to bring a clinic to their town for a day or two, I certainly do that stuff,” Chertow said. “I enjoy traveling and doing clinics. I love doing that. I love teaching wrestling. I love working with kids.”

For Chertow, coaching wrestling is not just about teaching kids how to win on the mat — it’s about training them to be successful in all parts of life.

“Train kids for life,” Chertow said of his mission. “Ultimately our sport, wrestling, is training for life. My goal is to help them prepare to be motivated and mentally and physically tough enough to succeed and achieve their goals, on and off the mats.

“I’m biased of course, but I believe wrestling is the greatest sport for training young people to be successful in school and life and I use my camp as a transformational platform,” he added.

  Chertow understands the importance of wins and losses on the mat, but that is not his main focus.

“In coaching, you look at transactional coaching which is defined as basically just working on wins and losses and helping the kids get better and just focusing on that,” Chertow said. 

“I consider my mission to be transformational in a sense that goes well beyond the actual performance and the Xs and Os, but trying to help them find a positive outlook on life, set goals and use the wrestling work ethic and positive attitude to succeed in everything they do, on and off the mats, for the future.”

While some wrestlers who attend his camp will end up earning a Division I scholarship or competing for a college team, Chertow knows the majority of kids who come through his camps will hang up their singlets after high school.

“Most kids aren’t wrestling in college, I mean certainly as a coach I look at the Xs and Os. I want to help my campers get college scholarships, get to college and get ready for college, but let’s say 20 percent of my campers do go to college, but how about those other 80 percent?” Chertow said.

“I’ve got to make sure they’re having a positive experience in the sport, sticking with it, succeeding in high school and ultimately applying those lessons from wrestling to their future. I want my wrestlers to look back on their experience in camp as a transformational point in their life — well beyond just the wrestling.”

(Pat McDonald has covered wrestling for 20 years in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. He is currently the Managing Editor of the Morning Times newspaper in Sayre, Pennsylvania. He also serves on the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance Board of Directors and is the founder of the Rumble at The Ballpark summer wrestling tournament in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. He can be reached at patmcdonaldmedia@gmail.com.)  

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