Junior Austin Helm enrolled in Richmond College in 2010, despite a void the university administration could not fill: the rush of competitive amateur wrestling.
After three years of stoking interest, recruiting members and filing for reinstatement of the university’s wrestling club, Helm will fill that void this fall, when he steps onto the mat to wrestle for the Spiders.
“I had wrestled throughout high school and knew coming in, there was no opportunity to wrestle here,” Helm said, “so I wanted to make something happen. It was a really long process to approve the club through the school, student organizations committee and Sport Club Council, but it’s totally been worth it.”
On March 13, 2012, 90 years after the original instatement of the sport on campus, Helm received unanimous approval from the four-member student Sport Club Council to reinstate the wrestling club as a recreational-level club.
Now, just as the first Richmond wrestlers did, Helm and the other club members have been practicing in Millhiser Gym twice per week, in anticipation of starting a season in the fall, Helm said.
The club will have matches against other Virginia clubs, including Virginia Tech, Randolph-Macon College and Hampden-Sydney College, Helm said.
“We’re getting a coach next semester,”Helm said. “And he’ll be able to put together a schedule for us.”
The coach will be Derek Caldwell, Helm said. Caldwell wrestled for Lock Haven University, a historically prestigious Division I wrestling program in Pennsylvania, from 2006 to 2011.
Another key member in the club’s reinstatement is sophomore Brian Khzouz, who helped with recruitment, Helm said.
“Right now, it’s all about building our program,” Khzouz said. “Once we gauge who’s really dedicated, we’ll be able to start training to prepare for higher competition. But, we just want to help people learn how to wrestle. I’ve brought friends who have never wrestled, and their interest has increased as they keep learning, which is the biggest reward.”
Although neither man is certain when the club will rise to championship club status, Khzouz hopes he will be able to wrestle for club championships during his time on the team, he said.
“The big goal is to elevate it to the championship club level,” Helm said. “We’ve found alums who are interested in donating to the program, and our coach has been talking up the school and the start of a program here to try to recruit wrestlers and keep the program growing.”
For now, that growth solely consists of adding wrestlers, Helm said.
“We’ve found people through Spiderbytes and gotten a good response,” Helm said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the replies of people interested every time, whether as wrestlers or asking how they can provide support without wrestling. Students in general are excited. We’ve had a good response from faculty because we’ve tried to not only get people the opportunity to wrestle, but help the whole sports club system.”
At this time, the level of commitment is at the discretion of all the members, and they hope it will encourage people to overcome the fear of trying a new sport and the rigor of a slow learning process, Khzouz said. Weight management has not begun, but they will be required to wrestle at the weight classes used by the NCAA in competition, Helm said.
“No commitment, no experience, no fees, no equipment, nothing,” Khzouz said. “We just want people to try it and continue if they like it.”
In the off-season, the wrestlers intend to meet informally to train and to hold camps for children to expand the sport in the local area, Helm said.
Contact reporter Zachary Kerr at email@example.com