By JOHN CLAYTON
Daily Record/Sunday News
York, PA – The starry-eyed gazes seemed to follow him everywhere, as one of amateur wrestling’s most exalted figures stalked around York College’s Grumbacher Center.
These are busy times for Cael Sanderson, the Penn State wrestling coach and former Olympic champion. His Nittany Lions are barely three months removed from a national championship. And there’s the matter of his own career revival: Sanderson announced this month that, at age 32, he is returning to active competition after a seven-year hiatus.
Between his own training sessions and the interminable tasks that go with being a Division I coach, empty calendar space has been hard to find.
Still, Sanderson carved out time for a trip to York College, where he served as an instructor at the Keystone Wrestling Camp on Tuesday. For a pair of two-hour sessions, Sanderson demonstrated techniques and doled out advice to some 160 wrestlers who watched his every move with eager expressions.
“It’s tough, because camps tend to take quite a bit of energy, “Sanderson said of his cramped schedule. “You have to just do it. Even if you’re tired from training, you just have to get at it.”
Sanderson was not the only headliner at the camp, which has been held annually at York College for the last decade. Maryland head coach and former Penn State star Kerry McCoy stopped by for a pair of sessions Tuesday. The camp’s director, John Fritz, is a former standout wrestler and head coach at Penn State.
“I just hope that the kids understand the greatness that is around them, “Fritz said, referring to Sanderson and McCoy. “Sometimes they might not be able to grasp that.”
Of course, Sanderson was the main attraction.
The self-effacing former Iowa State star is one of the magnate’s of modern wrestling. Among his docket of accomplishments: A 159-0 collegiate record, four individual national titles, a 2004 Olympic gold medal at 185 pounds and, most recently, a team national championship as the Nittany Lions’ coach.
So when Sanderson said in June he was making a comeback, the news rattled the wrestling world. He had not competed since 2004.
Sanderson bulldozed to a 185-pound title at the World Team Trials in Oklahoma City earlier this month, and he will wrestle at the World Championships in Istanbul in September.
“It’s just a different mentality, really, “Sanderson said. “But we’re still training as a team in the summer, working out every day. It’s just a matter of taking it up a couple steps, being more disciplined when I’m eating. … August will be a big training month.”
Sanderson’s presence provided a significant boost to the camp, which saw its numbers double from last summer.
At one point, as Sanderson introduced himself to a dozen elementary-age campers during an afternoon session, one young wrestler in a gray, Penn State T-shirt raised his hand. “Am I dreaming? “the boy asked.
“I don’t know how many camps can bring in this many guys, “York College wrestling coach Tom Kessler said. “It’s great for the county. … (Sanderson) is probably the most sought-after guy in the world right now, as far as wrestling.”
After the afternoon session had ended, a group of young campers surrounded Sanderson. He spent a few minutes signing T-shirts and backpacks and wrestling shoes with a black Sharpie.
He discussed the possibly of fitting in a workout between the camp’s afternoon and evening sessions.
All part of a life that seems a bit more crowded these days. A litmus test awaits him in September. If all goes well, a run at the 2012 Olympics could be a possibility.
“The window of opportunity is there, “Sanderson said.