Mehl: UM-Dearborn wrestling season ends early; program needs boost from university

Jared Davidson celebrates a win. (Photo courtesy of Davidson)
Jared Davidson celebrates a win. (Photo courtesy of Davidson)

By GEOFF MEHL, Staff Columnist

Geoff Mehl headshotAfter a promising start to the season, the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s wrestling season has come to an abrupt and disappointing end.

The Wolverine wrestlers were unable to find someone to represent the program at the conference tournament at Davenport University on March 1.

Freshman Jared Davidson was pre-seeded No. 2 going into the tournament and had a 13-4 record before a busy personal life caused him to pull out, subsequently ending the season for the wrestling team.

The surprising and unexpected end to the season poses several questions about the program going forward. The questions aren’t directed at a dedicated coach in Grant MacKenzie or in the voluntary student athletes in the program. MacKenzie, winner of Coach of the Year winner in the GLC for the second-consecutive year, built the Henry Ford College wrestling program into a title contender. No, the questions are directed at UM-Dearborn’s athletic support.

The wrestling program is considered a club team, making it completely voluntary for anyone who wants to wrestle. This leaves for self motivation to be the only driving force behind the athletes to keep them competing for the school.

Without a scholarship to relieve financial pressures, without an on-campus space for practices and without full financial support from the school, the wrestling program seems to be in a limbo, making it hard to recruit for the block M. The club student athletes cannot be held accountable for missing practices or backing out of meets when they are representing the UM-Dearborn brand voluntarily.

The UM-Dearborn wrestling program does not have mats or home meets. It operates on a small budget that pays for mostly mat rentals at an off-site facility and some local traveling expenses for attending meets.

The National Tournament is held in Allen, Texas on March 12. If a UM-Dearborn wrestler had qualified for the tournament, financial support for travel expenses and academic time missed would be primarily put on the student athlete’s shoulders.

It may be time for the university to begin looking into a varsity tag for the wrestling program. This season has put the light on the lack of support the team receives. For the first time, the program was close to being thrust into the national spotlight, and the lack of support may have cut the season short.

It will be interesting to see where the program goes from here. It seems to have the coaching staff in place to mold competitive wrestlers, and the area of southeast Michigan has an abundance of talent in the wrestling community to field a strong team.

It is now on the shoulders of the athletic department to decide whether this disappointing end to the season while on the edge of success is something that needs to be corrected.