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Parkl Rapids club makes donation to save Olympic wrestling

University of Minnesota head wrestling coach J Robinson (left) and CEO of Minnesota USA Wrestling Bill Hinchley (right) accepted a $500 check from the Park Rapids Wrestling Boosters to aid a movement to help save wrestling as an Olympic sport. Presenting the check at the Century School gym last Tuesday were Boosters president Sherry Safratowich and Park Rapids head coach Matt Clark.

  Matt Clark was shocked when he heard that the International Olympic Committee intended to cut wrestling from the 2020 Olympics.

     “It took my knees out,” said Clark. “First I was shocked, then I was mad and now I just want to fight. Wrestling is, I think, the core of the Olympics and to get rid of it just does not make sense to me.”

     The head coach of the Park Rapids wrestling team was even more shocked when a $500 donation from the Park Rapids Wrestling Boosters to the movement to help save Olympic wrestling became such a big deal.

     The donation meant so much to USA Wrestling that University of Minnesota head coach J Robinson and CEO of the Minnesota affiliation of USA Wrestling Bill Hinchley drove to Park Rapids last Tuesday to pick up the check.

     “When they asked me to come up here, it was the least I could do to get in a car and drive 3 ½ hours,” said Robinson, who wrestled for the U.S. in the Olympics in 1972 and served as an assistant coach for the U.S. in the Olympics in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 and is still affiliated with USA Wrestling on a coaching basis. “It’s pretty special what you guys did. On behalf of USA Wrestling, I thank you for what you did.”

     In February, the IOC’s executive board said it would be cutting wrestling from the 2020 Olympics. This stunned the wrestling community, since wrestling has been an Olympic sport since 708 B.C. The board decided to keep modern pentathlon, which also ranked low in global popularity and press coverage. The final decision of whether or not to include wrestling in the 2020 Olympics will come in September.

     “I just think every child should have that opportunity. Toward the end of the season when we’re kind of tapering a little bit, I purposely tell stories about NCAA champs and Olympians,” said Clark, who watched Jake Deitchler – the son of former Park Rapids wrestler Jason Deitchler – wrestle in the 2008 Olympics. “We raised money for our club and the club decided what’s the best way to spend it and we were lucky enough that we were in the position that we could give that amount of money to what we thought is a very, very good cause. It’s one of the most important things we can do. The likelihood of anyone from the Park Rapids team making the Olympic team is probably pretty slim, but I want our kids to have the chance to watch it on TV and to look up  to those guys.”

     “That money is going to be used directly and only to keep the Olympic wrestling movement and we are obviously wonderfully grateful,” said USA Wrestling Director of Communications Gary Abbott. “When one group in that town is able to get $500, they’re making an impact. They are basically having a voice in what happens in the sport. There are groups that are taking a stand on this and they understand the United States can be a leader in making change.”

     Later this month, eight sports – wrestling, baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and the martial art wushu – will be reduced to three to see which one will make the 2020 Olympics. In September, the final decision will be made.

     The 177 nations who have sent wrestlers to the Olympics are fighting to save their sport. Donations, such as the one by the Park Rapids Wrestling Boosters, will help this cause.

     “Our best way to maintain our Olympic status is to get that one last spot,” said Abbott. “There’s a lot of international travel, there are firms being hired, public relations, marketing presentation and strategy firms. A whole lot of things that we have to do in order to win that spot back. You’re going to hear people feel confident because of the worldwide outcry of the decision, but they are still going to have to go through the procedures to prove that we belong. It’s going to be a lot of work, but wrestlers are hard workers, so we’re willing to take this challenge on.”

     “The Olympic Games changed forever once they let pro athletes compete. Now it’s all about the money,” said Robinson. “There’s a powerful alliance of nations working to get wrestling back in the Olympics. They’re coming together because of the sport. I think we’ll get it back in.”

     “I’m as optimistic as J is, but it’s going to be a struggle,” said Hinchley.

     USA Wrestling is using the donation from the Park Rapids Wrestling Boosters to inspire more donations from other wrestling clubs, businesses and state legislatures across the country.

     “If a small, small little town like Park Rapids could afford to give $500, I hope a lot of other organizations will at least donate something,” said Clark. “The state of Connecticut gave $1,000. Well, we gave half of what a state did.”


     (Chris Murphy of the Fargo Forum contributed to this article.)