By Betsy Veysman
Wrestling fans will get a unique opportunity to see top-notch talent ranging from elementary school through college on January 8 at Cornell University as both the NYWAY Big Red Kickoff Tournament and a dual meet between two top 15 NCAA programs, Cornell and Lehigh, will take place at Bartels Hall in Newman Arena.
“I’m not sure where else you would get a chance to see future greats and current greats wrestle on the same day at the same place,” said Cornell head coach Rob Koll. “It’s a great way for people to see great wrestling and it’s also a great way for us to continue to build our Cornell fan base.”
The action will begin at 9 a.m. with Session I of the NYWAY Big Red Kickoff Tournament. The event will feature star youth grapplers from New York, California, Michigan, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, among others, in five age groups ranging from 6 and under to the highest group, the 13/14-year old bracket.
In order to compete, wrestlers must preregister by January 6 at 5 p.m. at www.nyway.org. The registration fee includes a ticket to the Big Red-Lehigh dual. All participants must have a paid NYWAY membership.
NYWAY State President Clint Wattenberg is excited about the event, which serves as the official NYWAY kickoff. The organization has already amassed over 1450 members in just six months of operation.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Wattenberg said. “We will be able to bring a great product to kids from around the state and the country. It allows the kids to also be involved in an incredible Cornell dual. It will bring youth and college wrestling together to support both levels of the sport.”
The college competition will begin at 1 p.m., after the first session of the youth tournament has been completed. The center mat will be set up for the battle between fourth-ranked Cornell and 12th ranked Lehigh. The East Coast rivals have had close matchups the past two campaigns, while the Big Red has captured the past five EIWA titles, with the Mountain Hawks placing second in two of those years.
Eleven ranked wrestlers will compete, with three bouts pitting nationally ranked grapplers against each other. At 141, a pair of multi-time New York state champions, #8 Stephen Dutton and #15 Mike Nevinger, will face off. At 184, two All-Americans, #1 Robert Hamlin and #4 Steve Bosak, will compete and at 197, #1 Cam Simaz will take on #8 Joe Kennedy. Spectators will also get a chance to watch two 2011 NCAA Champions, 157-pounder Kyle Dake of Cornell and heavyweight Zach Rey of Lehigh. (Intermat rankings as of December 29)
“It’s a great opportunity to see two of the top teams on the East Coast,” Koll said. “With the fans from the youth tournament and the local fans, we expect a sellout. A big turnout would be great, especially with the college students out of town on break.”
As is customary, the Cornell wrestling team will conduct an autograph session following the dual meet, after which the Big Red Kickoff tournament will run to its conclusion. (Session II is slated to start at approximately 4 p.m.). First through fourth place finishers will earn awards.
“We’re really excited to package great wrestling for fans of the sport,” Koll said. “We are trying to introduce young wrestlers to Cornell wrestling and cultivate future Cornell wrestlers. Years ago we ran an AAU tournament here and I think even 10 or 15 years later, people came up to me saying that they were there when they were in elementary school and it introduced them to Cornell wrestling. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
As for NYWAY, Wattenberg is hoping the tournament will allow the organization to continue its growth and its mission of supporting youth folkstyle development.
“We’ve had a great start, especially since we haven’t had a tournament yet, which is what typically drives membership,” he said. “We’ve had motivated individuals around the state get things off the ground. We’re pleased about what has happened so far, but we’re missing some downstate representation and are looking to improve that.”
Wattenberg concluded by encouraging anyone with input or interest in getting involved to contact him through the www.nyway.org website or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the January 8 events, see http://www.nyway.org.