Wrestling Organizations Grapple for Prominence in Magic Valley

By Ryan Howe

Twin Falls' Tyler Lookingbill wrestles Canyon Ridge's Alex Leblanc

State champion David Borden lives a life immersed in wrestling.

When the high school season ends, the Minico High senior competes in USA Wrestling freestyle tournaments. He’s been to Fargo, N.D., three times for the Junior National Championships.

But starting this fall, Borden – along with every wrestler in Idaho – will grapple with the decision whether to stick with USA Wrestling, or join a recently formed program.

A new way

Tired of hauling his boys to Idaho Falls or Boise for USA Wrestling tournaments, Rick Stimpson of Rupert found a new way.

Better said, he found NUWAY.

The National United Wrestling Association for Youth, founded in 2007, focuses on the grassroots level of amateur wrestling, ages 5 to 18.

Stimpson, a former high school wrestling commissioner, has filed paperwork and organized a board to create an Idaho chapter of NUWAY, called Idaway.

“I had to get something different because USA was killing my program, “Stimpson said. “We pay a fortune to USA Wrestling, but wasn’t getting anything back. There are some clubs in Idaho that benefit from the money that is generated in USA Wrestling, but very, very few.”

NUWAY participates in folkstyle wrestling, the same as high school and collegiate competition. USA Wrestling focuses more on freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines contested in the Olympics. Stimpson said he’s tried, but claims it has been nearly impossible to run a folkstyle tournament under USA Wrestling.

Above all, Stimpson said he likes NUWAY because it gives the money and power back to the state associations to run their programs how they wish, as each state has freedom to make its own rules. USA Wrestling doesn’t allow such privileges, Stimpson said.

“What works in one state might not work in another, “he said. “Oklahoma and Iowa pretty much control the rules and regulations for USA Wrestling. The rest of us, if we want insurance, we have to follow.”

A membership card in Idaway will cost $15 per wrestler, compared to $35 for a USA Wrestling card.

While USA Wrestling holds a variety of events in eastern and western Idaho, Stimpson claims the group’s directors have largely ignored the Magic Valley, forcing area wrestlers to travel to tournaments.

Idaway will start with two districts – south-central and west – and the board expects to expand as more wrestlers join. Stimpson said Idaway will run district and state tournaments, and participate in national events starting with the NUWAY Kick-Off Classic, Oct. 29-30 in Las Vegas.

“Our goal is, eventually Idaway would pick an Idaho elite team and pay for them to go to Vegas and compete in that tournament and represent Idaho, “Stimpson said. “NUWAY wants you to generate money and spend it back by taking our kids to national tournaments where they can get bigger exposure. That’s also going to build the college wrestling because kids are going to go in more prepared for that big stage.”

Can Idaway and USA Wrestling co-exist?

“I don’t know. I don’t think so, “Stimpson said. “It’s going to kill them, and I’m not very popular right now. In fact, they’re doing everything they can right now to stop this.”

An established brand

The formation of Idaway is causing waves throughout the state, especially with supporters of USA Wrestling.

“This isn’t healthy for wrestling, “said Ned Zollinger, USA Wrestling’s Idaho director. “It’s detrimental to the sport if we’re not all united and we’re not all on the same page.”

Zollinger says he has an answer for every criticism Stimpson raises.

“I don’t think (Idaway organizers) have an axe to grind against me, I just don’t think they understand what USA had to offer, “Zollinger said. “I think it’s tragic because everything he has to offer, we have more and we have better.”

The claim that USA Wrestling refuses to wrestle folkstyle?

“Totally not true, “Zollinger said. “Their assumption is USA Idaho doesn’t have an interest in that form of wrestling, or we don’t do enough of it, or we don’t run the tournament the way they like to run them. The reality is USA Idaho in 2010-11 sanctioned more folkstyle wrestling than we did the international styles.”

Zollinger acknowledged the cost difference in membership cards, but said USA Wrestling provides more insurance and perks, such as a monthly magazine. He added that USA Wrestling also offers an alternative $15 card that only allows a wrestler to compete in one style at the local level.

“I don’t believe (Idaway) is needed. Everything they do, we can do, “Zollinger said. “The reason things like this get started is people presume that we can’t, or we don’t, or we refuse to listen. The people who are involved in Idaway, I have never seen them at one of our state or regional meetings.”

Zollinger admitted concern that USA Wrestling could lose kids to Idaway.

“USA Idaho could lose a good percentage of our grassroots athletes, but we’re not going to lose the elite kids in the state of Idaho, “Zollinger said. “And the reason we’re not is, any wrestler who really does well in Division I or plans on doing anything in the Olympics, they’re going to be involved in the freestyle, Greco and international styles, like it or not.”

As far as Stimpson’s assertion of the lack of USA Wrestling in the Magic Valley, Zollinger responded by saying Stimpson – or anyone – could organize USA Wrestling clubs in the Magic Valley and schedule local events, then added, “Have we screwed up and neglected southern Idaho?

Probably. But all they had to do was call or come and I’d been there.”

Potential ripples

Another local organization sure to be affected by Idaway is Magic Valley’s Pee Wee program, which is for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade. Stimpson said Pee Wee was created to give families an alternative to traveling far for USA Wrestling events.

When reached by email, one of Pee Wee’s organizers, Leon Madsen, said he was unaware of Idaway, but “I’m all for advancing wrestling in the Magic Valley.”

Stimpson said Idaway offers better organization, insurance and competition than Pee Wee. In turn, he believes the quality of local wrestling will also improve.

“I think the Pee Wee wrestling that has been started in the Magic Valley really gives our parents and the kids who participate a real false perception of what our sport is about, “Stimpson said. “Since they’ve gone away from the USA program, which is a competitive league, to this Pee Wee wrestling, I really think that wrestling in the Magic Valley is horrible, probably the worst in the state.

“The talent is there. There are some dang good kids there. I wanted something different.”

A few rungs up the age range, Kimberly High School wrestling coach Troy Palmer agrees that if Idaway proves to be less expensive than USA Wrestling and hosts local tournaments, it would be ideal for his wrestlers and others in the Magic Valley.

“The location of the tournaments and the expense of everything plays a big deal in the freestyle stuff, “Palmer said. “As far as USA Wrestling freestyle tournaments, the only one even close to Magic Valley is the one Minico (High School) has. Other than that, you have to go to eastern Idaho or western Idaho, and that gets to be tiresome and expensive if you’re traveling every weekend. If we could get three or four of those tournaments around here, that would be ideal.”

Minico coach Justin Gardner said he was hesitant when he first heard of NUWAY, but now believes, “it would be a step forward for the Magic Valley and for the state of Idaho wrestling.”

Gardner points out three reasons: Idaway offers a fall season, more opportunities for kids to wrestle and gain confidence, and a year-round outlet for folkstyle.

“I enjoy both (programs) and think both have their strong points, but I like the national organization of the NUWAY. I am very excited to start this program, “Gardner said.

New decisions

Regardless of how the organizers and coaches pitch their programs, the crux of each entity’s success will always rest on the decisions of young wrestlers and their parents.

“Honestly, it’s mostly a personal preference of the wrestler, “Borden said. “If you have a wrestler who really likes freestyle, he’s going to want USA Wrestling and go to freestyle and Greco tournaments. If you have a wrestler who likes folkstyle, he’s probably going to like this NUWAY program.”

Now wrestlers caught in the middle of a battle for their participation may have to choose between Idaway and USA Wrestling, or as Zollinger fears, “What it’s going to do is force a lot of our Idaho kids to buy two memberships … I think that’s tragic for the wrestlers in Idaho.”

It’s a decision wrestlers like Borden are still grappling with.

“That’s a tricky question, “he said. “The NUWAY, I like folkstyle so that would be great. But I also wouldn’t want to miss out on too many freestyle tournaments. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it, but right now I’d probably go both.”

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