Assistant coach fights to bring back wrestling program

Caitie Williamson

After the suspension of the Lawrence wrestling program due to the current economic situation, members of the Lawrence community are fighting the decision. Assistant wrestling coach Andy Kazik has been offered funding from the National Wrestling Coaches Association to continue the program next year. He is currently talking to members of the administration about the possibility of reinstating the program.
For junior Sam Laes, the suspension of the wrestling program was especially disappointing. This year, Laes nearly qualified for All-American Honors, an athletic honor given to the top eight wrestlers in the country. Historically, Lawrence has only had three wrestlers receive All-American Honors: Mike Hoskins in 1998, Ross Mueller in 2000 and 2001, and Andy Kazik in 2001 and 2002.
“[The suspension of the program is] disappointing because I would really like to compete my last year,” Laes said. “And as for my goals as an athlete – it pretty much ended them because I would like to be an All-American, but cannot do so without a program. I’ve been involved with wrestling for eight years and I came to Lawrence because I knew they had a lot of wrestling history here with a good team.”
Kazik has been involved with the wrestling program since 1998. He was a three-time national qualifier, a two-time All-American, and the first-ever Lawrence national wrestling champion.
“I love going into the [wrestling] room and seeing guys grow from their first year to their senior year,” Kazik said. “Lawrence once gave student-athletes a place to learn and also a place to say that they played sports in college. Some of the best friends and best lessons I’ve learned didn’t come from the classroom, they came from the wrestling mat.”
According to Kazik, the funding from NWCA would pay for the entire wrestling program.
“I have spoken personally with Dave Burrows, the provost, and the dean of faculty and Chris Howard, the athletic director about the program and they told us the program will not be coming back next year,” Kazik said. “But there is funding from the NWCA to keep the program alive. Why would Lawrence turn down a program that is free and benefits the student body?”
According to Burrows, there are several reasons the wrestling program has been suspended. He said the suspension of the program was one attempt by Lawrence to adjust to the current national and global financial situation.
“The wrestling program has a fine history that includes several important success stories,” Burrows said. “The suspension of the program was not done without serious and careful consideration. We wish to have any program serve our students well. We felt that we were not able to provide adequate support to have a vibrant program, and did not wish to have a program under those circumstances.”
According to Burrows, the committee on recreation and intercollegiate athletics considered the suspension of the wrestling program at the request of the administration. An external review was made of the athletics department over a two-year period, and was made available to the committee. The review suggested that Lawrence sponsored more varsity programs than could be financially supported. The recommendation to suspend the program was then made to the full faculty, was passed by a faculty vote and was accepted by the administration as a part of the governance procedures of the university.
“A long-term plan that ensures the foundation for a quality program would be needed before we would consider reinstatement of wrestling,” Burrows said.
According to Howard, there are several areas necessary to a viable program: a full-time coach, interest level, an adequate roster list and sufficient financial resources.
“Unfortunately, in today’s time of economic stress, the athletic department is under the same pressure as the rest of the institution to make difficult decisions to sustain the integrity of the university,” Howard said. “Wrestling was unfortunately the victim of a gathering of circumstances that presented a situation that Lawrence is unable to overcome at this time.”
Howard points out that although the short-term funding made available by NWCA has been addressed, Kazik’s plan for that funding would not be able to sustain the program in the future.
“I believe that I have the enthusiasm to revive the program and the right connections to make it happen,” Kazik said. “All I need is a chance.