The names of four wrestlers are fixed in the Rowan University-Glassboro State College Athletic Hall of Fame, careers scattered across decades of success of the program.
Wrestling would be phased out as a university sport sometime in the 1990s as law on equal gender participation in sports became more enforced.
A group of Rowan students is attempting to reestablish wrestling in Glassboro once again, doing so at the club sport level. Defined by unorganized activity since 2003, the wrestling club became competitive last year.
The team continued to make its case as a respectable program over the 2015-16 season.
Rowan had both a top-16 and top-24 finisher and eight athletes overall at the 2016 National Collegiate Wrestling Association Nationals in Kissimmee, Florida from March 10-12. Four more qualified for the national tournament than the previous season, the club’s first fielding matches.
“It’s definitely awesome because you get the feeling of hard work paying off. You have these legit clubs at DI schools [at nationals], it’s exciting,” said sophomore Sebastian Hull, the team’s top-24 placer at 185 pounds. “We accomplished something, but we’re still trying to get even better, get to a higher level.”
As a Division II member of the NCWA, Rowan had 14 regular-season matches spanning Nov. 1, 2015 to Feb. 20, 2016 against teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, three of which were non-club.
After having open roster spots early on, the club managed to assemble a full lineup (11 spots) toward the end of the season.
Hull, the club president-elect for 2016-17, would look around campus for anyone interested in joining the club. One person he brought along was from a statistics class: sophomore Eric Wollermann, who took finished top 16 at 235 pounds.
“I recognized him from high school and told him he should come out to the club,” Hull said. “A big part of it is reaching out.”
Rowan entered the year without 2015 All-American John Chillem, who is still attending for graduate school but took over as an assistant coach at Camden County College, and would also lose a top wrestler in Charlie Grab midseason due to a torn elbow ligament.
After falling one placing short of All-America honors last year, Grab was looking to get over the hump. He would not have that chance in his final season.
“The disappointing part was basically 11 months of working hard without the chance to actually wrestle someone,” he said. “But it really would’ve been a lot worse if I wasn’t able to look at the team and have the satisfactory feeling of knowing this team is what it is because of what I did a few years ago. And to know that it’s going to continue to do good things.”
Grab, a senior, did much of the leg work to pull the club back up from a glorified workout group last year when he was president.
The club benefited from a budget increase of $1,000 from the REC Center this season. Wrestling went up to $1,500 after a $500 account in its first competitive year.
Where Grab had to focus on bringing in funds and support, this year’s president, junior Jimmy Monaghan, was able to redirect attention to the sport.
“As the president instead of being the No. 1 fundraiser, you can actually be the No. 1 leader,” Grab said. “It was chaos trying to do all the things behind the scenes while also trying to lead the members on the team, so now it’s a lot easier.”
Rowan also had its first full year with coach Joe Melchiore, who came aboard in a volunteer capacity in the spring semester of 2015. He saw an online post to a high school wrestling blog from the club about a coaching vacancy.
“You could already tell that we had made a lot of progress from the first semester to the second semester of last year just with him being at our practices and showing us simple mistakes we were making,” Hull said.
His resume in both competing and coaching could not be beat.
Melchiore is a legend in New Jersey wrestling. A three-time high school state champion, four-time Division I All-American and USA wrestler in the 1990 World Championships, he’s brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team.
“I can see things that they’re not seeing that they’re doing,” said Melchiore, who was also an assistant coach at Drexel University. “The fun thing for me is every kid comes from a different program, so it’s not one problem, it’s fundamentals most of the time.”
“I just love to teach wrestling.”
The coach plans on returning next season. Hull hopes his increased involvement will give the club a better shot at becoming a program once again.
“[Melchiore] being at the helm definitely helps because him seeing something in us definitely gives some relevance,” Hull said.
“I want to see what becomes of it,” Melchiore said. “I think it’s going in the right direction, they just need to commit.”
Hull has already started coming up with ideas to continue the club’s progress as president. He plans to add more matches, up to 25 from the usual 10 to 15 the club has seen. That includes some at home, after Rowan hosted a tri-match against Towson University and Lehigh University on Feb. 6, the first in Glassboro since the 90s.
The sophomore looks at schools like Temple University and Lehigh as programs with which more tournaments could be coordinated.
“I’m going to work on trying to get one [match] a week during the winter,” Hull said. “We definitely need more matches; we definitely need to get kids competing more.”
He’s discussed finding ways to increase the amount and length of practices. Currently, Rowan practices twice a week in the REC Center gym with an hour and a half window, which gets cut to one hour because of set-up and clean-up.
To get around the restrictions, Hull, as one option, mentioned working an agreement with Rowan College at Gloucester County for scrimmages and to use its wrestling room.
“It’s hard to wrestle a seven-minute match if you’re only having two practices a week,” Hull said. “I feel like trying to get longer practices would be a more realistic goal.”
The junior will also keep up word of mouth on the club through the South Jersey area in hopes of gaining interest from local high school wrestlers. All eight wrestlers who represented Rowan at nationals are from New Jersey.
There aren’t many college wrestling options for high school talent in this part of the state, he explained, so it gives them a good opportunity.
“These kids go out of state to go to good programs when really and realistically, I’m sure a lot of these kids would rather stay near to home,” Hull said. “Not a lot of programs in Jersey to begin with, let alone South Jersey.”
For Hull, everything will be working toward the ultimate goal: getting wrestling back to a Rowan sport. Hull is optimistic what can be done in the coming years.
“I want it to be a program before I graduate,” Hull said. “The beauty of the club is, you know, you’re wrestling but you’re not doing it 24/7. That draws kids to the club, but once they realize that it’s only two days a week, a lot of these kids definitely would love to be part of a program and be recognized.”
“Kids in middle school and high school would be rooting for it and have athletes to look up to. I think getting that point across can help us get to the next level.”
For questions/comments about this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @TheWhitSports.