WSC Wrestling Camp in its 46th Year
June 15, 2009 -- A tradition that began nearly half a century ago continues to mold boys into men every summer on the Western State campus.
More than 1,100 wrestlers will pass through the doors of the Paul Wright Gymnasium for the WSC Wrestling Camp
Over the course of two weeks (June 7-21), more than 1,100 wrestlers, counselors and coaches will flock from all corners of the country to participate in the 46th edition of the Rocky Mountain Wrestling Camp (RMWC).
In its historic tenure — which shares the title for the longest running wrestling camp in the nation — it has come to be known as a unique place where champions are made, on and off the mat.
“It’s so much more than just wrestling,” said camp director and WSC head coach Miles Van Hee. “This camp is basically about what it takes to get to the next level, not just in wrestling, but in life.”
Van Hee took over the RMWC in 1997. This year, around 40 counselors and other coaches will help him again live up to the legacy.
Broken into four sessions, which include a technique camp, an intensive camp and two team camps, grapplers age nine to 18 sprawl across 10 mats located throughout Paul Wright Gymnasium.
As many as 15 different states have been represented at one time and this year is no different. Teams from Idaho, Illinois, Texas and Utah were among many others in attendance at this week’s “Crimson” team camp.
“We’ve modified some things over the course of time, but it’s always been a tradition,” said Van Hee. “There’s some coaches who were coming here when I was an athlete.”
---The tradition rolls on---
Dan Warner rode with a van-load of eager teenagers for 26 hours just to get his team from Rantoul, Ill., to the RMWC this year.
“As soon as I got my first head coaching job, the first thing I wanted to do was get my kids up here,” said Warner. “It’s been here for 46 years for a reason, and that’s because it’s one of the best camps in the country.”
Warner has the experience to vouch for it. His first RMWC was in 1986, when he was a prep grappler at Moon Valley High in Phoenix, Ariz.
His alma mater was also in attendance at this week’s team camp and his old high school coach, Bryan Smith, was still leading them.
“I’ve been coming here 20-plus years and you get to meet new coaches, but it’s also kind of a reunion of old coaches,” said Smith.
Smith reflected on his first year at the RMWC, when the camp was held in Almont and mats were thrown down in the middle of a large cabin floor.
The facilities have changed drastically since Smith’s first experience, but the bonds created over the years remain strong.
“Just seeing the coaches that come back year in and year out, they’re so excited to get back here and reunite friendships again,” said Van Hee. “What’s really cool, though, is you get coaches from all over the country ... and they all get the opportunity to share their ideas and philosophies.”
---More than a match---
Amidst the tireless lessons about technique, training and tactics, one golden rule applies: wrestling is more than a sport.
“I want them to learn how to be better men and they definitely teach you that here,” said Warner. “Obviously the competition is great, but I want them to come out of here with some real life-building skills.”
Grapplers are supplied as much mental training as physical. From daily journals that log their diet and training to quantities of reading material on mental aspects of athletics, nutrition and leadership, it’s meant to be a wellspring of inspiration.
“I think a lot of it is just life experiences that we share with them, based on what wrestling has done for us,” said Van Hee. “What the sport can teach you will be a life lesson forever."
The camps are not all work and no play, however. Teams at this week’s camp spent their down time rafting, fishing and hiking in the pristine surroundings of Gunnison.
---There’s wrestling, too---
The two five-day specialization camps are a slow build up into more than 10 days of non-stop, nose-to-the-mat matches.
As a finale to the technique and intensive camps, more than 200 wrestlers square off. Winners are decided in as many as 25 brackets each year.
Then the team camps take over. Broken up into two sessions, due to their popularity, more than 60 high schools and 900 grapplers come to compete.
“Any place you put 10 mats down, you can guarantee there’s going to be a lot of wrestling,” said Smith. “People don’t understand that if you want to be good in high school wrestling, you have to wrestle through the whole summer.”
Each squad battles through a total of 16 duals over the course of four days, with slices of various learning sessions squeezed in between.
“It’s like fitting in an extra half of a season,” said Van Hee. “They’re pretty exhausted after it.”
The RMWC wrapped up its first team tournament on Tuesday and Pueblo South took the title with a perfect 16-0 record.
The “Slate” team camp kicked off on Wednesday and will draw the 46th year of the RMWC to a close on Sunday.
Story by: Matt Smith, 2009 WSC graduate and staff writer for the Gunnison Times