Saving a sport

CampWIN_Wrestling_4I had the honor of speaking to the campers at both sessions of Camp WIN in June, during their break on the last day of camp.  I spoke to the 6-8 year olds and then the 9-12 year olds.  At both sessions, and for each age group, I started and ended the speech the same way.  I began by asking, “Are you having fun at Camp WIN?” and also, “Which sport has been your favorite so far?”  The answer to the first question didn’t surprise me at all (a loud YES!), but the answer to the second question did – all four times, several sports were yelled from the group, but the dominant one was, “Wrestling!”


Wrestling.  A sport I know very little about.  A sport I was never presented an opportunity with as a kid, although my brother and his friends participated for years.

CampWIN_Wrestling_2Wrestling.  A sport often axed (on the men’s side) from university programs in order to stay compliant with Title IX.  475 collegiate wrestling teams have been eliminated since 1972. (Source: The New York Times)

Wrestling.  A sport that was only just added to the Olympic program for women in 2012, despite being contested by men since the very first Olympic Games in 1896.  Just 28 colleges have a varsity women’s wrestling team.  Only six states sponsor state high school championships for girls wrestling. (Source: National Wrestling Coaches Association)

Wrestling.  A sport initially removed entirely (men’s and women’s) from the 2020 Olympic Program until a campaign organized by FILA, the sport’s international governing body, and heavily backed by the wrestling community, was successful in getting it reinstated.

These little girls’ favorite sport at Camp WIN was wrestling.  Ask WIN for KC director Lisa Diven.

Full disclosure: Wrestling is taught at Camp WIN by Jason High, my life partner-in-crime, and LC Davis, his business partner.  They grew up wrestling, wrestled in college and now compete in professional mixed martial arts.  They own American Top Team HD in Lenexa, KS.

CampWIN_Wrestling_3The core part of the wrestling session at Camp WIN is pitting two campers against each other and letting them compete to see who can wrestle the other out of the white circle.  The winner gets her hand raised.  Apparently this is a HUGE hit, and the girls get really into it.  As Jason says, “It’s the only time you can push someone else and not get in trouble – of course they love it!”  That does make sense.  Sounds like something I would have loved doing as a kid too.

Back to my speech.  The majority of it was telling the girls my own story about finding confidence through sports and how much that fueled my success.  I talked about learning to believe in myself even when I was trying to do something very difficult or something that no one thought I could do.  I referenced my favorite quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence every time you stop to look fear in the face.  Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

CampWIN_Wrestling_1At the end, I asked the girls what they had done that week at Camp WIN that they had been afraid to do or that they didn’t think they knew how to do.  I got lots of great answers – playing rugby, jumping over a hurdle, playing tennis, and of course, the most common response was, “Wrestling!”

So their favorite sport of the week was wrestling, and the sport that they were most afraid of or unsure about beforehand was also wrestling.  Without Camp WIN, how would they know 1) how much fun it is and 2) that they really can do it?  And now all 500 campers are going to go out into the world having tried wrestling.  They’re going to soon realize that a lot of girls haven’t had that opportunity yet.  Hopefully they’ll find a club so they can continue to participate in it.  If they do, they’ll realize there aren’t as many girls as boys competing in the sport (yet).  Hopefully they’ll encourage other girls to try it.  Hopefully that will lead to more states offering girls wrestling championships at the high school level, and hopefully that will lead to more colleges at the NCAA level fielding women’s wrestling squads.  Hopefully that will mean less men’s wrestling teams get cut.

In short, maybe, just maybe, Camp WIN will help save one of the oldest sports in history.

By Ann Gaffigan, Chief Technology Officer, National Land Realty