Special Report: Challenges for Wrestling in the Northland Pt. 1

Challenges for Wrestling in the Northland

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It’s safe to say Duluth is known for hockey.

But ask anyone if they root for wrestling and you might not find many fans.

North and east of Duluth, there is no wrestling, especially in Duluth.”

For a city the size of Duluth and in a state where wrestling is very popular it’s hard to believe wrestling is almost nonexistent in the Northland.

“A culture never developed here for some reason. I’ve heard that wrestling developed in areas that were very agricultural, farming communities and agricultural communities typically pick them up. I don’t know why it didn’t pick up here in Duluth. Hockey got a foothold and so did basketball, so it’s a mystery to me,” said Cloquet wrestling Coach Al Denman.

What’s not a mystery is the toughness of the sport and the challenges it poses to athletes.

“The toughest challenge to wrestling is wrestling in itself. It’s a very tough sport; it’s a lot like life. It’s easy to quit. It’s tough to keep kids in the sport. It’s not pleasant sometimes, just like life,” said Cloquet youth wrestling coach Jim Allen.

The grueling nature of the sport isn’t the only challenge for coaches.

The misconception about what wrestling is also draws confusion.

“The biggest thing is getting kids to realize that this isn’t going to be jumping off the turnbuckle, flying through the air, doing that kind of stuff and it’s not MMA either,” said Proctor Wrestling Coach Dave McNamee.

Coach McNamee believes the sport may not be the only obstacle that’s in the way of potential wrestlers.

“There’s kind of this perception with the uniforms and stuff like that. Kids are kind of like, I don’t think I want to put that thing on,” said McNamee.

It’s a perception McNamee is trying to flip.

“I put up posters around here with guys like David Taylor and all these NCAA champions with their arms flexing and stuff wearing their singlet and I say, you want to tell those guys that singlet’s look stupid,” said McNamee.

The lack of opponents in the area is also causing problems for local teams.

“It’s an hour, hour and a half, two hours sometimes. One our trips are to Fargo so it can be a long ride.”

The other long ride is the time and patience it takes for a wrestling program to build at a school.

“When I took the program as a varsity coach, I was told by the coaches in the area that it’s going to be a 10 year process to have a competitive team. This is our 10th varsity season and we have a competitive team. For the first time in our history we had all 14 weight classes filled,” said Denman.

The process may take some time and the grueling nature of the sport may turn athletes off but Coach Denman sees no reason why wrestling can’t thrive in Duluth.

“There’s no good reason why there isn’t wrestling in this area. Like I keep saying over and over again, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We just have to have men and women with a will to step up and then there will be a way. Proctor’s doing it, we’ve done it. Duluth can do it too,” said Denman.

If schools take a chance and athletes can take down misconceptions about the sport then wrestling could become Duluth’s next pinning success.

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