On April 17 the UFV athletics and recreation department released a statement saying that the wrestling program would be suspended for the 2019/20 season. Wrestlers would still be able to represent UFV as individuals at tournaments.
Steve Tuckwood, the director of athletics and campus recreation, explained that it wasn’t an easy decision, but ultimately it had more to do with the team’s structure, and less about any individual athlete.
“What we decided was that as a team, having an actual coach and a full roster was really the suspension,” said Tuckwood. “All the athletes have been given the opportunity to continue as individuals.”
The program is left without a coach after the loss of program founder and head coach Raj Virdi in November, followed by the assistant coach Gurjot Kooner leaving a month later.
Athletes will still have the opportunity to wrestle for UFV, without the formality or resources that come with a varsity program. Athletes will also have to acquire their own funding for entrance fees and travel costs of entering a tournament, as well as all training costs.
“There’s a number of clubs within the Fraser Valley and the Lower Mainland, and almost all of our athletes, unless they’re from out of town, have an affiliation to one of those clubs,” said Tuckwood.
“In some cases their affiliation to the club is much stronger than it is to the university, so what I basically decided was, we could spend the team format, and these athletes would still have a place to go and wrestle, on a regular basis, daily basis.”
For this reason, Tuckwood said that the result of UFV suspending its wrestling program doesn’t definitively end wrestling for the athletes.
Tuckwood said that both Canada West and U SPORTS were notified of the decision and are willing to help UFV navigate the situation.
Roughly six of the 17 UFV wrestlers have reached out after being notified of the program’s temporary cancelation communicating their desire to continue to wrestle for UFV. Tuckwood said that UFV would love to retain all the wrestlers who want to compete for the school, but ultimately that this next season will serve as a much-needed change in order to reset the program.
“As a team, I didn’t feel like it should have continued as it was,” Tuckwood said. “It kind of needed to have a reset, and that was the purpose of saying ‘Okay, we’re not going to hire a coach, you can still compete for UFV as an individual if you meet these criteria,’ and really when it came down to it, it was a slight alteration to what their regular competition schedule would be anyways.”
Over the year long break, UFV will access what direction they want to take the program in. Sustainable growth will be a focal point of the assessment.
“We went from a team in 2015 that had two wrestlers to one that had 11, then 16, then we had 30 wrestlers in September,” said Tuckwood. “That’s massive growth for that program, and to me, one coach for 30 wrestlers is … that’s a lot of work for that individual.”
When it comes to wrestlers at UFV gaining opportunities or pursuing goals in the sport of wrestling, Tuckwood couldn’t be happier for them.
“I’m thrilled that they have those opportunities,” said Tuckwood. “I don’t ever want to put a damper on those, but I also know what we can provide, and I think that’s why we needed to press pause for now. My hope is that a year from now we are in a different place.”
Image: Dan Kinvig, UFV Athletics