Derek Taylor: Olympic move felt at prep level
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - An unidentified high school wrestler cowered in a corner behind the officials tables, weeping after a first-round loss at the state wrestling championships at Big Sandy Superstore Arena Thursday night.
The outpouring of emotion by one could be viewed as a current barometer of the wrestling world. The International Olympic Committee announced Feb. 14 that it was dropping wrestling from the 2020 summer games, which will be held in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo.
Wrestling coaches from hither and yon have decried the move. Heck, even the United States and Iran are in agreement on this one as the nations - at odds on everything else from nuclear power to the definition of the word 'Is', it seems - joined together the protest the IOC's decision.
Thursday provided an opportunity for West Virginia prep wrestlers to voice their opinions on the matter, and to a man, all cried foul.
One wrestler in particular gave a glimpse of what the IOC's decision could jeopardize.
"I thought, 'What the world are they doing,'" said Cameron senior Dillon Blake, a four-time state tournament qualifier who improved his record to 24-8 Thursday in the 145-pound weight class.
"My whole family watched it every year, and I know a lot of other people did," Blake said. "There's one boy on our team, that's all he talks about. He said he thought that he heard they were going to try to get in back in, or something, and I hope they do. That's a big loss."
Blake described the wrestling program at Cameron as "one of the most supported programs we have out there. The Dragons qualified six wrestlers this year, although Cameron is the smallest public school to send representatives to the tournament. Clarksburg Notre Dame sent two.
"There's a lot of people who come and watch when we have home events. People travel with us. It seems to be the one that people push the most."
Cameron won four consecutive Class AA/A state championships from 1991-94 under Coach Jim Potts. The Dragons were the last Class A program to win a state title as a team, and that legacy remains a part of many families' interests in the town of 946 nestled in the Southeast corner of Marshall County.
The movement of former big-school wrestling powers such as East Fairmont, Fairmont Senior and North Marion into Class AA this year decreased the number of state tournament qualifiers from Class A schools significantly. Currently, 24 Class A schools have wrestling programs, making the likelihood of a third classification in West Virginia unlikely. The sport was a one-class affair until 1976.
Without the ability to see the sport displayed at its highest level, Blake said he is concerned for its long-term viability in smaller areas. After all, successful programs typically see participation numbers increase with that success.
"It's like if you took away the NFL. Kids all over the country look up to NFL players and they see them and want to be like them, and they play football," Blake said. "Without Olympic wrestling there's nothing higher than college. I mean, you can't make a living out of wrestling, but I think not having it in the Olympics will take away some motivation to get involved with it, definitely."
Blake said that he does not intend to wrestle in college, but intends to double major in mathematics education and electrical engineering. He said that once he finishes his own education, he would like to return to the sport if there is a sport to return to.
"That's one of the oldest sports in the Olympics. That started back before we even had clothes," Blake said. "I'd like to help keep it going if the opportunity arises."
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsreallyDT.