WASHINGTON – The season is ending for a lot of young local wrestlers, and their dreams of Olympic fame may be ending, too.
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee voted last week to drop wrestling starting with the 2020 summer games.
That decision isn’t going down well with the thousands of kids in area wrestling clubs and teams, not to mention their coaches and parents.
“It kinda crushed my dreams because I wanted to be an Olympic wrestler,” says 13- year-old Kemper Stearns of Kensington, one of hundreds of young athletes who competed on Sunday in the Montgomery Youth Wrestling League Tournament at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md.
“I’m disappointed,” he says. “It’s not fair.”
The vote to cut wrestling was made by secret ballot, and was a shock of Olympic proportions.
“It’s sad to see it leave the biggest match, the biggest venue,” says Blake Godsey of Gaithersburg, the head wrestling coach at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.
Godsey, who also runs the Bad Karma wrestling club, is the father of two young wrestlers, ages 8 and 10.
He says it may be a while before the youngest wrestlers in the 7-13 county league understand what is happening, but “I think in the end the kids will see, oh wow, that was an opportunity that was lost.”
His 10-year old son, Aden, shares his father’s devotion to the sport. He says he doesn’t understand why the Olympics would drop wrestling. And he says he really feels sorry for wrestlers now in high school and college.
“What about all those people who have made it to the top, are just now getting old enough to wrestle in the Olympics and now they take that away?” he asks.
John McHugh, the former wrestling coach at the University of Maryland, says college wrestlers are probably the ones hardest hit by the IOC executive board’s decision.
“I think it shocked them more because that would be the next step after college,” McHugh says, noting that most Olympic wrestlers are in their mid-20s.
Now retired, McHugh still helps out with a wrestling club near his Bethesda home. He says the sport is more popular than ever and adds “it is kind of amazing that at the original Olympics, wrestling was probably the premier sport, way back to the Romans and the Greeks. Wrestling and track and field were probably the two primary sports.”
McHugh believes the Olympic committee will ultimately reverse the decision. A petition drive is underway, and the U.S. wrestling federation — USA Wrestling — has launched a Facebook page called “Keep Wrestling in the Olympics.” Opponents of the decision have also launched a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #SaveOlympicWrestling.