June 19, 2013

Former Olympic wrestler hoping to form co-dependent relationship with Texas high school football

If former U.S. Olympian Ken Chertow has any say, wrestling will take over the state of Texas.

If former U.S. Olympian Ken Chertow has any say, wrestling will take over the state of Texas.

That’s why he has come to Dallas-Fort Worth this week, putting on one of his 20 satellite camps scheduled across the country for kids ages 6 to 18.

Before all of Texas’ high school football coaches cross their arms and snicker at a battle that would be won before it even began, Chertow and wrestling coaches that are moving into the area insist they come in peace.

The idea they offer is one of mutual interest and gain with Texas high school football.

In this future world featuring football players and wrestlers as Texas’ main athletic export, camp coach Chip Balk hopes to make great wrestlers out of football players and great football players out of wrestlers.

“Texas has always been this skill-back state,” said Balk, who also helps with the Fort Worth All Saints wrestling team. “When it comes to big offensive linemen or defensive linemen, it’s not known for that. You look to Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio. That’s where your big, corn-fed boys are, and one of the prime reasons those guys are so good is because they all wrestle. They have great discipline, they have great hands, they have great footwork and they know how to fight [mentally].”

Football coaches end up happy with the more athletic and versatile athletes who are trained in hand fighting and balance and generally staying off the ground. Wrestling coaches get the school’s top athletes with a chance to build the sport in success and popularity.

Most important, the athletes open a new door that could present them with a free education, should college football not be in the cards, which is why Chertow has spent the last decade bringing his camps to Texas.

“My mission is helping kids,” the veteran of the 1988 Summer Olympics said. “I go around the country helping children, and I want to help get them to college.”

So, Chertow aims his work at the younger age groups, hoping to set a foundation of basic skills many Texas wrestlers don’t develop until they reach high school.

Should these athletes eventually want to advance to a national level of wrestling, they will have close to the same amount of experience as wrestlers from states where the sport thrives.

“Before they even learn how to wrestle, they’re out of school. Our goal is to upgrade the level of Texas wrestling,” said Rick Dellagatta, another one of the camp’s assistant coaches.

This marriage of wrestling and football is already practiced at The Oakridge School in Arlington with head wrestling coach David Miller.

Miller also serves as a linebacker coach and middle school defensive football coach for Oakridge and will periodically bring his linebackers into the gym and onto the mats to learn techniques relevant to both sports.

“A linebacker is essentially a middle-of-the-road wrestler,” Miller said. “So you take a great wrestler with that kind of ability — closing speed, hands, being able to move their body, leverage — and the one-on-one aspect of wrestling that forces those thought processes, it helps them in one-on-one, and when they don’t have 10 other guys to hide behind.”

Chertow’s work expands beyond that of just helping develop the sport nationally, but keeping opportunities available for young wrestlers at the international level for years to come. He has been active with the U.S. Wrestling Association in lobbying the International Olympic Committee to make sure wrestling is, in essence, voted back into the core of Olympic sports this September.

Wrestling’s bargaining chip is simply a more exciting product. Plans would be to move away from international rules that allows for more standing and action on the ground and awards wrestlers for aggressive moves and takedowns, giving fans something easier to follow and enjoy.

Should the efforts work, these coaches hope some of the next top Olympians will have begun their careers at a young age, developing their skills in Texas.

“Youth wrestling is exploding, especially in Texas,” Chertow said. “There are more and more kids trying it and more exposure than there ever has been.”

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