NCAA Championships a Success
There were many success stories coming out of Philadelphia last week at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Anthony Robles, the Arizona State wrestler born with one leg winning a national championship was certainly one that captured the nation's attention.
Penn State, winning a National Championship, was another.
But a 'behind the scenes' success story also took place. A story that was seven years in the making.
Rider University and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, along with the City of Philadelphia and the Local Organizing Committee (LOC), dreamt of bringing the National Wrestling Championships to the east and to set new attendance records.
"It was Curt Blake (Rider Director of Athletics at that time) and Roger Reina (chairman of the Philadelphia LOC and former head wrestling coach of the University of Pennsylvania), along with the MAAC (Commissioner Rich Ensor, Meghan Bertovich), and myself," said Rider head coach Gary Taylor, a member of the NCAA Wrestling Committee. "We went to California, along with 10 other schools and made a bid for these Championships. We worked hard on the presentation and were able to secure it. When Curt retired (current Rider AD) Don Harnum inherited the monumental administrative task of overseeing the Div 1 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia. Don put together a great team as evidenced by the record breaking success."
Part of the sell was being able to accommodate people from the Midwest, people who might not be accustomed to life in the big city.
"We had to get together with SEPTA and the hotels, directing the out-of-town fans to the arena," Taylor explained. "We had to work those types of things out and convince people that this would work. We felt that having the championships in the east, the eastern fans would appreciate it to the point where we could sell the arena out."
That was a bold statement at that time. "Wrestling was not selling out at that time," Taylor said. "It did last year in Omaha, but that was a smaller arena. The previous mark was 97,000. We came in at over 104,000 over the three days (six sessions)."
The Wells Fargo Center, formerly the Wachovia Center, has a capacity for wrestling of 17,366. The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships' three-day, six-session attendance record was 97,336, set in St. Louis in 2009.
"Like any great team, the formation of the LOC represents talented and motivated individuals who came together with a common purpose - to host a record setting NCAA Wrestling Championships in Philadelphia," said Reina. "The LOC draws representatives from a broad constituency, including co-hosts Rider University and the MAAC, the Wells Fargo Center, and the Philadelphia Sports Congress, along with wrestling coaches and alumni leadership from area colleges."
"The (Division I Wrestling) committee is absolutely thrilled to see the wrestling championships sold out for the second year in a row," said Derek van der Merwe, chair of the Division I Wrestling Committee and senior associate director of athletics at Central Michigan University. "This championship event continues to grow and it is great to see how the city of Philadelphia and the college wrestling community have enhanced this."
"We felt this could be done and it came to pass," Taylor said. "The eastern fans did not let anyone down. They came out and supported it at a major level. I think this is a tremendous success story, from the bidding process, winning the bid, to actually all of the planning that goes into it. It was extremely successful, probably beyond what we could have even hoped for. It went very well."