By Jason Bryant
The Prudential Center in northern New Jersey is the brand-spanking new gleaming home of the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils.
On Tuesday, USA Wrestling made "The Rock" the backdrop for an announcement of a new fundraising initiative aimed at helping not only the athletes who will represent the United States at the 2008 Games in Beijing, but their families as well.
"Fuel the Dream" will help the families of the 2008 Olympians with travel, lodging and overall accommodations in Beijing, something costly to the athletes since the dawn of the Olympiad.
"One of the starters for this program was back when John Smith was on the team," said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender. "Seagram's sponsored a program that helped with those costs. It doesn't exist today, so we saw this as an opportunity to really make a difference for the athletes beyond getting them the best coaches, training schedules and facilities."
"I was on two Olympic teams and I was fortunate enough to win two gold medals there," said current Oklahoma State head wrestling coach John Smith. "It was nice to have family there."
"At Oklahoma State, we've had an Olympian on the team since 1924," said Smith. "We have a chance today to help them.
Moderator's Note: Does John Smith mean there's been an Olympic wrestler on the Oklahoma State team since 1924? If so, I find that impossible to believe...
... on the other hand, if he means there's always been an OK State Cowboy on the US Olympic team since 1924, I COULD believe that.
"It's not just their journey, it's their family's journey," said Smith of an Olympian's quest. "It's important we help get the families (to the games)."
"It's really recognizing the importance of having family there," he said. "(Fuel the Dream) will encourage every athlete to have their families there and I think it really helps move the needle of performance.
The send-off for the U.S. Olympic Team will be hosted in a celebration at The Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, N.J., in cooperation with the New Jersey Night of Champions, headed up by Jeff Hanson. This event will serve as the primary fundraiser for the campaign.
According to the invitations handed out to the media on Tuesday: "Fuel the Dream benefits directly men and women of Olympic Wrestling Teams. When you contribute to the Fuel the Dream campaign, 50 percent of your donation will be equally allocated to the individuals which will qualify for the 2008 Olympic Team at the Olympic Trials on June 13-15 in Las Vegas as the Thomas & Mack Center. The other 50 percent of your contribution will help train athletes for future Olympic teams."
"June 21 is a landmark event," said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.
"Beijing will not be unlike a lot of other places, it's cost prohibitive for some families.
"As a governing body, we have an obligation that's something they (the wrestlers) don't need to worry about," said Bender in regards to wrestlers trying to get loved ones overseas.
According to the newly-launched FueltheDream.org web site, the three focal points of the program are to 1) assist athletes in bringing family members to Beijing; 2) allow the athletes to focus their attention on the training necessary to defeat their opponents in Beijing instead of worrying about end's meet; and 3) to provide inspiration to the athletes by showing them the depth of support you have for them.
Two New Jersey natives and Olympic hopefuls, Nik Fekete and Steve Mocco, were on hand at the announcement.
The initiative could affect Mocco more than Fekete, as Steve and wife of over two years Kathryn have 15-month old son Michael to potentially bring along should Mocco make the team.
Sister Katie is also an Olympic thread in judo, which financially would put a strain on any family to send, as what one reporter said "100 Moccos" to Beijing.
"It would really mean the world to me if my family was there," said Mocco. "I'm sure all the other athletes feel the same way. We really love this sport and if this can help the sport with Fuel the Dream, we can see results from it."
While he couldn't put any specific dollar figure on the overall price of the average trip, USA Wrestling Director of Development Larry Nugent explained the average airfare and accommodations would approach at least $6,500.
The athletes also like the idea.
"The fact we have two athletes in the most significant time and training for the two most important events of their lives to come out here and support these efforts, I think in large, it's been positive," said Bender.
"The athletes are recognizing there are people trying to help them. In a pure and perfect world, it wouldn't be anything they have to worry about," explained Bender.
"The feedback from the athletes has been pretty popular."
More information on the June 21 celebration can be found at www.fuelthedream.org