To say that wrestling at Stanford changed my life would be an understatement. Upon learning the athletic department had reached the decision to drop the wrestling program from its athletic offerings, I could not help but feel for those student-athletes who come from similar backgrounds as myself. The decision made by Athletic Director Bernard Muir and the University to drop wrestling deeply impacts students from underserved rural communities. Wrestling has long been an avenue for students from these communities, such as myself, as a gateway to a quality education that would otherwise be inaccessible.
My first experience in school was a public school whose elementary, junior, and senior high schools shared a large building, and where an entire grade was no larger than 30 students. In high school I moved to a larger district, where my class size grew from 30 to 90 and, fortunately, the high school was no longer connected to the elementary. Although larger, it was the kind of school where you knew everyone and everyone participated in multiple sports because otherwise we would not have had a team. I was a good student, but the facts remained that my school only offered one AP class and opportunities to prove myself academically were few and far between. The county was, and still is, poor compared to the rest of the state, and the majority of students entered the military or trade school upon graduation. College was far fetched for many students, and attending a place like Stanford was an impossibility. The fact was, I could join every club, be on the ASB, and be at the top of my class, but for some colleges I was at the wrong school in the wrong area. I’ll never forget a recruiter telling me that the only way I could get into the university was to transfer to a private prep school. I know that I would have never attended Stanford had it not been for wrestling.
My arrival at and initiation into Stanford was incredibly overwhelming. Suddenly, I was surrounded by students who were exceptional in every way. They bragged about the number of AP classes they took or the internships they had while in high school. Whenever I explained the type of school I went to, my classmates would be shocked that I got into Stanford from a public school. I felt like a fish out of water. Was I really worthy of being at a university like Stanford? It took some time, but I slowly began to realize that I did bring something to Stanford. My experiences and the perspective benefited my classmates as much as their knowledge helped me grow. After four years I graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree and friendships with people from all over the world but perhaps, more importantly, I left with the knowledge and drive to do great things in this world.
Stanford has always touted itself as an university for all people, regardless of background, with a drive to succeed at the highest levels both academically and athletically. However, Stanford’s decision to drop wrestling runs counter to this mission. It is a short sighted decision that fails to account for the long term impacts it will have on students and the wrestling community as whole. To have an inclusive school that brings together great minds from all backgrounds, Stanford must provide opportunities for those from nontraditional backgrounds. Wrestling helps student-athletes from small, rural communities not only compete at the highest level in sport, but obtain a life-changing degree. The reach of a Stanford wrestling program impacts not only the wrestler but their families and community. It demonstrates to young students that a place like Stanford is not so far out of reach, and the degree athletes receive has the power to revitalize the communities they return to and break cycles of generational poverty.
The decision to end the Stanford Wrestling program not only impacts the sport of wrestling nationally and deals a devastating blow to current Stanford wrestlers. It ends an educational opportunity for young men and women who have to use wrestling as a means to a quality college education, and it sends a message that Stanfords commitment to diversity and excellence does not apply when times are tough.
- Josh Lauderdale