Tennessee might have officially cut wrestling in 1984 but students’ interest in the sport never vanished.
In 1998, those students received a lifeline.
That year signaled the start of the Tennessee wresting club, giving wrestling enthusiasts a chance to continue their passion.
“I found out about the wrestling team in high school and saw it as an option to continue my wrestling career,” Drew Welch, sophomore, said.
Wrestling, along with other club sports and intramural teams at Tennessee, offers students an avenue to stay in shape, the chance to continue their athletics pursuits and the opportunity to forge friendships with others who share similar interests.
The club also gives students an avenue to stay in shape in college.
Athletic programs don’t offer every sport and very few students can play on official college teams. That’s why there are clubs. Clubs and recreational sports on campus offer competition, but they also are relaxed and enjoyable.
“The tournament atmosphere is pretty laid back generally,” Tanner Reynolds, team captain, said. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously as far out as getting with the team and practicing.”
However, the laid-back environment doesn’t prevent students from working hard to accomplish the goals they want to achieve.
Reynolds said he wants to reach the Nationals once again — as he has for the past two years. He was also ranked 5th overall at 157 lbs. in the preseason for the the National Collegiate Wrestling Association.
UT will be competing in some upcoming tournaments such as the Classic City Championship in Athens, Georgia this weekend, the Mid-Atlantic Conference Championships on Feb. 27 and the Nationals during March for wrestlers that qualify.
If the team can show how competitive they can be, it can perhaps lead to the sport being considered on varsity level once again.
The Tennessee wrestling team was cut for a variety of reasons but the biggest was that the team wasn’t drawing enough revenue.
“Some people say it was Title IX, but wrestling in general has never been a money maker,” wrestling coach Marcus Burgin said. “But it’s not an expensive sport.”
Burgin, however, didn’t rule out the possibility that wrestling could return to Tennessee as an official sport.
It’s going to be a combination of support of the community and growth from this team,” Burgin said. “Wrestling is the cheapest sport a college could ever have. If you get enough support, it can completely self-fund. It’s about having a team that can be competitive in the NCAA, that’s consistently growing, consistently funding itself and growing with support.”
The only SEC school that has a varsity wrestling team in the D1 division is Missouri, but it technically plays under the MAC in this instance. Support from the other SEC members will have to grow for wrestling to become popularized and televised. Unfortunately, many D1 schools have been dropping their wrestling programs, with opportunities and scholarships lost for potential student-athletes.
Like the community that team sports help build, sometimes these teams need support from their community in return.