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Frustrated parents of Indian Land wrestlers are exploring new ways to promote the sport and build it a home of its own on campus following a meeting with school officials.
Nearly 30 parents attended the meeting last month with Indian Land High School Principal David Shamble, Indian Land Middle School Principal David McDonald, Indian Land Elementary School Principal Beth Blum, ILHS Athletic Director Mike Mayer and wrestling coaches Rondale Truesdale and Kevin Mager.
Held at the elementary school where the teams practice, parents asked for the meeting to express their concerns and question school officials about what they perceive as a bias against the program in favor of other sports.
Many of the parents said they feel the bias is best illustrated by the lack of a practice space afforded the program at the middle and high schools, a situation they say fails to provide the visibility needed to grow the wrestling program.
“All we’re asking for is fair use of the facilities,” said parent Dr. Dane Curtsinger. “We have kids here who are interested in wrestling, but we lose them once they go to middle school because they don’t see it.
“There is a subtle glass ceiling here, and we’re asking that it be removed,” he said.
In many ways, the meeting reveals a program still struggling to find its footing following the death of longtime coach Mike Kersey in October.
Kersey, an elementary school physical education teacher, had led the high school and middle school wrestling programs since 2001. The middle school wrestling program, due to its small size, space considerations and limited schedule, operates under the high school’s sports program.
School officials conceded that Kersey’s unexpected death left “logistics to work out without his expertise,” but nothing that would change the practice situation.
Blum pointed to one example in particular, the ILES gym’s post-practice cleanliness. The point came while addressing another reason the parents called the meeting – unfounded rumors that the teams were to be booted from practicing at ILES.
“Mike just took care of everything – he’d do it all himself – and you wouldn’t even know it (practice) was there,” Blum said. “Things are not like that anymore. The gym floor is filthy; there’s been graffiti on the walls after matches, writing on the gym floors.
“Used to be that the locker room was spotless, but you can walk in the locker room now and the floor looks like a teenager’s floor, which I know because I have one,” she said.
Lack of space
The wrestling team’s practice space dilemma is affected by several factors, Mayer said, most notably a lack of space.
Mayer said the high school gym schedule is full during the winter sports season, which includes wrestling, with practice and games for the school’s four varsity and JV boys and girls basketball teams.
The middle school gym is full with basketball and volleyball.
Still, some parents wanted to know why the basketball program “got preference” in both gyms over wrestling.
Mayer said that in addition to the lack of space to store the wrestling program’s large mats at the high school and middle school gyms, the basketball teams cannot practice in the elementary gym because the court isn’t regulation size.
McDonald also submitted another viewpoint on cutting other teams’ practice space.
“I think the thing we have to remember is that while wrestling is popular with this group,” McDonald said, “I guarantee there are other groups I can talk to tomorrow that feel just as strongly about basketball, volleyball, football and other sports.”
“Still, the bottom line is that the basketball program gets run over both gyms,” Curtsinger said. “All we’re asking for is visibility. With kids, it becomes a popularity thing. If the sport is popular, they’re going to want to play. I think for the program to grow, we need to increase attendance, and generate revenue.”
Funding also a question
Athletics funding lay at the core of other concerns ex-pressed by parents, such as why the school couldn’t build the wrestling program its own practice space.
In breaking down how athletics funding works, Mayer said the school is allotted a set amount for its athletics program each year, which must meet the needs of the high school’s 15 sports, many of which have multiple teams and divisions.
The ILHS athletics fund received $19,000 this year, Mayer said. McDonald said ILMS allotted $3,000 from its overall school activities budget for sports.
While individual teams get to keep their concession sales, ticket sales are put back into the schools’ athletics accounts, most of which is spent on fees, dues and expenses, such as catastrophic insurance, new equipment, hiring match officials and paying bus drivers.
Sometimes teams receive donations, Mayer said. The ILHS Athletics Booster Club also gives teams money – $750 for the wrestling team this year, Mayer said, an amount they’re looking to increase to $1,000 next year.
In illustrating how tight funding is, Mayer said he’s trying to figure out how to come up with $10,000 to buy a much-needed new wrestling mat. Funding for a dedicated wrestling practice space would be next to impossible right now, he said.
“Yes, some of the schools in South Carolina have wrestling areas, but most don’t,” Mayer said of a dedicated wrestling facility. “I know up until four or five years ago, Fort Mill had to practice in the cafeteria.
“We’ve asked (the school district) for an auxiliary gym and an auditorium – but then we also need two science labs,” he said.
Shamble said the problem is that while building a modest practice space might only cost $60,000 to $70,000, the construction costs increase dramatically when “the state gets involved” with school facilities requirements.
“The area is growing at such a rate that we need facilities,” Shamble said. “It’s going to take time. Short of a fundraiser that will raise $250,000 for a wrestling facility, I don’t know how you do it.”
Despite skepticism from some parents, a turning point came when other parents ex-pressed support for patience.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had this program without coach Kersey,” longtime wrestling parent Jennifer Creed said. “Coach Kersey wanted this program to grow, and this program is here (at ILES) because that’s what coach Kersey wanted.
“These people did not hold us back,” she said. “That’s the background here; we need to move forward.”
Among the ideas that came out of the evening was the possibility of ILHS hosting next year’s regional wrestling tournament, a prospect that would generate both concessions sales and visibility for the program.
Another parent suggested holding early-morning wrestling practice before school.
“Now that’s a possibility. We’ve not even considered the possibility of that,” Mayer said. “That’s thinking outside the box, a great idea. That’s the kind of ideas I’m looking for.”
Mayer also suggested the group discuss funding possibilities with the booster club.
Others suggested taking the team’s case to the school board.
Parent John Fitch suggested setting goals.
“Let’s not walk away from here tonight and forget what all we said,” Fitch said. “Let’s discuss it, get out on Facebook and see what the community wants, ask ourselves where do we want to be next season? Three years? Five years?
“If we don’t do that, we’ve just wasted the last hour and a half,” he said. “If we don’t write it down, we’ll never accomplish it.”
Mayer suggested the parents get together and make a draft of one-, two- and three-year goals, a prospect many parents warmed to.
Shamble also said he liked the idea. He said even though he couldn’t give parents what they wanted immediately, he promised to help parents further the program and support their ideas as much as he could.
“I know you want practice space, but I can’t do that tonight; we can’t do it logistically,” Shamble said. “It’s a process; it’s going to take time; it’s not going to happen overnight.
“This is the start of the conversation,” he said.