Three years ago, Kent State’s wrestling associate head coach Matt Hill had an idea.
Seeing the success of the University of Stanford’s outdoor dual wrestling meet against Northwestern University in 2010 — and Virginia Tech’s outdoor practice two years later — prompted Hill to explore the possibility of Kent State holding its own open practice in the center of campus, for everyone to see.
And since the majority of the campus community didn’t fully understand the sport, Hill saw this as an opportunity to give students and faculty a firsthand look at college wrestling.
“It was just mainly to get our name out there, to get our guys a little more publicity,” said head coach Jim Andrassy, who is entering his 13th season as head coach and 26th year overall with the program. “(It’s) kind of like our own advertising without spending any money.”
Members of the team view the annual outdoor practice, which will be held Monday at 2 p.m. on Risman Plaza, as something they can look forward to before beginning the 20-match grind that is the regular season.
“For me and for some of the guys, it’s one of the things we look forward to in the preseason. It’s a lot of fun,”said junior Chance Driscoll. “While we’re normally behind closed doors, they (students, fans and parents) just get to see you out there in action, (and) see what guys actually go through to get ready for matches.”
In 2014, one of Isaac Bast’s professors saw him during his first outdoor practice, and later told the sophomore that he didn’t know the university sponsored a varsity wrestling team.
The outdoor practice is vital for the team because it can bring new fans to the M.A.C. Center for one of this season’s nine home matches, including Feb. 4’s dual meet against Oklahoma State University, the Wrestling Insider News magazine’s No. 1 team in the preseason poll.
“A lot of people just don’t understand wrestling. They don’t really know what it is. When I started wrestling, my first year, I thought that I was goinsg to be hitting people with chairs and jumping off ladders,” said sophomore Casey Sparkman. “Coming out here and putting on some tight clothes and rolling around, it’s a lot different than what people expect.”
While Andrassy doesn’t anticipate students staying for the full duration of the practice, those simply passing to watch five or 10 minutes of the practice can still generate buzz about the program and give the wrestlers extra incentive on the mat.
“They might have a kid that they have in class with them (or) maybe they don’t even know he’s a wrestler. Now they know he’s a wrestler,” Andrassy said. “That, and it gets our guys a little more motivated to practice a little bit harder. Our preseason starts the first day of school, so we’re going pretty hard for about six weeks before we actually do this.”
Sparkman believes the outdoor practice can give the public a sense of what college wrestling is really like.
“You can’t really explain how hard it is without people actually seeing it because even matches are only seven minutes,” Andrassy said. “People are like, ‘How hard can seven minutes be?’ It’s not even a full practice, but watching us work hard outside, people will start to understand that not everyone can do it.”
Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected]