WIBN is helping build more than wrestling programs

Updated: October 7, 2022

By John Klessinger

Between 1972 and 1999, college wrestling lost 550 programs, primarily because of the impact of Title IX. However, the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) has been an advocate to not only add and reinstate men’s programs but also to grow women’s wrestling. 

Since 2001, the NWCA has “helped establish/reinstate over 240 college wrestling programs (NWCAonline.com).” Currently, there are over 100 women’s programs in the U.S.

We know wrestling is a powerful tool to change people’s lives. Personally, wrestling has kept me grounded during difficult times. I have learned discipline, accountability and a strong work ethic through wrestling. But, most importantly, I have learned resilience and mental toughness from the sport. As I have said many times before, I wouldn’t be who I am today without wrestling.

From talking with many people recently about the sport, there is a consensus that wrestling has been the ultimate character builder for them and others they know. Unfortunately, with the loss of programs, an entire generation of wrestling alumni drifted away from their school and the sport.

“Those wrestlers lost their connections and part of what the NWCA is doing is to help them reconnect to the sport,” said Mike Moyer, the executive director of the NWCA.

Aaron Grossman was one of those wrestlers who fell victim to a program cut at the University of Miami of Ohio. “Wrestling helped me be who I am,” Aaron said. 

He is the owner of Talent Launch, an employment staffing agency in Cleveland, Ohio. Last year Talent Launch ranked as one of the largest employment agencies in the U.S. Last year Talent Launch earned two hundred million dollars in revenue. 

But let’s back up to 14 years ago. Beginning in 2007 and lasting into 2009, the United States had the worst economic decline since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Aptly named the “Great Recession,” nearly two million small businesses closed. Aaron was one of those people who felt the effects of the recession. So he had to figure out how to “stay alive” by his words. And wondered to himself, “who are my people.”

(John Klessinger is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.)

So, he went back to what he knew, wrestling, and came up with an idea.

In February 2009, he formed a LinkedIn group called Wrestlers In Business Network (WIBN). He wanted to create a business-focused organization that uses wrestling to network and helps each other out. Around the same time, John Licata was doing the same in Washington D.C., and he founded the Greater Washington Wrestlers Business Network. Eventually, Aaron and John merged their organizations under the Wrestlers In Business Network name, each leading chapters in Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Today, there are 26 chapters and over 2,000 members in the WIBN. In 2019, the NWCA absorbed the WIBN. The move was made by Moyer, who also heads the WIBN. 

“We are putting our money where our mouth is,” says Moyer, who felt it was a logical affiliation as growing wrestling is the main goal for the NWCA. The WIBN is an extension of that growth. What better way to expand the sport than to provide a “gateway” for wrestlers finishing their competitive careers into the workforce. 

Moyer explained that the NWCA and the WIBN went “back to the basics.” 

“The are so many parallels to the wrestling mat and the business world,” he said. And Grossman added, “running a business is no different. Think about life. Like wrestling, there is discipline and adversity needed to learn and grow. Wrestling teaches us to continue to fight forward.” 

The WIBN has three guiding principles:

• First, how do we (wrestlers) do business with each other?

• How do we help people find careers?

• Finally, how can we build a community supporting the sport’s growth overall?

Moyer and Grossman noted that the WIBN has been a bargaining tool with the NCAA to reinstate college wrestling programs. For example, in 2015, the Cleveland chapter was instrumental in keeping the Cleveland State wrestling program from being eliminated.

  “A bunch of local business owners got together and hit the media. It was a cool thing,” Grossman said. From that, he saw the potential benefits the WIBN could provide to college wrestling programs.

In 2012, Forbes magazine published an article, “Why Wrestlers Make the Best Employees.” The article cites the attributes of wrestlers: resiliency, discipline, dealing with setbacks, and perseverance as traits that positively impact the workplace. 

Dan Gable famously said, “once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” The physical and mental strain a wrestler endures compared to non-wrestlers is measurable. This is especially true now with the post-COVID apathy and general lack of accountability in schools and the workforce. Who better to staff your business with than a wrestler?

Jake Hunter, Chairman of the Philadelphia chapter and a member of the WIBN executive committee, says, “the WIBN Philly chapter focuses on connecting local businesses with our local wrestling ecosystem.”  

The WIBN links up businesses with potential hires. Specifically, Jake has used the business network to help grow Wrestling Mindset in his chief operating officer role. In addition, Wrestling Mindset has used the network to find potential Mindset Coaches. The impact of the WIBN has helped grow Wrestling Mindset’s brand. In addition, the Philly chapter has brought people together. 

“We build value for them and work to grow wrestling and all of those that support it,” Hunter said. 

“Coaches need to get better at showing the benefits of wrestling and the career opportunities,” Moyer said.  

The NWCA and WIBN aim to help wrestlers reach their full personal and career potential. Compared to the NWCA, the WIBN and its chapters are local to high schools and colleges. As Moyer said, they will have more of an impact and be able to be at local wrestling events. 

The WIBN runs leadership academies for coaches and prospect camps for wrestlers. The NWCA financially supports their initiatives knowing as the business network grows, it helps the sport grow. The WIBN has partnerships with United States Marine Corps and Old Dominion Freight Lines and anticipates more in the future. In addition, they sponsor the Midlands Championship and other collegiate tournaments for men and women. Throughout the year, the WIBN hosts events for members with speakers like Gable and Ohio State coach Tom Ryan.

Furthermore, the WIBN partners with the Beat the Streets organization. Beat the Streets aims to help athletes from underserved communities attend college, the military, or get a job. At the same time, the WIBN offers mentorship, career advice, and connections to other wrestlers.

With many programs lost, the WIBN has become an alumni group for wrestlers. But, as Grossman said, “the sport itself becomes your alumni.” Wrestling is a fraternity of like-minded people. People who know how to persevere, struggle, and become better. The WIBN uses the skills they learned as wrestlers to grow the sport and give back to it. 

“Anyone with a passion for wrestling is welcomed to join the WIBN,” says Grossman. That includes current and former wrestlers, parents of wrestlers, or supporters. 

It is undeniable wrestling changes people’s lives. The WIBN is an organization of people who want to help wrestlers meet their personal and professional goals. They represent the reason why everyone should wrestle: young men and women trying to be their best version of themselves. 

The more the WIBN grows, the more the sport will grow. Membership offers instant career and employment opportunities for high school, college, and former wrestlers.  

To ensure the next generation of wrestlers are provided the same benefits, we all need to “put our money where our mouth is” and support wrestling. If you interested in becoming a member of the WIBN, go to www.wrestlersinbusiness.org.

(John Klessinger is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.)