Rudy Ruiz, M.Ed., Class of 2000 came to Stanford from South Milwaukee, WI. During his time on The Farm he was a 2x NCAA Qualifier, Pac-12 Finalist, Academic All-American, and won Pac-12 and NCAA postgraduate scholarships. Rudy is currently a partner with FourPoint Education Partners, a national consultancy working to improve educational equity.
As one of the hundreds of Stanford Wrestling alumni to be deeply hurt by the sudden and unexpected announcement that the wrestling program would cease to be a varsity sport following the 2020-21 season, I must share my story. You see – I am one of the few who through the sport of wrestling have been able to beat the odds, and for the past 20 years since graduating from Stanford, I have been working to change the odds for others like me.
According to the Opportunity Insights big data project, I had less than a 1% chance of ending up in the top 20% of U.S. individual income earners, having grown up in a low-income Hispanic household in our inner-city neighborhood. Fortunately for myself and my siblings, although my parents had not earned a college degree, they were 2nd generation Americans who had learned the importance of a college education for lifetime earning potential. I was able to leverage my family’s emphasis on education with the small social capital we did have – a family history of wrestling, to access a new world of college opportunities. As a high school valedictorian and state and national champion from a low-income background, I had my pick of options after high school.
In my current professional role in the world of education, I help school counselors guide students and families to understand and choose colleges, universities, and other postsecondary pathways based on the ‘fit factors’ that are most important to them. For me, Stanford met all my fit factors. I turned down recruitment offers from the Ivy League, the Big 10, and other elite institutions for Stanford, but I absolutely would not have done so if the University lacked an NCAA wrestling program. I felt at home on our welcoming, diverse campus, and I knew it was the ideal place for me to go to the next level, academically and athletically. The Farm has a vibrant culture of excellence and energy.
As the administration pointed out in the opening paragraph of their open letter, Cardinal student-athletes are an inspiration and an integral part of life at Stanford. Wrestling does not have a professional league, and our fellow scholar-athletes, including those who went on to careers in the NBA, NFL, and MLB all expressed their admiration for our ‘love of the game.’ My incoming freshmen class at Stanford included Olympians in other ‘non-revenue generating’ sports slated to be cut – students who had competed in the ’96 Olympics immediately after high school graduation. The administration needs to understand the level of world-class excellence our sports contribute to the mentality of success at Stanford.
Stanford did, indeed, help me raise my game. I was an NCAA national qualifier twice, earning 2nd and 4th place finishes in the Pac-10, finishing 3rd at the University Nationals, and an Academic All-American, earning both Pac-10 and NCAA post-graduate scholarships. I used those scholarships to become an educator and coach. Over the past 20 years, I have coached at every level, from pre-K to high school, college, and even an Olympian. I am currently finishing my doctorate in education at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and serving as board chair for the nonprofit Beat the Streets – Baltimore, which uses wrestling to help improve the life trajectories of youth.
In my work advancing the college, career, and life readiness of young adults – primarily from urban communities like the one I grew up in – I have always been proud to promote Stanford as a champion for all those who want to be the best, including first-generation college students. And several students I have worked with from extremely challenging backgrounds – including young people from Baltimore City Public Schools – have followed in my footsteps. But at the moment, I sit in confusion at the message sent by the administration with this sudden decision.
The Stanford Wrestling program exceeds the criteria and considerations laid out by the administration: the program has a history of Olympians, All-Americans, and last year had the strongest group of freshmen in the country, coming into the 2020-21 season ranked #14 in the country. It is my sincere hope that the administration will demonstrate the innovative and inclusive spirit the University is known for, so I can continue to hold my alma mater in the high esteem it has long deserved.
- Rudy Ruiz