When Gallaudet College wrestling coach Marty Willigan was asked to take a team to Manchester, England, for the Challenge Cup of Great Britain, he jumped at the chance.
"When the original team pulled out late in May because of terrorists and financial problems, I was offered the chance to put a replacement team together, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up," said Willigan.
With less than two months to prepare for the competition, which was scheduled for mid-July, Willigan had to move fast. After getting sponsorship from the American Athletic Association for the Deaf, he formed a five-man team that included freshmen Charles Hammack, Greg Pettit and Jeff White of Gallaudet, Eric Woods, a senior at Maryland School for the Deaf, and Mark Gumble, a junior at the State University of New York.
It was the first team composed predominantly of deaf wrestlers to compete in the Challenge Cup. The squad finished 16th out of 20 teams from around the world.
"These kids are not slouch wrestlers," said Willigan. "They have competed at high levels in the past. Considering the level of competiton, they did very well."
Gumble placed highest among the five wrestlers, finishing sixth in the 149-pound class. He was second in the NCAA Divison III championships this year at Trenton State.
"You have to remember that, over there, amateur athletics are their big thing," Willigan said. "It's a totally different level of competition . . . They compete throughout the year, while we only compete for a couple of months a year during the collegiate season. In experience and age, they are way ahead of us."
Although the other four wrestlers did not place, none of them was pinned. Hammack and Woods each won one match.
"This was a great learning experience for these guys, and I am very proud of them," Willigan said. "I wanted these guys to see what international competition is like and to see and experience the different wrestling styles. I think that they have done this.
"I can already see that they have learned a lot from the tournament. The night after we got back, we watched the videotapes of their matches, and all of them were catching their mistakes and noting how to avoid them in the future."
In addition to the two-day competition, the team toured Manchester and attended a wrestling clinic.
Willigan plans to return next year.
"When we went over there, we weren't really sure what we were up against in regards to the competition and the different wrestling styles," Willigan said. "Over there, many things are different. The attack positions, the officiating and scoring. We now know what we are up against, and we can proceed from here. I am definitely looking forward to going back next year and competing."