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April 13, 2015

Wrestling program rallies in wake of defunding

By Jordan Smith

In an effort to save its program, the Cleveland State University wrestling team is mobilizing to motivate students and fans to support the program.

The university announced March 30 that it would no longer fund the wrestling team past the fall 2016 season so it could start an NCAA Division 1 lacrosse team. However, according to Cleveland.com, if supporters can raise $800,000 by March 31, 2016, it would keep the 52-year program for another two seasons.

If they can hit that goal, they’ll be given until 2018 to raise $5 million, which theoretically will be enough to sustain the team financially for a number of seasons going forward.
The decision to end wrestling comes as a result of a “program prioritization process” led by Athletic Director John Parry.

His process investigated factors such as funding competitiveness and national trends for all the athletic programs on campus. In a news release, Parry called the decision to stop funding wrestling “a very difficult” one. The university has offered wrestling since its days as Fenn College.

As a part of its efforts, program supporters held a rally to build student support on April 6. Head wrestling coach Ben Stehura led the rally by explaining the referendum that students voted on last week, prepared by the Student Government Association, calling for a $4 to $6 increase per credit hour to fund the team going forward. He then made the point that the struggle the wrestling program finds itself in could be a way to get more people around the community to notice Cleveland State athletics.

Aside from a “yes” vote on the referendum, Stehura asked those in attendance to encourage at least three others who felt the same to voice their opinions to the higher ups.

“We can make our voice heard and say, ‘Our athletics programs need better funding by the university,’” Stehura said. “’You need to, in the next master plan, think about us.’”

The news came as a shock to coach Stehura. Despite the ongoing talks of adding lacrosse, he was told about three weeks ago that the university would not drop any sports, and that the team was doing a great job — coming off of its best season in a decade.


“Our alumni support was great,” Stehura said. “We got all our All-Americans back for a ceremony, which was amazing, and a lot of those guys were getting interested.”

They were planning on holding a reunion on April 18, but have postponed it in light of the recent efforts to save the program.

In 2017, the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Meet is to be hosted at the Wolstein Center a year before the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championship. At the moment, both are still expected to go on, but coach Stehura did acknowledge that the choice to drop wrestling could jeopardize millions of dollars coming into the area.

The disbandment of the wrestling program would mean the wrestling clinics hosted by the university would also become a thing of the past.

“We run a club here like a lot of teams do and get anywhere from 50 to 100 kids here every Sunday from all ages and we run a practice for them with world class clinicians,” Stehura said. “We’ve been doing that for almost 30 years. There are thousands upon thousands of people that had a place to go on Sunday and made lifelong friends.”

Junior Riley Shaw, who just completed his third year on the team, was informed that the team would lose its funding after returning home from competing in the NCAA Wrestling finals in St. Louis. In a meeting with Parry, the Assistant Athletic Director Christine Moeller and the coaching staff, Stehura shared the fate of the team.

Shaw said Parry offered his reasoning and justifications for the decisions being made before fielding questions from the team.

Ironically enough, Shaw said he hadn’t seen any signs that the athletics department was facing any budget issues that would jeopardize the existence of any of the teams.

“I know they cut the baseball team the year before I got here,” Shaw said. “At the time, Parry assured the wrestlers and the coaches that the wrestling team was safe from being cut.”

During an interview on April 8, Parry said he didn’t realize what a fixture wrestling was in the regional sports landscape until about a couple of years ago.

Parry, who said he didn’t necessarily expect the wave of backlash he has received for this decision, noted that he has received phone calls, emails and letters regarding the defunding. He said he considered it “a bit of a leap” to put the addition of lacrosse and the defunding of the wrestling program together.

Parry has an extensive lacrosse background, which dates back to his days at Butler University, where he introduced a lacrosse program that was dropped in 2007.

According to The Plain Dealer, Parry played lacrosse while earning his degree from Brown University.

During his time as athletic director at Brown, he also served as coach of the lacrosse team. He served as athletic director at Brown from 1975-79. His wife Candis is an assistant coach on Baldwin Wallace University’s lacrosse team.

Over the past two years, there have been discussions of adding a lacrosse team with a women’s sport, Parry explained.

A task force on campus was developed to investigate developing the sport.

“That concept was discussed with President [Berkman’s] senior staff,” Parry said. “And with the board of trustees [and] the athletic visiting committee, all the feedback was very positive about starting lacrosse.”

He said there were initial plans to develop a student fee to the tune of about $5 that would primarily go to the student affairs office.

“Fifty-five to 60 percent of the money would go to student affairs to develop internship programs, the library and counseling,” Parry said. “Forty to 45 percent would go to athletics.”

The plan was for the administration to issue a student poll on the tuition increase, but in its final stages it failed to materialize.

Ultimately, the task force decided that with the steadily rising price of tuition, Columbus would not approve of the idea of raising tuition prices for all students for athletics.

Although no official vote occurred, students were able to vote on the issue on the SGA referendum last week.

The one ray of hope for the team’s continuation apparently is the fundraising efforts by supporters.

“I believe it will be very difficult for the team to raise the money needed over the year to be self-sustaining,” Shaw said. “I think the only way to keep the program is through the administration.”

Olympic wrestler Kurt Angle and celebrity chef Michael Symon a former St. Edward’s High School Wrestler have both taken to Twitter to voice their support for the team.

Shaw said using Twitter to show support for their cause would be appreciated. The hashtag #SaveCSUWrestling has been popular on the social networking site.

Fundraising efforts to save the team are underway as well. For those interested in making donations, visit crowdrise.com/SaveCSUWrestling.

In last week’s SGA referendum, students voted 975 to 650 in favor of a nonbinding referendum to raise student fees $4 to 6 per credit hour to pay for wrestling and a women’s sport. The uproar following the news that the wrestling program would be cut was a major factor in the decision to keep the program, according to coach Ben Stehura.

In an interview with Cleveland.com, Cleveland State’s chief marketing officer Rob Spademan said the administration listened to students and figured out a way to add men’s lacrosse and keep wrestling without a major fee increase. As opposed to a $4 to 6 per credit hour fee, CSU will raise student fees $1 per credit hour.

With the future of his team now safe,  Stehura and his staff are now focused on the future.
“I think everybody’s relieved, happy and we’re just trying to regroup and plan forward,” he says.

The team was together, doing volunteer work at Hospice Crossroads care when they found out the news that the team would remain funded.

“I think we had an outpouring of support and we have a responsibility to repay that in the community,” Stehura says. “This is a galvanizing experience for the community at large.”