By Nathan Warters
Published: June 3, 2009
Nick Taylor’s parents warned him it would be like this. Moving from wrestling-crazed Pennsylvania to Central Virginia, where the sport is often met with indifferent eyes, would be a culture shock for the talented young grappler.
But he had no idea it would be quite this bad.
His high school, Nelson County, has no wrestling team, and the Virginia High School League is unable to help. Talk about torture.
Taylor’s only wrestling outlet is his club team, Quick Pin Wrestling, for which he practices twice a week and participates in the occasional weekend tournament.
It’s not the same, though he’s learned to accept the circumstances.
“At first I think I was real disappointed, and initially I thought there was no wrestling (in the area), but after we found Quick Pin, it wasn’t that bad. I still wish we had it (at Nelson),” said Taylor, who has wrestled since the second grade.
Taylor’s Quick Pin coaches say he has the talent to wrestle in college, but at this point he is unsure if he’ll pursue the sport at the next level.
If Taylor, a junior, is even on a college coach’s radar, he’s a tiny blip. The major high school tournaments are where most wrestlers are discovered. Without that avenue, he has to work that much harder to get noticed.
“His sport is wrestling. It’s no doubt, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he could go to a Division III school somewhere. If he got in at (Virginia Military Institute), he’d probably walk on and wrestle,” said Craig Maddox, one of Taylor’s Quick Pin coaches.
“He’s not going to get those coaches looking at him if he’s not wrestling in the state tournaments and some of these bigger tournaments that go on during the year with the high school kids.”
Taylor, who turns 17 in July, could draw some interest this summer competing at some of the major freestyle tournaments, but freestyle –– as opposed to the high school folkstyle –– is new to him, and with only two nights a week to practice, it’s hard to tell just how impressive he could be.
He competed last month at a junior freestyle state-qualifying meet in Richmond. His evaluation of his performance? Good. Not great.
He’ll keep working at it. His goal is to improve in everything he puts his mind to, particularly wrestling.
“Being able to wrestle is something that gives me a challenge. It’s something I can work toward because a lot of other stuff, I think, comes easy to me, like school and stuff,” Taylor said.
When he first started school at Nelson County –– he and his family moved to the area three years ago –– he was shocked to find out it didn’t have a wrestling team.
It’s not uncommon for a Group A school, especially one the size of Nelson, to not have wrestling. Only two of the Dogwood District’s seven members, Chatham and Appomattox, sponsor wrestling.
With small enrollments –– Nelson County has nearly a third of the students (568) as E.C. Glass (1,559) and Amherst County (1,489) –– smaller budgets and limited gym space, it’s not always feasible for a smaller classification school to have the sport.
And the VHSL won’t allow a student to participate in its sanctioned events if said student does not compete for his or her school.
It’s unlikely the VHSL will change this rule, and it appears just as unlikely, because of the poor economy and lack of gym space, that Nelson County will add wrestling to its list of activities.
For now, Taylor will just have to be happy competing for Quick Pin.
It seems his only other option is to transfer to a private school. A move to another public school would require a move to that school’s district, which is something his parents have offered to do, but he doesn’t want to change schools. He likes Nelson County. He’s comfortable there. His friends are there.
He has a lot of support there, too.
“I feel his pain. I know the struggles that he’s had,” said Roger Collins, the superintendent of Nelson County Public Schools.
Collins has experienced Taylor’s dilemma first-hand. His daughter, Kate, has gone through much the same thing.
The senior track athlete is one of the state’s best pole vaulters, but because the event is not allowed at any Group A meet –– it’s expensive and there are insurance issues –– she has been forced to seek out other ways to compete.
But unlike Taylor, who has no team for which to participate, Collins, who is also an accomplished hurdles runner, is allowed to pole vault while wearing the Governors green and gold in VHSL-sanctioned open meets.
That’s because Nelson County sponsors track and field.
And even though pole vault is not a Group A event, Collins was still earned a full scholarship to compete in the event at VMI.
Taylor would be so lucky to have such an opportunity.
Taylor’s parents have pleaded with the VHSL to allow their son to compete either as a member of another team or as an independent at major meets, but they’ve been denied every time.
The VHSL’s rule is simple. No school affiliation, no participation.
Ted Taylor, Nick’s dad, says that isn’t right.
“Their policy, while it may be for good reasons, is not inclusive. It’s exclusionary, and that’s wrong to tell kids they can’t (compete),” he said. “Wrestling is a Group A sport. I would think they’d want to bend over backward to include anybody who was interested, be it wrestling or anything.”
The VHSL has heard similar complaints, but there is little chance of a rule change.
“It’s the way it is,” said VHSL deputy director Tom Zimorski.
One possible solution, Zimorski said, is for Nelson County to pay the $25 activity fee for Taylor to compete in open meets.
This might work if Taylor were the only student at the school who wanted to wrestle. If that were the case, Maddox said he’d coach Taylor and take him to the major meets.
But, according to a recent survey, there are a number of Nelson County students who want to wrestle. And the school can’t support a full wrestling team, financially or in terms of gym space.
It would have to hire a full-time coach and raise money for equipment and to cover travel costs, among other things.
Moreover, it would have to find a place for the team to practice. And for a school its size –– it has the third-lowest high school enrollment in the Dogwood District –– that wouldn’t be easy.
“You have a state champion basketball team,” Roger Collins said. “Are you going to put them off the floor to practice? You know what I’m saying? There gets to be complications. There are certainly more complications at a small rural school than there are at a Western Albemarle or E.C. Glass.”
According to Maddox, someone in the county was willing to donate a mat, which at around $12,000 is one of the sport’s biggest expenditures, but having only a mat isn’t enough. There’s so much more.
The cost of fielding a team was the main reason the sport didn’t make the cut recently, though the school board considered adding it at the urging of Nelson County High School officials.
“I think wrestling would be a very good carry-over sport from the fall activities to spring time activities for kids to participate in, but we sent in a proposal to get the program going and it was not passed,” said Charles Bennett, Nelson County’s director of athletics.
Taylor, who was born and spent his first 13 years in wrestling-mad Pennsylvania, hasn’t let any of this deter him from wrestling or from representing Nelson County in athletics.
During the winter, when VHSL wrestling is in season, Taylor practices and competes in the 140-pound weight class in invitational meets for Quick Pin, which is based in Amherst County.
He practices with his younger teammates –– most of Quick Pin’s older wrestlers compete and practice with their high school teams during the winter –– and travels to tournaments throughout the state.
Oftentimes, Maddox, who wrestled at Amherst in the early 80s, is the only person with whom Taylor can spar.
“There’s a lot of stalling going on by the coach,” Maddox said with a laugh.
Still, Quick Pin gives Taylor an outlet to compete in the sport he loves. And he’s picked other sports to fill the void at Nelson County.
He ran cross-country for the Governors as a sophomore and even competed in the shot put and discus throw events for the school’s track team this season.
“I think he’s probably one of the smallest shot putters they’ve got,” Ted Taylor said. “But he’s doing it because he wants to participate for Nelson.”
Taylor has accepted that he probably won’t get an opportunity to wrestle at Nelson County. His hope isn’t lost that one day the sport will be added to the school’s budget.
He has two younger brothers, Douglas and Thomas, who also love wrestling, and it would be a shame if they had to experience the same injustice.
“I think it would give other kids the opportunity to come out for high school varsity sports,” Taylor said. “Nelson only offers basketball and indoor track in the winter, and I think it’s a shame because a lot of people who don’t like basketball or aren’t fast for track could have fun in wrestling.” http://www.nelsoncountytimes.com/nco/sports/local/article/student_wrestles_despite_lack_of_high_school_team/16506/