To conclude, this will be the last post on this topic (perhaps). However, I feel like I need to explain myself once again, these pieces weren't designed to point fingers and to put total blame on one person, group, or circumstances. To conclude this was to air out all of the known or unknown variables that have existed at Highline over the past 20+ years. Not saying I know everything and all of the facts which I admitted to from the get go. That if I didn't know it verbatim, I wasn’t going to use it. Plain and simple! But to understand what’s wrong, you need to understand what's broken in order to attempt to even try and fix it. That was my intent. No more, no less. Say what you want, and think what you want, but that’s the truth.
Many people have posed the question on how can we/us turn around Highline and make it great again. To be honest I'm not sure if that will be even possible, and I will lay that all out for you here. But essentially, in my own opinion unless John Dunn leaves there will be little or no change within the program and its trajectory. Mediocrity will reign supreme, and he’ll be ok with that! But enough with that, next, I will lay out a plan that embodies in my opinion on how to build and maintain a winning program. This has been taken through what I have witnessed or know how other programs run, and are consistently competitive.
One of the underlying issues with coaching or attracting coaches to Highline, is that it just doesn't pay. But there are ways around that! First is the approach on how you attract a coach to the progra. If you are looking to stay average at best, then only pay 5k and keep a part time position open. But if the program is going to make any waves, then it needs a dedicated staff whose main purpose is to recruit and to win. One way to do this would be to open up positions on the campus where the staff would be able to work, just like the majority of the other athletic teams on the campus. However, by taking that route, you are leaving it up to the school and the administrators who run the show. And with that being said, that probably won’t happen within the foreseeable future due to all of the red tape and berurocrisy that surrounds it. After that, there are only two viable options. One is to find businesses that are willing to hire coaches and support them in whatever way possible so that they are able to do their jobs at the best of their ability. I have been a part of this before, and it works great. It gives the coaches the flexibility to coach, while still being able to pay the bills. Second is to fund raise the positions, this is mostly for assistant coaches that are desperately needed to make the program run effectively. When you have a head coach that is supposed to be running the administrative side of things, and is also running practices, recruiting, etc. That usually ends up being a walking cluster, with little to no organization or even a general direction of where the program is supposed to be going. There should at least be three to four assistant coaches, where the head coach is able to delegate. This can also be done through finding employment for the assistant coaches, as well as attracting assistant coaches by being willing to pay for the grad school (via online, or in person..). Other factors could include establishing a RTC..but I will delve into that later.
This part just takes leg work, going out, and shaking some hands. Again, this is when having a coach who is able to go out and fundraise and has the time to do so, really pays off.
Establishing a board/committee: Hire a board that works purely on commission, and whose sole purpose is to make connections with donors. It’s really that simple! Highline is situated in one of the wealthiest places in the United States, more millionaires and companies are located around Highlines campus than really any other JC in the country (with a wrestling program that is). The thing with wealthy people and corporations is they all have one thing in common (besides having money), and that is they hate taxes. One way to lower their taxable income is to make a strong charitable contribution. It goes like this…”Hey I see your company made this much last year...and you owe this much in taxes, if you pay x amount towards Highline Wrestling, you’ll have less taxes owed...or perhaps none.” Now all of you pen waving keyboard jockeys who have a minor in accounting...lay off me and don’t quote me. I understand there is more to it than that, I'm just laying it out so it can make sense to everyone. So RELAX! And you might say, who would you hire to do this and work for commission? Easy, assistant coaches who have a background in finance, marketing, accounting, business analytics, etc.
Hosting events for boosters, alumni, potential donors, etc: By hosting events such as a golf scramble, or an all you can eat steak and crab feed with an auction, goes a long way as far as donations goes. First it’s a way to say thanks to the charitable donors, and second it's a way to attract new potential ones. In dealing with fundraising and donors, the one thing that they all say that keeps them from contributing year after year is two words, “thank you!”. Instead of having the community raise fifty grand...piss it away...then come back again the next year and say hey we want more of that! No wonder why no one contributed the next time around.
Wrestling Camps/ Tournaments:
First, not hosting multiple youth, high school, and freestyle tournaments at your own venue is ridiculous! One you have a venue, which i am sure there is little to no overhead, second you have people to help work the tables and ref (the Highline wrestlers), and you can also set up food for concessions and sell Highline Wrestling gear! Charge $20 dollars per athlete...have about maybe 100 kids wrestling. Freestyle and greco...same thing, with 20 bucks per style.
Camps: Host a week long commuter camp, I know this has been done to some extent in the past but I am sure with a little bit better advertising, more kids would show up. Or even weekend training camps for before, after, and during the season. This is also a great way for the wrestlers to earn some money on the side by being able to establish private lessons with youth and high school wrestlers. On a larger scale….what is a place that has a ton of space and could host a dual meet camp...the same place where northwest regionals and state freestyle/greco is held. Technique and intensive camps are good, but the money is in dual camps. It was boise state’s number one way to gross money, same goes for oregon state as well. If you can promise a coach that his team will get 20 plus matches in a few days, they’ll be lined up to get in. Now logistics and cost of renting the facility is something to consider, and there may be some closer and cheaper venues, but the opportunity to host an event with lodging nearby (Great Wolf Lodge), etc. Instive camps can happen, you just need to have a place for the kids to stay, food, and most of all, insurance.
Tournaments High School and College:
For starters, I think doing away with the Highline High School Duals was again a bad mood. It’s something that could have carried on with, and potentially moved it to a bigger and better venue at some point in time. Regardless, keeping it was a money maker, and something was better than nothing. Seeing though that there is an endless amount of tournaments for highschool in the area, but an overall lack of tough ones. My concept is two fold, host a pre-season high school wrestling tournament at the showare center. All of the major tournaments are either in the midwest or east coast, none are on the west coast as far as nationally. Make it a destination ( well I mean you used to be able to with Seattle but not much anymore). The tournament would be easy to get to, with Seatac just up the hill. Plenty of hotels, and tons of restaurants to choose from at the kent station. Second would be to host a college wrestling tournament, either individual or duals. Or perhaps both. Attract the best teams from all divisions, njcaa, naia, division one, two and three...Again make it a destination tournament. Both would have to be looked at as far as expenditures go, but by hosting these tournaments it could go a long way at multiple levels. First financially for Highline it could be huge, second for the wrestlers in Washington being able to wrestle against the top kids in the US. Some of them may never get that opportunity, and it’s a great recruiting tool not only for Highline, but by getting the kids in the Northwest some recognition. And last, having high level college wrestling is one of the main reasons we do struggle at the next level. Because we aren't exposed to it as a youth. In PA, you can get in your care and go and watch 44 different 4 year universities compete during the season. This is one factor that goes overlooked when it comes to the kids in our state jumping levels. So by being able to expose them to that, it enables kids to see that there are opportunities out there waiting outside of this state. Not to mention, what it takes to get to that level!
As stated in previous posts, but for those who are just now joining in on this topic. Highline has probably the worst facilities in the region that it competes in. Hands down, not even close. Wrestlers have to roll the mats out everyday, and then have to cut practice short because of yoga class. And as stated before individuals have come to Dunn and have presented him with opportunities with building a new wrestling room, or atleast adding on to the one that they now have. We as wrestlers are our worst enemy sometimes, because we pride ourselves on being tough and it doesn't matter if we had to practice on concrete. And that's the type of kids you want to recruit, hungry, and undaunted. Finding a way to get it done! But this goes past survival, this has to do with being able to maintain a competitive edge while also being able to attract new athletes. Because as soon as we look past location as a means of attracting athletes to Highline, what else is there to draw them there to compete? So you need a wow factor, something that an athlete can see themselves in competing and training. A place where they can hone their craft, a place where they are respected. Not kicked out of their own wrestling room! So there are really only two options in this scenario. One, be able to build a room/ facility along with locker rooms (for everyone John Dunn) for men’s athletics, along with women. While also adding offices for said coaching staffs...along with a possible strength and conditioning center and on site sports med. A lot to ask for...I know because that would take money, boosters, fundraising campaigns, environmental impact studies...and an athletic director who cared. Option number 2: Find an existing facility and practice there, more than likely being able to partner with a crossfit, jiu jitsu provider already would probably make the most sense. That way it would lessen the costs, while it would help in establishing and training programs for the athletes (more on that coming up). Also, by having a facility off campus, you are able to have athletes there as long as you’d like. While also having the opportunities to run youth clubs, private practices, etc. Essentially more ways for your athletes to train, and to be able to make money at the same time.
4. Competition/ Schedule:
One of the pros to being highline is that is smack dab in the middle of some of the best high schools in the state. The bad part of that is, that no one is coming to watch a Highline Dual when they could go instead watch Tahoma, White River, Orting….So my suggestion would be this. To not hold any duals at Highline...because why would you compete with high school wrestling on the same dates that they have competitions? The solution to it is pretty simple, and its marketing and advertising one o one, don’t make the people go to you but instead go to where the people are. Have a dual meet before orting and white river, or between tahoma and kentwood. Or have a dual against clackamas before the gut check finals, dual nic before tri state..Take the show on the road. Again putting wrestling in front of prospective wrestlers, and marketing your brand and organization. And it’s free! Aside from competing during the sanctioned season, building a schedule for afterwards during the spring and summer months can help wrestlers progress by leaps and bounds. Tournaments that just took place, such at jr’s and U23 would benefit the wrestlers in competing year round, while possibly gaining exposure and recognition. It also helps in attracting athletes when you are able to present a plan of competing year round, especially for the redshirts and non starters. Allowing them to have plenty of mat time as well. Lastly it just adds to the program, competitive greatness, and overall grit. I know some very great coaches at prominent high schools throughout the country and colleges, who have achieved better success for their collegiate programs because they had a strong foundation in greco. And in case you haven’t noticed, Washington has gotten really really good at the Greco game lately, so why not tap into that.
Strength and conditioning is a huge factor that goes into performance, the same goes for rest and recovery as well. By aligning with a company or program that already exists would seem to be the easiest route instead of waiting for a facility to be built. As mentioned above, possibly aligning with a crossfit gym that wants to expand or one that wants to be established would be the approach that I would take. As for rest and recovery, I would partner with a sports physical therapy place, and even perhaps a team physician who would either donate their time or work towards some agreement. On top of that having a dietician to work with the athletes in getting their diet on point. Even further, having a sports med trainer either on site or perhaps one that would travel and be at competitions. There are many high school athletic trainers who could and would double dip their time by being present at practices, competitions, etc.
One of the reasons it is hard to recruit athletes to Highline is the lack of student housing. Or should I say nonexistent. However there are ways around this, and not including students who can live at home, rent free and drive themselves everyday or carpool with others. Scenario one would be to work with existing apartments around highline and get student housing, however, prices are steep, and it's super cut throat to get a place. Prices range from 980-1400 plus, for a one or two bedroom. The alternative is this, and even though it would take time and some capital, I believe it's the best avenue. Which would be to buy multiple properties with three or more bedrooms that are able to be turned into shared living. So essentially having four to five bedrooms, with two people per room equals 8-10 people. People may doubt this method, but it’s done throughout the country where there is no student housing, or housing is limited. I understand that this would take some time, but essentially the goal would be to have between 3-4 houses. Again, if we are talking about building and sustaining a competitive program, these are some of the steps that need to be taken. The downside is that as far as real estate goes, as we all know, is going through the roof. Particularly within the Northwest, any other place in the U.S. (not everyplace) you can find a three to four bedroom house for 150-200K. By establishing housing, that is another variable taken care of with aligning athletes to the expectations of the program, building team camaraderie, and so on. Believe it or not, even in college like in high school, student athletes need to be micromanaged. This is just one way in working towards a common goal of building and maintaining successful people, athletes, and a program.
7. Hiring the right coach:
People often think that to be successful as a coach, you had to be successful as an athlete. But I am here to tell you, that is far from true. Through the interview process candidates as to what their accolades as an athlete were, as well as their performances as a coach. What they don’t ask is are you good at recruiting and retaining athletes, what’s your plan to move wrestlers onto the next level (for jc), what’s your plan on marketing and advertising, how about funding the program, alumni and booster relations, what are your growth strategies for building the brand? To me those questions are just as important as someone's record when it comes to coaching. And yes, people do want a winning program. But I assure you, that a coach who is squared away with the aforementioned, will probably produce a winning product. Highline is always in the red financially, and is constantly looking for handouts. People don’t mind helping, but as I have mentioned in the past, when there is little to no return on the investment, and there is no long term plan...people have a hard time getting behind that. Once you create a plan, redirecting money and funding, and getting people investing into a program. Boom! The trajectory changes, and success becomes part of the product. Take for example Kevin Dresser, the current head coach at Iowa State. Apart from his time spent coaching at Grundy, he has literally built every program since from the basement to the top. Christiansburg didn't have a wrestling program when he got there and he made it into a national powerhouse. Virginia Tech was one of the worst wrestling programs at the Division 1 level, and his final year there the team took fourth place. Now at Iowa State, he is doing the same thing. Why is this relevant you may be asking, well because Kevin Dresser is a businessman! He knows how to delegate, fundraise, build relationships with donors, get people excited, and can produce a product. Again, this would require a coach and his staff to be able to do this full time. Going back to creating money where coaches would be able to extend the amount of time needed to do everything mentioned above and then some. As a wrestling community we tend to hang our hat on accolades, and its to the point of detriment. Cary Kolat was quoted as saying, “how is it that you have coaches in the NFL being hired who have never played a snap before and are winning super bowls, but unless you were a national champ or all-american in wrestling , and particularly at the Division 1 level, you don’t even get a second look.” Food for thought….
I won't go into this that deeply, because I have already mentioned this in a post already. But Washington is outperforming basically every western state as far as metrics go. Schoolboy, Cadets, and Jr’s….from national duals to fargo. So why isnt that being capitalized upon? Highline is only getting .001% of the total amount of wrestlers from the state tournament. But how? Again, if there is no recognition and and association with being able to wrestle at Highline, and not making yourself that well known during the recruiting process, kids won’t just show up automatically. Going out and establishing connections, sending out posters to every local high school, having duals at high schools and tournaments, etc. Even making home visits and inviting athletes for a campus visit, dinner, and so on. Getting out there and putting in the miles, building pipelines.
9. Marketing and Advertising:
This all ties in with recruiting, and what was mentioned above. But being able to market your brand and advertise is the key to recruiting nowadays. And isn't there an author who actually lives in Washington, and was a college All-American at Indiana..hmmm. I think that would be one of my first phone calls, in seeing what he could do to help. Furthermore, building a social platform. Even though I hate it….that’s what the kids relate to. So it’s either adapt or die! Facebook, instagram, twitter, youtube….connect with flowrestling, trackwrestling on doing interviews and making videos about the program. Connect with the open mat, intermat, …..have a podcast….do a weekly show on youtube like Chris Bono at Wisconsin does, along with other coaches. The point is, make a product, create a brand, and sell it. Sell it to the kids who want to come and start a new tradition….Hey kid...Highline has only had one other national champ...you want to be the next? Or….How about being on Highline’s first National Championship team and bringing home that trophy? Build it and they will come….Always Be Closing!
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