From boredom to wrestling

Matt Sexton, Sports Editor

Northern Kentucky University’s newest club sport was created thanks to the boredom of one student.

Fifteen months later, the nomadic Norse Wrestling Club will finally have a home in NKU’s new
Campus Recreation Center, thanks in large part to junior Dakota Riley.

Riley and his wrestling club teammates have spent the last year shuttling in vans and buses to Norwood High School for practices. They had no home on NKU’s campus, and traveled more than three hours for competitions.

Thanks to the work of Riley and his teammates, the program purchased a new wrestling mat and the rec center will now be the home of Norse Wrestling Club after Labor Day.

Riley believes the new mat and presence on campus will be the boost the young club needs.

“I’ll be honest, it was one of our biggest obstacles,” Riley said of not having an on-campus presence. “There are a lot of wrestlers here, but we had to drive off campus. We’re thankful that Norwood High School let us use their facility. Without that we might not even exist.”

After dozens of shuttle trips across the river, Riley said the club is excited about the next chapter in its life.

“Now that we’re able to transition to being on campus, it’s going to be easier,” Riley said. “We’re going to be able to get a lot more people. It’s going to make sure we’re here to stay.”

Riley started the wrestling club in May 2014. The club has gone from casual to highly competitive.

“To be honest, I was bored in terms of what to do with college,” Riley said. “I went to the rec department and saw they had some mats. They were gymnastic mats. At first, it was just a casual thing, and then I heard about the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. That’s when we decided to make it a serious deal.

“Ever since then I’ve been doing administrative roles like fundraising. I take care of the roster and I order all the equipment. I wear many hats.”

Once Riley got the program off the ground, he needed to fill the roster. After staffing the team with students who were already on campus last season, Riley put on his recruiting hat.

“We’ve done our fair share of recruiting,” Riley said. “I actually reached out to high schools this year and contacted individual people.”

Two of the wrestlers that joined the program thanks to Riley’s persuasion were Ryan Campbell and Eugene Butler IV.

Campbell, a freshman human resources major, did not start wrestling until his sophomore year in high school. He spent the first two years on junior varsity.

“Going into my senior year, I got with this guy named Nicholas Spatola,” Campbell said. “The summer going into my senior year, I really learned what wrestling was all about.”

During that summer, Campbell gave up many of his free time activities and focused solely on wrestling.

“I just wrestled two club practices, a team practice and then a personal practice,” Campbell said. “I lifted three days a week and I’d run once or twice a week.”

Campbell beat out two teammates, including a two-time district qualifier, to earn his spot in the varsity lineup.

Out of high school, he looked at opportunities to wrestle at Mount Saint Joseph and on the University of Cincinnati’s club team, but neither worked out. It would be his mother that would have a chance meeting that set up his future in the sport.

“Spatola actually has a tournament called the Spatola Classic, which is where I found out about Dakota,” said Campbell. “My mom was there talking to 6,000 people like she always does. So my mom got his number, gave me his number, I texted him, and it’s been a beautiful relationship ever since.”

Butler, a freshman business administration major, was also a latecomer to the sport of wrestling. He started his junior year of high school.

“I was an average wrestler,” Butler said. “Coming into my senior year, I started working really hard. I went to practice all the time.”

Practice was not the only means by which Butler improved. He employed some unique techniques that amused his current teammates.

“I did stuff on my own,” Butler said. “I ran with dumbbells through tobacco fields; just crazy stuff.”

Butler, Campbell and Riley all laughed at the thought of Butler running through tobacco fields carrying weights.

However, Butler was not sure club wrestling was his desired collegiate path.

“At the end of my senior year, I was getting worried about where to go to college,” Butler said. “I contacted Dakota, and I found out NKU had a wrestling club. At first, I really didn’t know if I should join or not, because it was a club.I talked to other coaches from other colleges, and I just concluded that it would be better if I stayed here. I liked the atmosphere here better.”

Despite the varying experience and ability levels of new club members, Campbell said all have been welcomed with open arms.

“Everyone has been really accepting of new people,” Campbell said. “There is not anyone on the team that someone hates.”

Butler said it was that bond that drew him to the program.

“I love the team chemistry,” Butler said. “We have a great culture going on. That’s part of the reason I came here. Texting and talking to Dakota, he made me feel like I was his family. He would send you long messages.”

“You want to come over to my mom’s house for dinner,” Riley chimed in, laughing.

The family atmosphere affirmed Butler’s decision to wrestle at NKU.

“Being a part of any wrestling team, it forms a brotherhood,” Butler said. “It forms a relationship that is everlasting. Once you all experience the same pain, it just makes you closer.”

After having national qualifiers during the program’s first year in existence, the members of the team have even higher personal and team goals for the 2015-2016 season.

“We have a ridiculous roster,” said Campbell. “We have kids that have wrestled for a year and we have kids that are returning national qualifiers. I’m really pumped to see the growth I’m going to make and that the rest of the team is going to make.”

Riley agreed with Campbell’s assessment.

“We do have a lot of talent,” said Riley. “It’s shocking. We’ve got guys that are multiple-time state placers. We have a grad student that is a state champion. It’s just insane how deep the talent level is on this team. Everybody is really motivated.”

Austin Jackson, Joey Shipman and Sam Steele all represented NKU at the NWCA nationals in Allen, Texas.

In addition to the returning talent, Riley said the program has hired its first full-time coach. The program hired Clancy Stockton, two-time Arizona high school state wrestling placer in 2004 and 2005, to help the team achieve its lofty goals.

The National Collegiate Wrestling Association has two divisions. Division one schools get financial support from the university and are part of the athletic department. Division two schools, such as NKU, are mostly self-funded.

“We do get support from the rec department,” said Riley. “You can actually be NCWA and be part of the athletic department. That’s a possibility.”

As far as specific goals, Butler believes the team can exceed its performance from its inaugural season.

“I want to produce national qualifiers and hopefully get national placers,” said Butler. “I just want to see everybody happy.”

Riley has something more specific in mind before his time on the Highland Heights campus is finished.

“We want to be D2 national champs,” said Riley. “At the national tournament, it is how many points you rack up as a team per year. We have a very legitimate shot of getting up there in the rankings this year.

“Especially before we graduate, it’s very realistic. D2 national champs. That’s our goal.”