Northern Michigan

BACK AT IT: USA with Greco Prospects In Sweden for First Time in Three Years

usa sweden tour 2022
Photo: Parker Betts

They could not have known, for no one did. Not then, not at that time. It was a substantially-sized group in 2019, too. Nearly two dozen Americans, most of whom were full-fledged teenagers, though a handful of adolescents had even been tossed into the mix. This is what the United States program wanted, and were getting, on a yearly basis: the opportunity to expose promising Greco-Roman wrestlers to what life is like overseas, and Sweden just so happened to be a most gracious host.

But then… The pandemic. Wrestling, and everything else, crashing to an abrupt halt. It has taken just over three years for the US to regain the ability to participate in what had become an all-too-important part of its Greco-Roman developmental process. Now that it hath thus returned, the intrinsic value this endeavor brings to bear demands reiteration.

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Former Northern Michigan University head coach Rob Hermann had been the man responsible for the annual tours. Shortly after taking the reins in Marquette, Hermann touched base with a gentleman from Sweden who provided the details necessary for organizing such an journey. Before long, NMU wrestlers — and eventually other age-groupers from outside of the college program — were planning their early season schedules according to when the Sweden jaunts might materialize.

“Lennie Rosen was my main contact,” began Hermann. “His son was wrestling, so Lennie ran the Klippan tournament and was really involved with the (Swedish) club Team Skane Brottning. It was a huge recruiting tool for us. Guys would get to know me, they would get to know my wrestlers. It seemed as though that everyone who went on the trip became hooked and wanted to join Northern and be part of what we were doing, which was pretty neat.”

The delegation sizes grew quickly, due primarily to the Malar Cupen in Västerås re-instituting a pseudo-Senior age division. This allowed Hermann to start including some of Northern’s “older” wrestlers on the trip, while also extending their stay for additional training. “It was nice for our room, but it is a lot of work,” said Hermann. “You have to get these wrestlers their UWW (United World Wrestling) licenses, keep putting the word out, look at flights, coordinate for travel to the airports… It was a lot of work, but well worth it. That was one part of my job that I really loved, traveling overseas with the athletes.”

And travel each October he did. Hermann’s tenure at NMU, which spanned a decade (the longest, by far, in program history) does not receive appropriate reflection without first acknowledging his impact and influence pertaining to international competition. To him, it was a priority. Sweden was not the only European getaway, there were also stops in Austria each winter for that nation’s U20 tournament. Hermann felt strongly, and still does, that international wrestling along with time spent training alongside foreigners is absolutely vital for American Greco-Roman development.

“Alston Nutter, Benji Peak, Alex Sancho, Dalton Roberts, Spencer Woods, Britton Holmes — everyone in the country who has gone to Northern and is on the National Team or is ranked, they paid their dues to get there,” Hermann emphasized. “Success doesn’t come easily. It isn’t just staying in the room. You have to get out and wrestle the best to get better. You can’t get better by entering just three tournaments per year in our country. It’s not going to happen. I used to say that becoming a World or Olympic Team member is like baking a cake, and that going overseas is one of the main ingredients.”

36 months have passed since the previous autumnal tour of Sweden for the US. Hermann, who retired from the NMU program in ’19, remains engaged with USA Greco-Roman concerns but is no longer burdened by the logistical snags associated with cross-Atlantic wrestling adventures. All of that red tape for this year’s excursion was handled mainly by NMU assistant Parker Betts and  Combat WC founder Lucas Steldt. Betts wrestled under Hermann while at Northern and had himself experienced the Sweden trek as an athlete. Now that he is about to man the corner for the first time as a coach on a European hike, Betts’ mind is not on the planning and bookkeeping side of things. Rather, he sees the time in Sweden as an opportunity for US athletes to grow closer while also gleaning a deeper insight into what the sport looks like elsewhere.

“The traveling international stuff is huge. I mean, for all of the guys,” Betts said on Episode 53 of the Five Point Move Podcast. “Especially when you know it’s one of your first trips overseas and you’re going with your friends over there and experiencing all of this stuff for the first time. Going through it is brutal, it is usually a brutal travel schedule to get there. But you know that you’re doing it together. Then you get there, you get to wrestle the foreigners, get to see different places, have different workout facilities, and see how they run stuff. Just the whole experience in general is pretty sweet.”

Steldt’s view is congruent with Betts’, insofar as he too believes that it is critical for young Americans to gain experiential knowledge of the international Greco-Roman landscape. The slick-haired Wisconsinite — who has coached myriad times overseas — is most oft recognized, perhaps, for sounding the alarm on how pressing he feels it is for US athletes to acquaint themselves with Greco’s most skilled practitioners. “This is just what we have to do,” insisted Steldt. “It’s actually simple. The best wrestlers are over there, so that’s why we need to go over there. The best Greco-Roman wrestlers are not in Wisconsin, they’re not in Idaho, they’re not in America. When they are here, we’ll be here. But they’re not, so we have to go there right now.”

Where Steldt differs from Betts, aside from delivery, is the idea that tours such as this one should be accepted as a required norm, and not as a unique phenomenon.

“My wish is for this to be looked at as not a big deal,” Steldt said. “As in, this is normal. It’s not a big deal. It is just a way of life. This is a lifestyle. High school folkstyle wrestlers? They go to preseason nationals. Greco guys? They’re going to Europe.”

2022 USA-SWE Tour


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Listen to “5PM053: Northern Michigan assistant Parker Betts and USMC Captain Jamel Johnson” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM52: Two-Time Olympian Jim Gruenwald” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM51: Lining up with Tanner Farmer” on Spreaker.

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