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|DAY 1 NOTES: Okinawa delegation grows dramatically with Clark’s leadership|
By Gary Abbott and Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
FARGO, N.D. - It is pretty rare to see a current U.S. World Team member on the mats in Fargo serving as a coach, but Jake Clark of the U.S. Marines has always done things his own way.
Last year, Clark, a 2004 Olympic Trials runner-up and one of the nation's top Greco-Roman wrestlers, was stationed in Okinawa, Japan during much of the year. He decided to bring two U.S. citizens from military families stationed there to wrestle in Fargo, and the athletes had a chance to participate in the world's biggest wrestling tournament.
Things are a bit different this year. Clark is now the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the nation after winning the World Team Trials and will be competing in his first World Championships this fall in China. In addition, even though Clark is no longer stationed in Japan, he has brought a delegation of nine athletes, another coach and some parents to Fargo. Plus, the team is doing better than last year.
"Last year, the two kids got back to their schools and told the other guys from their teams," Clark said. "They all had never heard of Fargo. This year, when I brought it up the idea again, more families jumped on the bandwagon."
The athletes flew to Washington, D.C., and held a week of freestyle training camp in Northern Virginia. They then drove across the nation to Minnesota, Clark's native state, where they participated in the Minnesota USA Wrestling Greco-Roman camp. After the tournament, the team drove all the way back to D.C. then flies home to Japan.
Clark designed the team's colorful equipment, including shirts with Japanese language "Okinawa" inside a sun. He was very excited when his athletes won two matches in the opening Cadet Greco-Roman session, matching the two Okinawa wins during the entire week of wrestling last season.
"For sure, my kids who were here last year are doing better," he said. "These guys were used to having 30 kids in an entire tournament. There are just two other high schools that they compete again. It blew them out of the water at first when they came here. This year, they were all more excited to come out here."
Clark was able to take some of his rest time after the World Team Trials to devote to coaching the Okinawa team, but when this is over, he goes right back into serious training for the World Championships.
"As soon as we drive back to D.C., the next day I fly to Colorado Springs for training, then go to Romania," he said. "I don't have a day of vacation for months. I feel good about my wrestling. I have been on a break, not even on the mat except for the coaching. My body is rested. I can now kick it into gear. I am confident. But I am more excited. I'll be like my Okinawa kids were like here last year. But I hope to get more wins than they did."
New rules, new uniforms at 2006 event
Fans who haven't seen a wrestling match since last year's ASICS/Vaughan Junior Nationals and Accelerade Cadet Nationals in Fargo detected some noticeable differences when the tournament started Saturday morning.
New rules and new uniforms.
Juniors and Cadets are wrestling under a new set of rules this year to mirror the new rules that were implemented last year by FILA, the international governing body for wrestling.
Greco-Roman matches now give each wrestler an opportunity to use a reverse lift in each period and the matches are decided in a best-of-3 period format. The wrestler who wins two of the three periods is the winner. The periods are two minutes apiece.
Freestyle rules also have changed, going to a best-of-3 format.
"I like the new rules - I really do," said Oregon's Tyrell Fortune, who is back to defend the Cadet National titles he won in Greco-Roman and freestyle last year. "I think the matches are faster-paced and there is more action. It was a little bit of an adjustment at first, but I'm used to the rules now and I like them."
Cadet Greco-Roman teams from Pennsylvania, Texas and New Mexico started the tournament Saturday wearing the new two-piece uniforms that college teams like Tennessee-Chattanooga, Princeton and The Citadel wore this past season.
"Looking at some of the colleges that went that way and talking to the kids, we thought it would be a good chance to lead the pack," said Al Rodger, the state chairperson from Texas. "The kids all like the uniforms. I think they will really catch on with other teams, I really do."
The only problem with the uniforms was getting them delivered to Fargo in time for the tournament. As of early Saturday afternoon, the Texas team was still waiting for some of their new uniforms to be delivered to their hotel in Fargo.
This is the first year teams USA Wrestling has permitted the two-piece uniforms to be worn in the age-group national event in Fargo. The uniforms resemble a T-shirt and shorts, differing from the traditional one-piece singlet most wrestlers still wear.
New OCU coach Randall takes different role in Fargo
Archie Randall, the USA Wrestling state chairperson in Oklahoma, was hired this spring to coach a brand new college program at Oklahoma City University (OCU) in Oklahoma City. Randall, one of the nation's most successful high school coaches at El Reno High School, was always one of the Oklahoma coaches in Fargo.
This year, because of his new duties on the college level, he has stepped out of the coaching duties for Team Oklahoma at this event.
"It is different. I don't have any kids to coach. I usually work with about 17 kids out here, wrestlers from my program and other schools. Now I am just watching kids, just like the other college coaches. I'm watching wrestlers from other states now. I miss the coaching. I am just a state director now. I helped put together the coaching staff and I worked the camp. But I'm not a coach of the team," he said.
Randall has quickly learned the ropes as far as what college coaches do in Fargo.
"I'll watch the kids I recruited. I am also looking at 133 and 141 pounders. I'll have a problem there next year. It's the same stuff as other college coaches. I have to look at all the different prospects out there," he said.
Randall, who has been the event director for the Junior National Dual for many years, brought that large and popular event to the campus at Oklahoma City Univ. this year. It was a boost for his new program.
"Putting it at OCU was good. It allows the OCU staff and community to see what wrestling is about. I had the athletic director, the president come by the Duals. It promoted the program well. The event made money for the city and the school. Next year, they will do even more to help promote the tournament," said Randall.
Cadet Greco-Roman numbers increase slightly
There were 887 wrestlers competing in the Cadet Greco-Roman competition on Saturday, a slight increase over last year.
A total of 874 wrestlers competed in the Cadet Greco-Roman class last year.
The tournament drew over 4,000 total participants last year in Fargo and that number is expected to be comparable or possibly even higher this year.
Coming Up: Juniors take the mat in Greco-Roman
Day 2 of the eight-day tournament is set for an 11 a.m. start on Sunday with the Junior Greco-Roman competition starting.
Session III of the Cadet Greco-Roman tournament and Session II of Junior Greco-Roman will follow from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the FargoDome.