Longest Running Wrestling Camp in the United States is at Western; More than 1,000 wrestlers on campus in June
June 15, 2010 -- This month more than 1,000 young grapplers will travel to Gunnison for the longest running wrestling camp in the United States.
The Western State College of Colorado (WSC) Rocky Mountain Wrestling Camp enters its 47th year this June. Started by legendary WSC wrestling coach Tracy Borah, the camp has come a long way from its roots in the local Spring Creek canyon.
Current camp director and head WSC wrestling coach Miles Van Hee participated in the camps as a youngster in their early days up Spring Creek.
“It was something I looked forward to every year,” Van Hee said. “We used to stay in the cabins at the resort and then wrestle on mats in the middle of the cabins.”
Van Hee noted the rugged nature of the camps with nightly tick checks and grapplers having to wear sunscreen while wrestling in the mid-day sun. He also reflected that he enjoyed the fishing up Spring Creek as much as the wrestling. Today wrestlers, who come from as far away as Florida, get to enjoy the summertime offerings of the Gunnison Country as well: time is allotted for fishing and whitewater rafting during the camp.
Eventually the camps outgrew Spring Creek and they moved on to the WSC campus, where they are currently housed.
Current athletic director and former head WSC wrestling coach Greg Waggoner took the reins of the camp from Borah in 1985 and ran it for 13 years. He believes that the camp is successful because of the foundation that Borah laid.
“Coaches like to bring kids to the camp largely because of the relationships we build with the history, heritage and brand that Tracy Borah started,” Waggoner said. “The coaches and wrestlers learn from each other and also enjoy the outdoors together.”
Waggoner added that the continuity of camp directors is a huge key to the success. In the 47 years the program has had a mere three directors: Borah, Waggoner and Van Hee.
Paul Lessard, a coach from Roswell, New Mexico, has been bringing wrestlers to the camp every year since 1994.
“The camp is very valuable, it’s inexpensive and competition is great,” Lessard said. “Plus the Western State wrestlers provide invaluable coaching with a good instructor to wrestler ratio.”
Lessard’s son, Lance, has been coming to the camp since he was seven. He liked the camp so much he’s decided to attend Western. He’ll also wrestle for Coach Van Hee.
“We would have never known about Western if it wasn’t for the camp,” Lessard said. “And now as a student he’ll know people already because of the connections he made at the Rocky Mountain Wrestling Camp.”
Van Hee ran his first camp in 1998, when he started as head wrestling coach and has grown it every single year. Last year there were 1,100 in attendance.
Van Hee has also earned quite a name for himself and WSC wrestling with the success of the program. This year they won their second Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) title in a row and he was also named RMAC Coach of the Year for the second time. Donovan McMahill, a junior, who wrestles at 197 pounds, won the NCAA Division II national championships this year.
Additionally Shane Carwin, a WSC alumnus, who wrestled under both Waggoner and Van Hee, in the late nineties, is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) interim heavyweight title champion. Carwin won that title in front of millions of viewers and frequently mentions Western State athletics in interviews.
Van Hee admits that planning the camp is, “a rodeo to keep it up and running.”
“It’s a year-round job and I rely heavily on my assistant coaches, wrestlers and other clinicians,” he said. “It’s worth it though, and for a summer camp there’s no better place to be than Gunnison.”
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations and communications