Wrestling Fails to Reclaim Varsity Status Despite $1.6M in Donations

Despite having raised $1.6 million from alumni, the MIT wrestling team was denied by the administration in an attempt to regain varsity status. Wrestling will now function as a club sport, making it the last of the eight varsity sports that were cut from varsity status last spring to transition to club status.

Concerns over the club’s viability motivated the administration’s decision to reject the appeal. In a joint statement released on October 15, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, and Director of Athletics Julie Soriero explained the decision to cut the wrestling team as a result of both necessary budget cuts and concerns about the viability of the team.

The statement cited lack of interest as one of the reasons to question the team’s viability: “We do not have winning as a criterion for support but out of fairness to other teams, our resources should go to teams that have student interest and a competitive opportunity.”

As a club team, wrestling will have reduced access to Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation facilities and varsity sports medicine services. The club will also compete in fewer dual meets than it would have if it were still a varsity team. In addition, members will not be able to compete in the NCAA National Tournament.

Co-captain and All-American wrestler Joseph B. Silverman ’10 said that the lack of prestige and competition was one of the main problems he had with participating at club level: “Wrestling is a sport of goals.” said Silverman. “You make high goals, and you want to beat those goals.”

The evaluation of the wrestling team’s viability was based on several factors, including membership and winning record. Some members of the team said that the system enforced by the administration did not accurately reflect the way wrestling is run.

Co-captain Grant Kadokura ’11 said that he did not fully understand the issues around the administration’s decision to cut varsity wrestling. He said, “Up until recently, we thought there was a considerable chance of becoming a varsity team.”

In an attempt to help the wrestling team regain varsity status, alumni of the team organized to raise $1.6 million to directly fund the program. Loren Dessonville ’75, who co-captained the team and appeared at nationals twice when he was a student, spearheaded the fundraising effort. He helped organize a group of approximately 70 alumni to raise funds for the program, and donors ranged over multiple classes, some dating back to the MIT class of 1953.

“I have more vivid memories of wrestling than 3.091,” said Dessonville. Despite the fundraising efforts, the administration denied to reinstate the varsity wrestling team.

Although the team did not fare well at dual meets last year, some members were successful enough to appear at the NCAA National Tournament and receive All-American awards. Last year, both Glen J. Geesman ’10 and Silverman were named to the Pilgram League Scholar-Athlete All-Star Team.

Some members of the wrestling team describe the sport as central to their MIT experience: Kadokura said he thought wrestling had improved his work ethic, character, and academic performance in school.

Silverman said that he used wrestling as an outlet from academics: “MIT is a different school,” said Silverman, “you really need that outlet; that thing that you love. I really think if it wasn’t for wrestling, I would have gone somewhere else.”

The money raised by the alumni will go partially towards making the club as strong as possible for the time being. By presenting a strong club, the team hopes to show their viability so that the decision of the administration may be someday appealed.