UT Wrestling Club, Fortman thrive on desireWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2002, Jeff Fortman was a 112-pound weight class champion in his conference and the champion in St. Mary’s Memorial High School in Lima sectional. Yet he never made it to the state wrestling tournament.
At the collegiate level, especially at a Division I school, a wrestler usually has to make it to “states” to have any shot at a college wrestling career.
After high school, Fortman said he knew his only chance to wrestle at a collegiate level would be to initiate a club program at Rhodes State, a community college in Lima. His efforts fell short, so he turned to the one option he felt he had left. He contacted Michael Sousaris, head coach and coordinator of the UT men’s wrestling club team. Sousaris, who was looking for the kind of enthusiasm Fortman possessed, invited him to attend UT and wrestle for the team.
Fortman, after just one year of wrestling at the collegiate level, is the team’s captain.
“In one year I’ve gained more strength and endurance, and greatly increased my wrestling knowledge than in four years of high school,” he said.
The team wrestles in the NCWA, an affiliation of university programs whose schools never offered NCAA programs or were lost to the Title IX program cuts that swept across the collegiate landscape during the last decade. The old UT wrestling program, and a number of other MAC school programs, were lost.
At this year’s NWCA national tournaments in Dallas, the UT club finished in the top 20, and boasted one All-American in Leon Lewis at the 235-pound weight class.
Despite only being a club-status national organization, the competition and skill level of the wrestlers in the NCWA are nearly as strong as that of the remaining NCAA programs, Fortman said.
“The competition level is overwhelming,” he said.
Sousaris, who does not get paid to coach or run the club, focuses on recruiting wrestlers from the tri-state region, looking for the wrestlers who didn’t win state championships in high school.
“It’s really on a person-by-person basis, but I find that the guys who win states sometimes don’t bring the same level of desire to win to a collegiate club program,” Sousaris said, “so I recruit the ones who still have the desire to win.”
Sousaris said his recruitment angle is very simple: “I offer [the kids] a chance to wrestle for another four years at a collegiate level.”
That chance is one they would otherwise not receive.
Sousaris also stressed that because his wrestlers receive no prominent exposure like football or basketball athletes, the wrestlers tend to excel in their academic studies.
“This [program] gives them an outlet to exercise discipline, build stamina and be a part of a team,” Sousaris said, “and I think that helps the kids focus better academically.”