THE REAL STORY OF LONGWOOD WRESTLING
Jason Bryant, Editor, Mat Talk On-Line
|Ever had the rug pulled from
under you? How about the wind knocked out of you? What about that
feeling of betrayal? If you haven’t, then you’re not a wrestler at
Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia.
November 3, 2000 the school announced that it would discontinue intercollegiate wrestling as the release stated, "We do not see appropriate competition in the sport of wrestling relative to the institutions and possible conference affiliations we have targeted in our athletic future," said Athletics Director Don Lemish.
The release went on to state, "I sincerely regret ever having to discontinue a sport; however, we will add men’s and women’s cross country by 2002, giving us a net gain of one sport and meeting the NCAA Division I minimum of 14 sports," said Lemish.
This is where things begin to irritate the wrestling community, and myself personally.
Longwood College is a Division II school, with 13 sports. The student body is roughly 3,100 students. There are seven women’s sports and six men’s sports. Division I? There are several conferences that geographically fit Longwood’s desire to be Division I. Big South, Colonial Athletic Association and the Southern Conference.
Longwood has targeted the Big South. The Big South does not sponsor
wrestling, yet the CAA coaches have graciously stated that if Longwood
would become Division I, they would welcome them in as an associate
member of the CAA. Campbell University in North Carolina currently is an
associate member of the CAA for wrestling. They are a member of the
Trans America conference.
The Big South has no wrestling schools. But these schools are currently aligned with the Big South (Radford, NC-Asheville, Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, Elon, Charleston Southern, Liberty, High Point).
"The move to the CAA was not an option."
Ok, then explain why the CAA just added four schools and two of which have wrestling, and a third, Delaware, is on the verge of their varsity status being re-instated. Towson was also added to the CAA, they have a competitive NCWA (programs that have been dropped and programs not affiliated with the NCAA or NAIA) program.
Things just don’t add up. If Longwood’s goal is to become a Division I school (Which brings more headaches and another level of competition which Longwood has had trouble achieving on the Division II level) in six years, WHY CUT WRESTLING NOW? WHY CUT IT AT ALL?
But how good is the Longwood program? Well, in 1999-2000, the Lancer program finished 11-7 in dual meet competition, a school record 11 wins. This season, the Lancers are 8-5 and have significantly beefed up their schedule, wrestling some of the toughest Division II teams in the country.
Coach Brent Newell and his wrestlers are starting their rise. Longwood is an attractive school for wrestlers from Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic states to compete for. Its Division II, there is a lot of scheduling freedom and the opportunity for mat time is incredible. Longwood even puts two teams together for the Lancer Duals, their roster is deep.
Remember the reason the AD gave for dropping the program was to add more conference friendly sports for a possible move to NCAA D-I.
He decided this because he said the CAA, which was an option last year for Longwood Wrestling, would not be a D-I option in the future due to the fact it was falling apart in his eyes (JMU situation, American sports heading to new conference and rumor ODU may be in trouble?).
In the meantime JMU (with Norma Cantu, head of the Office of Civil Rights out) is in good shape and the CAA has added Hofstra and Drexel (which have D-I wrestling teams) and Delaware and Towson (which have strong club teams that hope to go varsity now that it is a conference sport). ODU has added additional money for an assistant and additional money for scholarship support, and has the rumor has been started amongst doubters at other colleges, not from anyone inside ODU.
Longwood's D-I move is at least 6 years away if it ever happens. Also, wrestling is the one sport that could have a participant in an NCAA Championship at the D-I level due to it being an individual sport if it had adequate funding.
Longwood have produced a number of NCAA Division-II National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Academic All-Americans over the years (they are listed on the wrestling homepage under wrestling then go to All-Americans), this season, the Lancers have 5 individuals that are eligible for this honor this year. Longwood has also been regular participants in the Virginia Duals over the years and placed second as a team the first year of the small College tournament. Since Brent Newell took over the program, their dual meet record has steadily risen to its national competition level.
(1st year 2-7, 2nd year 4-16, 3rd year 7-8, 4th year 11-9 record (school record for wins, 5th year 8-5 with 2 duals to go). The number of wrestlers in the program has grown each year, which actally has not helped the Title IX situation, Longwood stands at 68% female at the College but the athletic department is about 50/50 on male and female athletes.
We have no idea how the AD is coming up with the forfeit numbers, we assume he had Longwood's sports information director go over the books and put the stats together. He may be calling it a forfeit when Lonwood did not enter someone in a tournament in a particular weight class or he may be using Longwood's "B" team to bring the forfeit total up, Lemish has a way with making statistics look the way he wants them to look.
Lemish stated to Jonathan Duty, writer for the Progress Index in Petersburg, VA, that wrestling has not had an NCAA Championships qualifier/participant since 1995.
Longwood has not had an NCAA Nationals participant since 1995 in wrestling BUT none of the other male sports have participated in an NCAA Championship during that time frame, and only our women's Golf team has participated in an NCAA Championship on the female side, Longwood's womens tennis team did qualify for an NCAA Regional Championship last year.
Graduation rates are in line with all other sports at the college.
Longwood recently won the Apprentice Invitational, an eight team tournament that’s been running for 22 years. Longwood recently set a tournament record for points and champions. Seven Lancer wrestlers won championships out of 10 weights. All 10 starting wrestlers (not B-Teamers) placed in the Top 4.
Aaron Bradley, a senior that transferred from Division I George Mason after a stellar high school career, is a potential All-American as is sophomore 174 pounder Ben Summerlin. Bradley went to high school at Lee-Davis in Mechanicsville, Summerlin went to Brookville in Lynchburg.
According to Wrestling USA Magazine, Aaron Bradley is ranked #3 in the country at 149 pounds. Longwood wrestling is producing champions on and off the mat.
That brings another point to the table. Longwood is shooting itself in the foot. Its been a place where kids can continue to wrestle in college, get an education (They’ve had many Academic All-Americans! as stated earlier) and not be dealt with the incredible level of Division I wrestling. Longwood is the only public institution that offers Division II wrestling in Virginia. That’s a HUGE recruiting point with wrestlers that did not place in their state tournament or are from dormant wrestling areas in their particular state. Wrestlers from smaller schools and classifications are also attracted to Longwood because it’s small and provides them a chance to wrestle a lot of matches, whereas at a Division I school, mat time is limited. But at Longwood, it would still thrive.
Longwood announced to the wrestlers THIS SEASON, that it would be their last. Practice had already begun and the team eager for national prominence, and yes, they are almost all underclassmen.
What do you tell that freshman wrestlers that’s waiting to compete for a college program that he’s only got one year?
Longwood has also stated that they would allow their program to retain "club" status. What good does that do? It IS A VARSITY SPORT, why cut it at all? Its one of the most successful at Longwood to start with.
Wrestling in Virginia on the high school level is increasing year after year, high school programs are being added left and right where there were none before. That is reason enough to keep the team, because with Brent Newell as a coach and genuine individual, there would be no shortage of wrestlers wanting to compete for the Lancers.
Longwood is stating they want to bring more attention to the school by going Division I. Ok, what type of attention is that? That Longwood is a school that cares less about its students and more about its appearance?
Things just don’t add up, there are so many different avenues to argue and back up why wrestling should not be cut at Longwood. If anything, the Athletics Director should realize that wrestling CAN DRAW ATTENTION TO LONGWOOD IN A POSITIVE MANNER.
I’m not going to attack cross country, but its pretty much who wants to run, runs. It’s a cheap sport to operate, and Longwood has stated that "NET GAIN OF ONE SPORT."
Great, so now its all about how many sports you have? What about the students that participate? Do they have a voice? Apparently not.
Longwood is alienating the entire collegiate sports arena by doing this. Lemish also stated that "other schools in the region are reviewing their wrestling programs."
Didn’t name names. Perfect. JMU has currently been under the gun (with seven other sports because of the Title IX "infraction."). But with Republicans in the White House and a former wrestler as speaker of the house (Dennis Hastert), Title IX's incorrect view of proportionality has its days numbered.
Lemish seemed to indicate that wrestling is dying and other colleges are dropping it. Again, this gentlemen is telling the uninformed masses what he wants them to think.
Longwood’s move to Division I is in poor judgement, Longwood’s discontinuation of wrestling is just plain ignorant.
Currently around the state of Virginia, petitions with names of adults and of high school students are being filled out and compiled for presentation to the most mis-informed person of them all, Longwood President Patricia Cormier.
The school as been frowned upon because of this action, again, Longwood is shooting itself in the foot.
--- From Progress-Index Newspaper Article—Petersburg, VA
Lemish informed them that the program would be cut effective at the
end of the current season. The news was not taken well. "After the
meeting, I received an abundance of letters about the program,"
Lemish said. "It was not a positive thing. But, I soon had a
meeting with the parents of the wrestlers, and after the meeting, the
Lemish is simply lying through his teeth.
He hasn’t seen any letters, because he’s pawned the duty of responding to all the emails to his secretary. Mat Talk On-Line, an amateur wrestling web site based in Virginia, has spearheaded that petition campaign and the email campaign to both Don Lemish and Patricia Cormier.
Jason Bryant, the editor of Mat Talk On-Line, has sent three emails directly, and has not been responded to.
Mr. Lemish sent emails back to concerned individuals with a coy and lifeless response. All were probably identical.
Mr. Lemish did not call for a meeting, the parents and wrestlers of Longwood demanded a meeting. Lemish has never been identified as being at a match this season.
What is the real reason the sport is being dropped? Is it so Longwood can go Division I to a lower level Division I conference? Is it to enhance the visibility of the college? But why drop a program six or seven years before your even CONSIDERED for Division I eligibility?
Some see it as Lemish’s ego. He was at a Division I school (JMU) and was let go. Maybe he’s power hungry and wants to drag a program down with him as captain of the sports programs. Others see it as a well designed plan to fool the president (who likely has never gone to a wrestling match at Longwood) to cut the sport because it is "dying."
Do your part in saving our troubled student-athletes. Their college doesn’t care, but you should.
Go to Mat Talk On-Line (www.mattalkonline.com) and download the two available petitions, one for adults, one for high school students. Petitions are being accepted until Feb.23, then they will be presented to the president of Longwood for appropriate consideration.
How visible will Longwood be when no one is applying….
Let Longwood's president and the AD know how the public feels about