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Chris Murphy, Published May 12 2013

Park Rapids Area makes donation to try and save Olympic wrestling

FARGO – Matt Clark has coached the Park Rapids (Minn.) Area High School wrestling team for 15 years. He’s well aware none of the wrestlers on his team could qualify for the Olympics.

However, he certainly would never take away their chance to dream of it, as the International Olympic Committee did when it announced its intent to drop wrestling for the 2020 Summer Games in early February.

“I just think every child should have that opportunity,” Clark said. “Toward the end of the season when we’re kind of tapering a little bit, I purposely tell stories about NCAA champs and Olympians.”

The Park Rapids Area wrestling booster club will hand over a $500 check to USA Wrestling Tuesday at Century Middle School at 3:15 p.m.

“We raised money for our club and the club decided what’s the best way to spend it and we were lucky enough that we were in the position that we could give that amount of money to what we thought is a very, very good cause,” Clark said. “It’s one of the most important things we can do. The likelihood of anyone from the Park Rapids team making the Olympic team is probably pretty slim, but I want our kids to have the chance to watch it on TV and to look up to those guys.”

Clark was in London last summer watching two wrestlers he coached in Jake Deitchler – whose dad wrestled with Clark at Park Rapids – and Chas Betts wrestle in the Olympics. When Clark found out the Olympics could be without wrestling, it was as if he was back on the mat.

“It took my knees out,” Clark said. “First I was shocked, then I was mad and now I just want to fight. I see the Olympics changing. There’s so many sports that deserve to be in the X Games and not the Olympics. Wrestling is, I think, the core of the Olympics and to get rid of it just does not make sense to me.”

USA Wrestling Director of Communications Gary Abbott knows exactly where the Park Rapids money will go.

“That money is going to be used directly and only to keep the Olympic wrestling movement and we are obviously wonderfully grateful,” Abbott said. “When one group in that town is able to get $500, they’re making an impact. They are basically having a voice in what happens in the sport. There are groups that are taking a stand on this and they understand the United States can be a leader in making change.”

Wrestling can get back into the 2020 Olympics with two steps. At the end of May there is an IOC executive board meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, where eight sports, including wrestling, will be whittled down to three. From those three, one will be chosen in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the final spot.

“Our best way to maintain our Olympic status is to get that one last spot,” Abbott said. “There’s a lot of international travel, there are firms being hired, public relations, marketing presentation and strategy firms. A whole lot of things that we have to do in order to win that spot back.”

And just being loud isn’t necessarily going to work. After all, wrestlers rarely make a sound until their arm is raised.

“You’re going to hear people feel confident because of the worldwide outcry of the decision, but they are still going to have to go through the procedures to prove that we belong,” Abbott said. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but wrestlers are hard workers, so we’re willing to take this challenge on.”

Clark hopes if people see a place with a population less than 4,000 – like Park Rapids – hand over $500, they will think about what they can do.

“If a small, small, little town like Park Rapids could afford to give $500, I hope a lot of other organizations will at least donate something,” Clark said. “The state of Connecticut gave $1,000. Well, we gave half of what a state did.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548