March 12, 2003

Thanks From a Grateful Fan

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Dear Coach Koll and the 2002-2003 Cornell wrestling team,

Congratulations on an outstanding season. Over the past several months, fans have had the pleasure of watching while you won the Ivy title, and qualified eight wrestlers for the NCAA tournament. Still, with all the words that we’ve exchanged, there are still three things that need to be said: thank you, I’m sorry, and good luck.

First, thank you for some of the most exciting athletics this campus has ever seen. Travis Lee amazed us all as he racked up a perfect season. Even more amazing is how he got there, with his most recent win being a come-from-behind nail biter in this past weekend’s EIWA championships.

Not to be outdone, Clint Wattenberg knocked off the No. 1 184-pounder twice this year, with his second upset coming against Iowa’s Jessman Smith. Clint, while you didn’t take the top spot then, we all know you’ll have a chance to do it one more time this season.

Still, while watching Cornell’s All-Americans was great, some of the most exciting wins came from places we didn’t expect. Anyone who was at the team’s final regular season match knows that I’m talking about.

With the team victory already in hand, Matt Bogumil didn’t have to do anything. But he did.

After scoring an early takedown, Bogumil saw his lead diminish in the second period. His opponent scored a reversal, and three near-fall points to take the lead. After trading a reversal for an escape, Bogumil saw himself down, 6-4.

He came back, however, scoring an escape to make the score 6-5. The sophomore then held out, forcing an overtime due to an extra point from his riding time. As he leveled his opponent with just 20 seconds left in OT, Matt made me proud to be a Cornellian.

But with each match, with each amazing performance, I was saddened to see so few students in the stands. Six times this winter, the best team in the Ivy League wrestled in the best facility in the nation, but the turnout was always the same. Student support seemed to be second rate.

The defining moment of this came on Saturday, when it seemed as if Lehigh (a school that is almost 200 miles away) had more fans than Cornell, the host of the event.

For this I’m truly sorry.

Joni Mitchell is right when she sings, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” And sadly, most students don’t realize what an amazing collection of talent the team has until after the season is over, or worse — until after they leave Cornell.

I can only hope that students will re-discover the wrestling team next season. Personally, I feel it’s a great shame when a top-10 team performs to a half-packed room. Yet as long-time fan Hunter Rawlings leaves his Presidential post, it is doubtful his successor will be as interested in the team. It’s also unlikely the 3,000 new students Cornell will admit in the coming months will, either.

But today, we should leave sorrows for a later date. The team currently stands to become one of the most decorated squads in Cornell history, with a record-setting eight matmen having qualified for NCAA postseason competition.

Congratulations, and good luck to all the qualifiers. Still, Travis, Clint, Alejandro, Scott, Matt, Tyler, Dustin, and Gabe should all know — regardless of what happens in Kansas City — you’re already champions in this fan’s eyes.


Matt Janiga

Archived article by Matt Janiga