By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Reporter
The University of Michigan-Dearborn’s wrestling team’s mission is to produce national qualifiers, All-Americans and national champions.
Coach Grant MacKenzie has a vision for the program as well. He wants the wrestling club to grow into a nationally recognized program in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA).
The NCWA is divided into two divisions: Division-1 and Division-2.
Division-1 clubs are adopted by the athletic department and operate like a varsity team with a budget and usually offer athletic scholarships. Division-2 clubs are considered “Emerging Programs” and are typically pay-to-play and student-driven.
The NAIA has approximately 40 wrestling teams in the country, and there are three WHAC schools that sponsor wrestling: Indiana Tech (NAIA), Davenport University (NCWA), which will transition into a varsity sport soon, and UM-Dearborn (NCWA). Mackenzie wants his D2 club team at UM-Dearborn to graduate to D1 status, but there are plenty of obstacles.
Among challenges like pay-to-play, UM-Dearborn is operating on a small budget. It does not offer wrestling mats or host meets at the school. The club trains offsite at Detroit Jiu Jitsu in East Dearborn and rents mat time. This has caused a lack of wrestlers and not every weight class is filled.
These are just some of the challenges that face UM-Dearborn, along with a high burnout rate. With the voluntary nature of club wrestling, motivation is what drives wrestlers to continue competition, and 48 percent of wrestlers drop out before conferences in March.
MacKenzie remains positive in his approach when recruiting for the Wolverines. Allowing student-athletes to continue competing in a sport they love is top priority for the program. Wrestling eventually comes to an end, and the club offers a chance to continue wrestling beyond prep school.
“There aren’t many opportunities to compete in amateur wrestling after high school unless on a college roster,” he said. “At the end of the day, I am simply providing an opportunity to wrestle at the collegiate level in Wayne County.”
MacKenzie believes that by developing competitive individuals within the program that it will help attract other grapplers to fill an entire line up. One day this may catapult the program to an eventual varsity sport in the NAIA.
“I tell high school seniors all the time, you can be one of the founding members and take pride in starting a team from scratch if they choose UM-D,” he said.
Currently the Wolverines have freshman Jared Davidson who holds a record of 9-1 after the fall semester.
Davidson is poised to be ranked nationally by TheOpenMat.com, if he continues on pace. Based on his performance, he will be a top seed at the Great Lakes Conference and possibly be the first wrestler to compete in the NCWA Championships in Allen, Texas for UM-Dearborn.
UM-Dearborn will continue on their journey to advance the program to the varsity level and begin a winning tradition.
The next event for the Wolverine wrestlers is on Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. at the Grand Valley State University Laker Classic.