In July, it was announced that Burlington Catholic Central High School in Wisconsin was set to begin offering Greco-Roman, and now another institution in the same state is following suit.
St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, located in Delafield, will be moving towards a Greco-Roman wrestling curriculum this coming spring before exclusively featuring the classical style next fall. First, the school will finish its co-op obligation for this season with Brookfield Academy. But after that, St. John’s is going full Greco.
Recently-hired head coach Jon Schmidt says the reason for the changeover is centered around offering a different pathway that serves St. John’s current student base in more ways than one.
“A lot of our wrestlers are inexperienced, so I thought this would be a great time to get them rolling in Greco,” Schmidt says. “Plus, a high percentage of our students are international. These kids learn folkstyle and then go back to their home countries and no longer have the option to continue in that style. A lot of our international students already know what Greco is. It’s more logical for us to do a Greco-Roman program because I actually think the opportunity for success is higher for our kids in Greco than it would be in folkstyle.”
Another benefit to Greco-Roman is its inclusiveness for age-group competitors during what are normally folkstyle months of the year. A number of the military academy’s wrestlers are in 7th and 8th grade, and were previously ineligible to compete in the school’s WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) matches. That made getting on the mat at all exceedingly difficult to do during the winter.
With Greco soon to take over as the institution’s discipline, that will no longer be the case. For the first year in the books, Schmidt’s plan is for Greco to assume focus in the wrestling room immediately upon the scholastic season’s conclusion, allowing his athletes to begin preparing for state-sanctioned competition. Moreover, St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy Greco will not be subject to WIAA rules, allowing their wrestlers to train in the style year-round.
“My goal for Year 1 is going to be more state-tournament driven,” declares Schmidt. “One thing I love is that all of our kids can go to Greco states, and then maybe the following year, we will look at traveling and competing internationally.”
Schmidt — himself an All-American while at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater along with having coached and competed in Greco dating back to age group — believes the academy’s transition to Greco meshes well with the day-to-day lifestyle of the student body. The cadets (not to be confused with Cadets relative to UWW competition) march to and from classes, attend chapel, and must meet the rigors of a demanding academic standard. That is not counting the cadets’ litany of other activities and responsibilities which may be present on the agenda.
Thus, he feels it’s a perfect marriage: Greco-Roman wrestling at a military academy, to Schmidt, is as natural of a fit as it gets.
“My first letter to the president was, ‘Please check out the (Army) WCAP program. This is normal'”, he explains. “What we’re preaching here is lining up with a Greco-Roman wrestling program.”
As for Greco’s actual mechanics and physicality, Schmidt can lean on his immense background (as well as Topper Wrestling Club’s Bill Kahle, with whom Schmidt has coached prior) to enact a proper baseline for the cadets. And he is also looking forward to the indoctrination for those new to Greco. Schmidt is confident they’ll see in the sport what he always has — a gritty, one-on-one battle where reward often exceeds the risk.
“I love the sheer toughness Greco offers, I enjoy the masculinity of it,” he says. “I can take three-quarters of the folkstyle movements and cut them out, which I think is easier to teach kids. You can pick a guy up and toss him over your head. It’s great.”
For now, there is a little time to breathe. Schmidt, who is also employed at the school as a physical education teacher, is putting the pieces together step-by-step while still keeping his mind on the upcoming folkstyle season. But he knows that this endeavor is unique, and he hopes that it will attract the right kind of attention for the program.
These waters aren’t sailed everyday, and with Greco in the United States constantly searching for a greater stranglehold at the scholastic level, Schmidt can’t help but sense, like Kahle and Kerry Regner before him, that a new program has the potential to further improve the country’s trajectory in an Olympic style that continuously seems relegated to the back burner on these shores.
“If this was something I was going to do, I wanted to do it right, and Greco seemed like the most logical answer to that. We are presenting an opportunity for kids who haven’t wrestled before, and we would like to become a Greco recruiting hub for middle to high school age boys who want to wrestle Greco full-time. And the more school age kids we get wrestling Greco-Roman, the better the future is going to be.”
For more information on Greco-Roman wrestling at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy, contact Coach Jon Schmidt.