It was just a few decades ago that the state of Maryland boasted more than 20 college wrestling teams. Today, only a handful remain, with most falling victim to constricting budgets, shifting priorities or the imperative to invest more in women’s athletics.
But wrestling’s vital signs have never been stronger in College Park, where the Terrapins last week won their second consecutive ACC championship and third in four years under Kerry McCoy, their forward-looking coach who has re-energized the program by melding old-school values with social-media outreach.
Under McCoy, a former Olympian and all-American at Penn State, Maryland has reclaimed its dominance in the ACC and is bucking for a place among the nation’s elite, qualifying seven of its wrestlers for this season’s NCAA championships, which get underway Thursday in St. Louis.
It’s the most wrestlers Maryland has sent to the NCAA championships, in which the top 330 Division I wrestlers vie for national titles and all-American honors in 10 weight classes, since 1990. Four Terrapins are seeded: Redshirt sophomore Christian Boley (197 pounds), junior Josh Asper (165 pounds) and sophomores Spencer Myers (285 pounds) and Jimmy Sheptock (174).
Longer term, McCoy is working with Terrapins alumni and supporters to raise a $12 million to $15 million endowment capable of paying for the squad’s scholarships, coaching salaries and operating expenses. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s one sure way to protect the team from future budget cutbacks.
In a sense, the pursuit of a wrestling endowment reflects the core value that McCoy has sought to instill in his teams since arriving in College Park in May 2008: accountability.
“It’s becoming the foundation of our program, accountability,” McCoy said in a recent telephone interview. “Everybody knows that when we do something, we have to take responsibility for our actions and for our success.”
It starts at the granular level, such as McCoy’s “five-minute rule,” which means wrestlers arrive five minutes early for everything they’re supposed to do. It means showing up to practice outfitted in proper gear. It extends to community service, another team obligation, and performing in the classroom. And it means that Maryland wrestlers hold one another to the team’s high standards as a collective responsibility.
“You don’t have to be perfect, but you have to do things to the best of your ability,” said McCoy, whose squad posted the highest graduation rate last fall — 92 percent, as compiled by the NCAA — among all of Maryland’s men’s varsity teams.
Wrestling has a storied tradition at Maryland. This year’s ACC championship was the 24th in school history, a conference mark.
But the ranks of wrestling teams are down to six in the ACC (Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State also compete). And Maryland is the state’s only public university to compete in the Division I ranks.
All of this makes McCoy a passionate advocate and promoter of the sport, whether developing a strong recruiting base in the mid-Atlantic or cultivating support among Terrapins alumni and supporters — 1,600 of whom receive his weekly e-mails loaded with updates on meets, invitations to team functions, inspirational quotes and shout-outs to other Maryland teams for their success.
“Kerry McCoy represents the gold standard in our coaching fraternity,” says Michael W. Moyer, executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. “I know there are a lot of questions out there about whether college athletics has strayed too far from the educational mission. Well, here’s a guy that represents everything that is right.”
The NCAA championships will also feature six wrestlers each from Virginia and Virginia Tech and five from American, including undefeated senior Ryan Flores, the top-seeded heavyweight.