Although the Florida A&M University Varsity Wrestling Team does not receive funding from the university’s athletic department, the team still competes in tournaments to prepare for the Southeastern Regional Conference Championship on Feb. 27, 2010, at FAMU.
Last season, the team took home third place at the regional championship held at Kennesaw State University. Coach Abdul Sharif, FAMU alumni and graduate student, said he expects no less this season.
“Our goal is to come in first place,” Sharif said.
Returning senior wrestler Saunders Hamilton, regional champion, along with sophomores Brandon Jennings and Ronald Johnson, placed for regionals and qualified for nationals last season.
With only three returning, each make sure they contribute in bonding the team.
“I try to lead by example and work hard on the mat,” Hamilton said.
With the remaining team members being either freshman or transfer students, Sharif said brotherhood and academic achievement are other goals for the team.
“We are like brothers on and off the mat,” said Corey Thompson, a third-year transfer student. “Even though it’s an individual sport, we are a team and we push each other to get better.”
The group is a part of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and has competed in two matches this season. As a team, they placed seventh out of 12 teams at a Nov.7 match at FAMU. Roland Pitts placed third individually in the 197 weight class.
The team’s second competition was Nov. 14, which was also the first dual tournament in which the best wrestler was selected to represent the team for each weight class. The FAMU wrestlers took first place beating University of Florida, Florida State University and University of South Florida.
“We try to go to as many tournaments as possible during the regular season,” Sharif said. “But we can’t compete against everyone because of funding.”
The wrestling team receives funding from the recreation center and through fundraisers.
Sharif said wrestling was one of the programs dropped from the athletic department because of Title IX, a federal law established in 1972.
Title IX states, “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”
There had to be an equal amount of women and men sports, Sharif explained so the wrestling team was eliminated, but brought back as an intramural club in 2000 by former coach Thomas White.
Sharif accepted the coach position from White in fall 2008.
“The previous coach was doing a lot of stuff himself, so he wasn’t able to balance everything,” Sharif said.
As a former FAMU wrestler, Sharif explained that he did not want the program that White worked hard to build to fall into the hands of someone who didn’t have the same technique, vision and goal.
“Since I knew I was going to be here for graduate school,” Sharif said. “I was like why not give back.”
The wrestling team’s next match will be at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Nov. 21.
The National Collegiate Wrestling Championship will be held March 11, 2010 in Hampton, Va.
“We have a lot of people with a lot of potential this year,” Hamilton said. “We should be able to make it to nationals and a few of us should place.”