Wrestling poised for a comeback

Fresno State’s Cory Borges had a breakout year as a freshman wrestler for the Bulldogs, earning a starting role early on in the season. Borges always prepares for his matches with a nap. Ryan Tubongbanua / The Collegian

Plans for reinstatement of the Fresno State wrestling program are moving forward as Fresno State President Joseph Castro continues to pursue the project — a plan he hopes will satisfy those within the Valley who have long supported the idea.

Since being appointed president last year, Castro said reinstating collegiate wrestling has been a top priority. He said a number of people have approached him with energy and passion about the topic, causing him to look at wrestling carefully and with understanding as to why it was first cut as a Fresno State sport.

The wrestling program was discontinued in 2006 as a way to balance the budget and stabilize programs at the university, according to Fresno State’s athletics department.

Castro said there are many reasons why he feels it is important to bring back collegiate wrestling to the Central Valley and to the Fresno community, specifically. The most compelling of which is keeping some of Fresno’s accomplished wrestlers from seeking out another school in order to continue wrestling, he said.

“I think it will bring what was dearly needed: wrestling to the San Joaquin Valley for these kids who’ve had to go elsewhere or nowhere in the last eight years,” said Dennis DiLiddo, Fresno State’s wrestling coach from 1981 to 2004.

“It’s one of the biggest things to happen to wrestling in a long time,” he said.

Castro said while Fresno State was always competitive in wrestling, the university is in a better position now to be increasingly competitive — this in part because other public California universities including UC Davis and CSU Fullerton have also cut their wrestling programs.

“On the other hand, there are many universities around the nation who are still actively involved,” Castro said.  “And we would have plenty of competitors in California and across the West, so I think it would be a great situation for us.”

While the wrestling program was active at Fresno State, it accumulated four national championships, 33 All-Americans and produced 2004 Olympic silver medalist Stephen Abas.

It is important for Fresno State to organize itself in a way to attract the most-talented coaching staff and student-athletes, Castro said.

“And that’s what we are going to do — win with integrity, the way we are winning with integrity in other sports,” Castro said.

While he doesn’t know if the reinstatement of wrestling programs throughout the state will be widespread, Castro said there have been people who have contacted him and feel this is the beginning of something big.

“I haven’t looked at it in that broad way,” Castro said. “I’ve looked at it from the interest in Fresno State and the San Joaquin Valley, and whether it makes sense for us, and the answer for us here in my view is — yes.”

However, the idea has drawn concerns about whether or not Fresno State has the ability to generate the revenue to sustain the wrestling program, in addition to complying with existing regulations under Title IX.

Title IX, a law that outlaws gender bias in school activities for any institution receiving federal assistance, puts stringent limits on the number of men’s sports options a university can have in comparison with the women’s sports options it offers.

Castro said Fresno State is very likely to have at least one new women’s sport to go along with wrestling.  Currently, the university is working on determining what that cost will be and ensuring, whatever it decides, that it remains in compliance with Title IX.

“It’s very important we do that, so we’re taking those steps,” Castro said.

While no exact timeline for wrestling is in place, Castro said he is waiting until the completion of the soccer and lacrosse field upgrade is completed, east of Bulldog Stadium. The final project of Fresno State’s decade-long review with the Office of Civil Rights, it is anticipated to be completed in October.

“That is the last project that we are working on for that particular review, so when those two things are done I feel I’ll be in a better position to announce a timeline for when we would reinstate both wrestling and a woman’s new sport,” Castro said.

Castro also said that without any campaign in place to raise money so far, Fresno State’s athletics department has received somewhere near $100,000 in funds in hopes that the program would be reinstated.

“Even from our students, when I see them when I’m walking around, I hear from them about this,” Castro said. “They’re excited about it. I get a lot of tweets about it, so I feel very good.”

“I think it’s great he’s bringing it back because they never should’ve cut the sport,” said James Barnes, 27, a senior at Fresno State. “There is a lot of history and tradition behind the sport.”

“I think it’s awesome what he is doing. Wrestling in the Central Valley has always been a big deal,” said Nathan Montanez, 24, also a Fresno State student. “It was a terrible thing to remove in the first place.  We had a world-class program at Fresno State before. I’m excited to see that happen again.”

In reinstating the program, Castro also hopes to certify student success at Fresno State. With many of the wrestling students in local high schools being the first in their families to go to college, this gives those students an opportunity to compete and earn degrees, he said.

“Because, as you might know, about 70 percent of our students are the first in their families to go to college, so it fits into the institution of opportunity for them,” Castro said.

“It’s a minority sport in the San Joaquin Valley. It gives these kids, minority kids, a chance to walk on and try to make the team,” DiLiddo said.  “Whereas if you have to leave your hometown, you have to pay money to go to school, money to go out for the team. Sometimes they don’t welcome you. It’s just tougher.”

“I unfortunately had two high school friends who actually wrestled here the exact year they shut it down, so I feel bad for them it’s back now,” said Braden Williamson, 24, a senior at Fresno State.  “But because my little brother wrestles, we might go watch some matches.”

Lonnie Nash, tournament director from the Zinkin Classic, Buchanan High School’s wrestling tournament, feels it gives motivation to wrestlers to pursue that ultimate goal of wrestling in college. She said even though not every high school wrestler will make it to the collegiate level, there is still that desire.

“That wow, I can someday go on and wrestle collegiately and maybe get a scholarship,” Nash said. “And maybe that doesn’t happen for them, but along the way to almost making that goal a lot of wonderful things do happen.”

“They have a great time along the way. It makes them a better person. They get the fitness. They learn about fitness life, they learn about reaching goals. It makes them a better student and all that stuff happens because they have these great local role models in a wrestling community at Fresno State to look up to,” Nash said.

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