Since the 1999-2000 season, Sparta wrestling has finished first or second in conference nine times. The last two years have seen the Spartans go 12-0 in the MVC and 32-4 overall. It’s a remarkable stretch and a great time to be a fan, wrestler, coach or alum of the program. As someone living in Duluth, Minnesota, it feels good to be assigned to shoot a wrestling practice in Superior and when the coach learns that I’m from Sparta, his response about Sparta is “tough program, tough kids, wish we had that success.”
The success is due to dedicated coaches, fans, parents and wrestlers. It’s great to have the type of support that the Sparta wrestling program has. That success has translated into increased participation at all levels. This is never more evident than the 62 middle school wrestlers attending practices this week. The high school is also expecting great numbers when they officially begin Nov. 14. With the record number of kids participating in the wrestling program, the needs of the program have changed from years past.
Alum Steve Kimpel, 1988 Sparta graduate and three-time wrestling All-American at UW-Parkside, has a unique take on the needs of the program and why it’s important to deal with the changes now so the future remains bright.
I am writing to thank you for your support of Sparta Wrestling and to invite you to continue that support as you carefully consider the needs of this vibrant and growing program. As such, I wish to share my opinions based on many years of wrestling involvement at all levels of the sport and some education related to these points.
From a per capita perspective, wrestling is one of the most affordable sports offered at the scholastic level in terms of direct dollars for participation and facility requirements based on square footage per student-athlete. In fact, wrestling continues to be affordable even at the lower-tier collegiate ranks. As a side note, smaller colleges and universities occasionally need to add sports for various reasons. In many cases, wrestling is the sport added when the decision can be based on affordability.
This per capita cost is possibly one reason why wrestling programs have traditionally not had roster caps. Not only is there opportunity for students to be on a team, wrestling is one of few sports where every healthy athlete generally gets to compete. There are no “bench warmers” in wrestling.
Wrestling tends to attract students from blue-collar families. Please consider that for a moment.
I was one of the individuals who benefitted from Sparta wrestling. Although I had wrestled in the youth program, the organization of daily practices in 7th and 8th grade at Sparta Junior High School solidified my goals in wrestling and provided much-needed direction. Sparta wrestling inspired me to attend college, which in my family was suggested but not planned for in an effective way. (Those of you who were my teachers will know to what I refer.) Most importantly, my college wrestling program and patient coaches anchored me in spite of academic and other mistakes I made during my freshman year, which otherwise would have resulted in me dropping out. Finally, wrestling helped me solidify what I wanted to study and provided opportunities that ended with a terminal degree in my field and uninterrupted employment in the workforce since then.
As I recollect, from 1988-1991 Sparta wrestling provided the inspiration for seven other student-athletes who were my teammates or close friends to attend college and participate in intercollegiate wrestling. While I probably would not have attended college without the wrestling, I am not claiming that is the case for these other individuals. I do know that wrestling was a factor in the choice of where to attend college for about four of these students. I believe that three of the seven (not including me) pursued careers related to education, in a large part due to their desire to continue to be involved with wrestling.
Sparta wrestling instilled a strong desire in these individuals to give back to society and attempt to shape the lives of our youth.
I don’t mean to suggest that wrestling participation will provide everyone with the same experiences and opportunities that I had. Nor do I believe that it can ward off the potential problems some students will face. However, I believe whole-heartedly that in every four-year cycle of high school student-athletes there are at-risk participants who gain tremendous benefits from direct interaction with coaches. While this might sound a little dramatic, I also believe that a community can choose invest in leadership and coaches and take better care of things on the front end, or it can be forced to hire more law enforcement and case workers on the back end. Either way, there is a price to pay.
It is much easier to build a boy or a girl than it is to repair a man or a woman.
Tough economic times mandate hard choices that reveal passions and priorities. I hope those who hold positions of leadership and the power to allocate resources will make proactive decisions based on providing safety, supervision, and leadership for youth. Unfortunately, countless preventable tragedies have both necessitated legislation and put a price tag on human life and limb. I am aware of a community that recently installed a traffic light in a pedestrian area. Formal documented requests had previously gained no ground, but a pedestrian death immediately resulted in a new signal, and it clarified for the community how much a human life was worth to the city council.
I do not wish to end on a dire note, but to underscore that the requests of Sparta wrestling supporters are based on more than just optimizing the performance of student-athletes. These requests are an effort to protect both the children and the school district.
Thank you for your tireless service to Sparta student-athletes and for your willingness to consider the issues and make tough decisions.
Sparta High School class of 1988
Tough economic times make it increasingly difficult to maintain a quality, competitive program. It requires the cooperation of parents, boosters, coaches and administrators all working together. The Sparta wrestling program has consistently been a positive example of how this can happen. The middle school and high school programs have requested additional coaches for this season, we hope that the district will see the value of providing this additional help. At the same time, we understand the constraints the district is operating under and will support any decisions that are made. The coaches, parents, volunteers and fans of Sparta Wrestling will continue to provide the wrestling program with support in any way needed. We understand the value of sports and how it can positively impact a young person’s life. (see above)