On Wednesday afternoon, we witnessed the rally that was held at the Vanderhoef Quad and Conference Center. And why not? With the recent, sudden and unannounced cutting of four lesser sports, the committee in charge failed miserably in every way – including the use of faulty guidelines, and an even more faulty interpretation of these guidelines.
As so far as student numbers and character building are concerned, lesser sports trump major sports. The committee has allowed an ethical and moral lapse that is hurtful to a large number of deserving athletes. If the budget truly needed to be cut by targeting sports, then all sports should have been included, causing spread-out, minimal damage.
The sports committee met in private and made its announcement without warning. They did not confer with the athletes or coaches or anyone else.
Here are the facts as I know them.
1. California now has no place in the entire University of California system for its high school wrestlers to attend and compete. Due to the ravages of Title IX and off and on budget problems, over half of the college and university wrestling programs in the nation have disappeared. Why is everybody picking on wrestling? It’s a truly great sport for conditioning, discipline and character building, with many devoted followers, committed to fundraising.
2. UC Davis wrestling is the last program standing out of all the California universities. Here’s the knockout count, one after another: Chico State, Fresno State, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Bakersfield.
3. California has the largest number of high school wrestlers of any state in the nation. There are between 28,000 and 30,000 high school male and female wrestlers presently competing at hundreds of schools; the numbers increase each year. Now they have no university to go to in California. (Interestingly, there are more female wrestlers in California high schools than female gymnasts, and 88 colleges and universities have women’s wrestling teams). Men’s wrestling ranks No. 6 in high school sport participation. Cutting it from UC Davis makes no sense.
4. Wrestling is almost the only sport where people of small stature can excel. It has the highest minority percentage of any sport (currently, 55 percent at UC Davis). This is because of structured different weight divisions, which begin at 125 pounds and give a chance for smaller athletes to become elite performers.
Was our sports committee aware of any of these facts? If so, they should be ashamed of themselves. It appears that a small group of poorly informed people made a horrible mistake.
Twenty years ago, UC Davis tried to cut wrestling, gymnastics and another lesser sport, and the students voted to increase their tuition by $25 to prevent the cuts. There was also great pressure from powerful politicians, who were ex-wrestlers and knew of the sport’s unusual athletic importance in building, as Benjamin Franklin once said, a “strong body and mind.” Benjamin Franklin also insisted that wrestling be the first sport at the University of Pennsylvania. Subsequently reinstated, the wrestling program at UC Davis became the school’s first team to have a Division I national champion, when Derrick Moore was named the Most Valuable Wrestler at the NCAA Wrestling Tournament in St. Louis in 2007.
Our request to the committee and to Chancellor Linda Katehi is to please rescind this decision to remove the wrestling program at UC Davis. There is other university fat to cut instead. This time, the California wrestling communities have reached the end of any willingness to be further tormented. We are fighting for our life in California and have nothing more to lose. You can only tease the tiger so long before he bites. This great American and worldwide Olympic sport is too grand and too strong to be so mistreated anymore.
EDWARD DAWKINS is the original City of Davis and UC Davis orthopedic surgeon and a sports medicine physician.