For years, SUNY Sullivan has welcomed some of the best wrestlers in New York to its Loch Sheldrake campus for a weekend in January for the Eastern States Classic.
And grapplers have again ascended on the campus in the summertime for top-notch camps, including the J Robinson Intensive Camp in 2012, run by the longtime University of Minnesota head coach.
Now, wrestling will be a fixture at SUNY Sullivan year round, as President Dr. William Murabito and Director of Athletics Christopher DePew announced earlier this month that wrestling will be one of two sports added, beginning this fall. (Women’s volleyball is the other).
According to DePew, the move to bring wrestling to Loch Sheldrake was in the making for some time, as he and the institution have become more and more connected to the sport over the years.
“We have developed very strong relationships with the Friends of Section 9 wrestling and also with members of Beat the Streets such as Al Bevilacqua and Bill Crum,” DePew said. “Those individuals have been suggesting starting a wrestling program here for a while.”
DePew began to look at the possibility but was uncertain whether some of the start up costs, like new mats, might be prohibitive.
But when a new mat arrived, courtesy of Beat the Streets wrestling, the enthusiasm continued to grow.
And when DePew presented the proposal to add wrestling, as well as women’s volleyball, to the leaders of the institution, the Board not only approved it, but demanded that it go forward as part of the college’s five-year growth strategy.
It is believed that the programs will be an important recruitment tool for up to 40 new students in the next year and will be the first step of an overall plan to add four more athletic programs by 2015.
In addition to meeting the strategic needs of the institution, DePew believes there will also be a profound impact on the wrestling community.
“There are limited opportunities for wrestlers on the collegiate level and we’re happy to be providing a great option,” he said. “We believe we offer a unique opportunity for New York kids to get away from home and have the true college experience, but still be close enough to get home if they need to. There is a bus from the Port Authority in New York City that goes to the flagpole at our school. We know there are so many good high school wrestlers in the state of New York, including in the Beat the Streets program, and we want to offer them a place to continue wrestling.”
There are of course some things currently being worked out. Student housing is currently at capacity and there is an ongoing initiative to expand on-campus living.
And the leader of the program is still being determined, with the search for the head coach underway. According to DePew, a number of candidates have already expressed interest and he is hoping to have the coach on board by mid February.
Even without the staff in place, the enthusiasm for the sport came through in conversations with DePew and was very clear during the Eastern States Classic. In fact, DePew worked in the concession stand from the opening of the tournament in the morning through its close on both Friday and Saturday. His excitement about making wrestling events a bigger fixture at the Paul Gerry Fieldhouse was palpable.
“I think this is a great opportunity for SUNY Sullivan and for the New York wrestling community,” he said. “We have some work to do, and I would say I’m cautiously optimistic. We have seen NJCAA programs like Nassau and Niagara do very well in New York and we expect that we can have that kind of success as well. This fits in well with our continued quest to be the very best Junior College Athletic Program in the country. I believe that the success of our current programs will breed immediate success for our future programs. We expect to become a national Junior College power in year one.”