After only five years since being upgraded from club status to a full program, UFV’s wrestling program has been suspended for the 2019/20 season.
Head coach and founder Raj Virdi was fired in November, followed by the assistant coach Gurjot Kooner leaving only a month later. Stacie Anaka, UFV facilities coordinator, stepped in as interim coach for the remainder of the season. With her experience as a former national wrestling champion, she led the team through the Canada West championships and the U SPORTS national wrestling tournament and has since stepped down as interim head coach.
For the 2019/20 season, UFV has said they will not be looking for a new coach but will instead be assessing what the program should look like in the future. Expectations of the program from stakeholders, UFV has said, are not in line with what UFV can do.
Steve Tuckwood, the director of athletics and campus recreation, told the Abbotsford News that a head coach would be difficult for UFV to afford, and the program needed to be looked at from a budget-wise perspective. The previous wrestling coach was not paid a salary by UFV.
There isn’t enough money to run the program with a head coach, but according to the announcement by UFV, wrestlers will still be able to represent UFV at tournaments; they just need to find their own funding and meet the tournament requirements. Athletes wanting to compete in tournaments will need to pay the entrance fee along with travel, accommodations, and all training costs, but will be able to look for funding from local wrestling groups.
They also won’t receive the usual benefits afforded to a UFV athlete, such as advanced class sign up, athletic therapy, athletic scholarships, discount parking, and complimentary fitness passes.
The other option given by UFV was for students to transfer to other programs, but considering that the UFV program is the only Canada West wrestling program in B.C. there are more than a few wrestlers who have moved out here to be a part of the Cascades.
UFV has said they will take the year to consider what sort of model would be best for the program, either as a full program with a coach or as a move individual based model. While the individual model in place for the year is certainly cost effective, asking athletes to represent their university with minimal support is unsustainable and fails to value the contribution they make to the community.
At the Canada West championships, hosted for the first time by UFV, the Cascades took home three golds, five silver, and three bronze medals. Brad Hildenbrandt was awarded UFV’s first-ever Canada West men’s wrestler of the year award for his pin and two techs before going on to win his third gold in a row at the nationals.
At the national level, UFV brought home five metals and a U SPORTS championship. Ana Godinez Gonzalez was awarded the U SPORTS female athlete of the year award for winning all of her matches without giving up a single point.
This year, according to Tuckwood, UFV will take a step back from the program and access what it wants it to become. The current program model may be pretty on the UFV budget spreadsheet, but as long as UFV benefits from being represented by its athletes it is unfair to have them search for their own funding and support.
Image: UFV Atheltic Flickr