February 5, 2004

Grappling for Goodness Sake

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At certain times, school spirit can be lacking at Cornell, particularly during exam weeks and on weekend afternoons. But this weekend there’s a reason to break that trend, to get out of bed before one, go heckle an opposing team, and help out the community along the way.

This Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at the Friedman Wrestling Center, the wrestling team takes on Columbia. For every person that comes through the door, the team will donate five dollars to Hospicare, an Ithaca area hospice organization. As always, admission is free to Cornell students.

Once upon a time, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with an event like this. I’d have thought, “Oh, that’s nice,” and gone on about my life. Even after I started writing for the sports section of the newspaper, I wouldn’t have said I was a huge fan of Cornell sports. I knew the words to most of the hockey cheers (as any season-ticket holder should) and attended the home games for the sports I was covering, but that was pretty much it.

My conversion began junior year when I was assigned to cover the grapplers. At the beginning of the season I learned they were one of the hardest working teams at the University, something I had heard before but never seen. And then, when the team opened up the Friedman Center for the first time, I learned just how intense a wrestling match could be.

A full house turned out for the match and the Red battled national powerhouse Ohio State right down to the last pairing. The crowd there was as loud as any I had heard for a hockey game, and maybe even more involved. On the open bleacher seats, right up close to the action, I could taste the triumph after each victory and I twisted in the agony of every loss.

I attended the rest of the team’s home matches that season, and each one was just as good as the next. The team finished with a top ten national ranking, and I gained a new appreciation for Cornell athletics and the sport of wrestling. With that alone in mind, I’d be willing to get out of bed, but this weekend there is the added benefit of helping the community with my attendance.

Hospicare is a local, non-profit organization providing care, medical and otherwise, for people at all stages of life-threatening illnesses. It provides in-home care for its patients, helps families deal with the dying process, and offers programs to help children who have lost parents.

Head coach Rob Koll said his neighbor, Dr. Jeffery Lewis, brought the cause to his attention after Koll mentioned the team was looking for a possible fund raiser three years ago.

“We wanted to do a fundraiser and get people in the door,” said Koll. “So it killed two birds with one stone.”

Every year since, the wrestlers have canvassed the community for donations and donated the proceeds to the organization. This year team members hit the campus sidewalks to raise money and awareness among fraternities and sororities too, and with the increased exposure, the team hopes the event will be bigger than ever.

“I’m really happy about how the kids have embraced it,” said Koll, noting the grapplers’ willingness to work for the cause.

Last year it raised nearly $4000 for the charity, and this year it has a goal of more than $6000.

“Every penny that goes into it is going to help Ithacans,” noted Koll.

The proceeds help fund new equipment and patient care for the organization, which makes it a policy to never turn away a patient, no matter his or her ability to pay.

“It’s a painless way to help Ithaca, to help Cornell, and to help someone you don’t know,” said Koll. “Somewhere in your life, this organization will help someone you know.”

Even if you don’t like wrestling, or don’t think you do, that is reason enough to come out the Friedman Center this Saturday, and perhaps along the way the wrestling team will teach you a new appreciation for a sport and maybe Cornell sports in general. A raucous crowd and a great team will definitely do that to you.

So this Saturday at 1:00, come up to the wrestling center, and maybe bring a few bucks for the cause if you can afford it. It will be worth your time.

Archived article by Matt James

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