By Andy Barks
When it comes to wrestling tournaments for high school-aged athletes, there are plenty of viable options.
But those that give these athletes legitimate chances to gain serious exposure in front of college coaches are rare. And only one tournament-the Brute-adidas Nationals (BANs), scheduled for April 6th and 7th this year in Kansas City, Mo.-features a grade-by-grade format that lets young wrestlers showcase their abilities against their most immediate competition. It is also the only major tournament dedicated to donating all proceeds back to the sport itself.
Clearly, the Brute-adidas Nationals is in its own separate category-a unique event committed to high-level competition, yet focused on more than just winners and losers.
Introduced in 2002, the tournament's efficient and economical two-day format proved popular with participants, parents, coaches and other attendees, and it quickly grew to include nearly a thousand entrants in each of the last few years . This year, wrestlers from first- through eighth-grade will be added to the mix. The new goal is nearly 2,000 participants. Additionally, the BAN Board of Directors are expanding the program of daily technique sessions (for the wrestlers) and educational seminars (for parents and coaches), touted as equally essential aspects of a well-rounded weekend.
"We want to position this as a win-win," says Jeff Bowyer, Director of Operations & Annual Giving for the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), and also the tournament director. "It's open for anyone to register, and although it's a national tournament, (it is not) a 'national championship.' "
"We want to give (participants) a top-quality tournament that is a great experience for everyone-wrestlers, coaches, and fans," says Dan Kilgore, Marketing and Creative Director at Brute Wrestling. "The best part is at the end of the day, they know their participation also helped a really great cause: keeping college wrestling strong."
Kilgore's comments are not just lip service. The results of the tournament's contributions are tangible. All proceeds go into a fund co-created by Brute and the NWCA that helps to support struggling wrestling programs and establish new ones. In previous years, the fund has benefited: New Mexico-Highlands University, which received equipment to establish its program; Delaware State University , where mats were provided; and the James Madison University Legal Fund.
And many individual wrestlers have gained notoriety from their participation in the event as well.
"It certainly helps to get your name out there," says Brown University freshman Bran Crudden, who placed first in the Brute-adidas Nationals as a sophomore at Windham High in Columbia , Conn. "When I went (the tournament) was at the University of Nebraska , and (then-Nebraska assistant, now-Brown assistant) Shawn Charles was there. Wrestling against my own grade, against kids of the same age, I was really able to show what I could do."
Crudden is just one of many high school wrestlers who went from being somewhat under-the-radar prospects to highly touted recruits after placing at the Nationals. But even for those who may not go on to compete in the collegiate ranks, there is plenty to be gained from the experience.
"Kids have picked up a lot of things stylistically from wrestling against kids from other parts of the country," says Darin Boysen, a former head coach at North Bend Central High School in Nebraska . "It's always a positive experience, not only because of the number of (college) coaches, but because they get a chance to compete against kids from outside the Midwest ."
And it's not only the teams and coaches that are coming from all over the country. Even the match referees are drawn to the event because of its unique offerings.
"We attend the Brute-adidas Nationals because of the great competition, and because Brute gives back the profits to the sport," says one highly successful Division One head coach. "No other company does that."
This year's tournament at the Kansas City Expo Center will feature Dick's Sporting Goods as the presenting sponsor, a testament to just how much clout and prestige the event has gained. While the Brute-adidas National Fund has yet to determine where the profits from this year's edition will end up, one thing's for sure: They won't be coming back to the sponsoring companies, or the tournament directors.
In the end, it's not just the wrestlers and selected programs that benefit from the tournament-it's the sport as a whole.
For registration forms and more information about the 2007 Brute Adidas Nationals, to be held April 6th and 7th at the Kansas City ( Mo. ) Expo Center , go to www.kciexpo.com or send to:
KCI Expo Center Ballrooms
11730 North Ambassador Drive
Kansas City , MO 64153