Highline Community College is the last of its kind in Washington. It’s the only college that still has a varsity wrestling program.
Scott Norton remembers being hired as its coach almost 13 years ago — alongside varsity programs at Central Washington, Pacific Lutheran and Yakima Valley Community College. But only Highline’s hasn’t yet succumbed to the wrath of budget cuts to higher education.
“I bet if you asked most people, they won’t even know that there’s a college wrestling program in this state,” Norton said. “For me, it’s about just kind of preserving what is left.”
This is the first year that the 10th annual South Sound Wrestling Camp — which runs Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day — will be held at the Des Moines-based Highline, moving from its past locations at Bethel and Orting high schools.
The sole reason was to make one of the camp’s objective more clear — raising awareness for college wrestling.
Some of the camp clinicians will include former UFC lightweight champion and Tahoma graduate Jens Pulver, Olympian Kelsey Campbell and North Carolina State’s two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski (his current 55-match win streak is the longest in NCAA Division I wrestling).
Orting coach Jody Coleman, one of the camp organizers, hopes to raise $5,000 for the Highline wrestling program, which would be more than half of what Norton said was its current allotted scholarship budget of about $9,000.
“I think going to Highline just shows what we are doing,” Coleman said. “And, hopefully, we can get other schools and people in the wrestling community to help support them, too.”
About 200 wrestlers, including 50 females, attended last year’s South Sound Wrestling Camp. It typically draws some of the state’s best high school wrestlers, with 12 state champions and 32 state placers attending last year.
Taylor Meeks, a three-time state champion when he graduated from Orting in 2010, remembers attending the camps in high school. He’s now an assistant coach at Boise State, and is helping as a camp clinician.
He said Boise State’s wrestling program isn’t that much further along than Highline’s.
“There’s just not as much support out there,” Meeks said. “We’ve got to fly everywhere we go. The closest competitor we have is Oregon State. It’s just tough.”
Norton can’t do this forever. He has two young boys of his own — one 3 years old and the other 2 — and if they become interested in wrestling, he said it could pull him away from Highline.
“And at that point, we could potentially be seeing another program go under,” Norton said.
“It’s kind of a dying sport, to be honest with you. I think with myself, and Jody and some of the other coaches locally, we’ve kind of stepped up to preserve this program as best as we can. It’s humbling. It’s definitely not something I would want to continue to sit though in the future. But this is where we are at right now.”
SOUTH SOUND WRESTLING CAMP
What: Tenth annual youth wrestling camp, hoping to raise $5,000 for the Highline Community College wrestling program.
Where: Highline Community College, 2400 S. 240 St., Des Moines.
When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday (Sixth grade and under from 9 a.m. to noon).
Who: Clinicians will include former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver (a Tahoma High School graduate), female Olympian Kelsey Campbell, two-time North Carolina State NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski, Boise State assistant Taylor Meeks (a three-time state champ at Orting), Boise State assistant Kirk White (former NCAA champ and Fife coach), NAIA Lindsey Wilson College (Kentucky) assistant coach Chris Freije, Wyoming wrestler Drew Templeman (a four-time state champion at Orting), Oregon State wrestler Joey Palmer (a Tahoma grad), former Oklahoma City University women’s wrestler Stephanie Lynn Geltmacher and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Teagan Dooley (a Bethel grad).
To register: Online at torowrestling.com or at the door. Cost is $100 for a half-day, or $205 for full day.