USA Wrestling's Making A Difference tournaments helping college wrestling programs at all levels
Launched in 2011, USA Wrestling's Making A Difference tournaments have truly lived up to their name. Since the initiative kicked off, six different collegiate wrestling divisions have directly benefitted from the youth-level tournaments.
"The biggest impact of the Making a Difference tournaments has been giving athletes a great wrestling experience along with helping college programs raise money to support their day to day operations" said Derek Sikora, a former Division III head coach at UW-Eau Claire and the current Coordinator of State Services for USA Wrestling. "The athletes also get to experience what USA Wrestling has to offer them."
In all, there have been 10 major Making A Difference tournaments across the nation - four pilot tournaments last year and six this year. The six tournaments during the 2011-12 USA Wrestling membership year have attracted 2,027 wrestlers and over $37,000 raised.
Oregon State hosted the largest event so far, drawing 959 wrestlers and raising over $19,000 for college wrestling within the state of Oregon.
"(Oregon State) hosted a Making a Difference tournament last year also, so they put a lot of effort into doing things right and what was best for the athletes" said Sikora. "Last year every wrestler had a great experience and wanted to come back this year to be part of the tournament. The event took place inside a college facility, so the young athletes got to see where their heroes are competing."
One of the early successes was in Maryland as the club program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County used over $7,500 in revenue to continue the club's effort to start a varsity Division I wrestling program. Currently, the Retriever wrestling program competes in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA), a collective of wrestling clubs, non-varsity wrestling programs and small college varsity teams.
Three-time NCAA Division I All-American Chris Fleeger recently took the reigns at Darton College, a junior college program in Georgia. A USA Wrestling Making A Difference tournament held in Georgia raised over $2,000 for the NJCAA wrestling team.
Division I Boise State benefitted from the Bronco Nationals, where over 330 wrestlers showed up to "Put College Wrestling on the Mat" raising over $5,000 in one day. The slogan "I Put College Wrestling on the Mat" is emblazoned on t-shirts given to each competitor.
"I believe that it is important because the kids know that they are helping support college wrestling and someday they can hopefully be in the position to have someone help support their program" said Sikora.
Other tournaments have also benefitted multiple programs. A Making A Difference Tournament in Wisconsin benefitted Division III programs Lakeland and UW-Oshkosh, while an event held in Grand Island, Neb., helped four programs - Division II Nebraska-Kearney and Chadron State, NAIA Midland and Wayne State's club program.
"We know that most of these types of programs do not receive a lot of funding and have to do fund raisers to be able to compete for their colleges" explained Sikora. "I think that it is a great deal that they can run a wrestling tournament, raise money for their program, and get people of campus all in the same day."