Wrestle maniac: Seay sees excellence in our future
"We're after the elite, nationwide," says Joe Seay of his recruiting efforts on behalf of UVA's wrestling program. He's already brought former All-American Scott Moore into the fold under head coach Lenny Bernstein, and he's helped take the Cavaliers from 55th place to 16th. He must be doing something right.
Then again, Seay is no stranger to success, having led the U.S. Olympic team to victory in 1996, and subsequently becoming the only coach in the country to have won all five major championships. He was honored in 1997 with induction into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
While everybody loves international acclaim, Seay also hopes to foster a strong wrestling community here at home. The Charlottesville Wrestling Club gives junior high and high school athletes within a 50-mile radius access to affordable year-round instruction and occasionally ventures a bit farther for short outreach programs.
"We can handle up to 100 kids or more easily, and they're going to get expert instruction," he says.
One of those experts is Nick Preston, an All-American Seay protégé who followed his mentor from Ohio State University to Charlottesville. "People listen up when he says something, because he demands that sort of respect," says Preston. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."
Seay grew up and began coaching in Oklahoma, and these days he draws on its wrestling culture for inspiration. "There's a strong, strong tradition there that starts at a very young age," he says. Students can start training as early as the second grade, and the ones who manage to hang on for a few years enter a more strenuous program in junior high. That's precisely the sort of early exposure that Seay wants to bring to Charlottesville.
"It's a step in the right direction to give these kids an idea of what wrestling is all about before they hit the ninth grade," says Seay, "What we're trying to do is help them get better earlier."
If his track record with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Sunkist Kids wrestling club is any indication, this can only be good news for Virginia wrestlers. Seay has been head coach for Sunkist Kids since the late '70s, and the club has won every national championship in the last 20 years. It may be the most successful club team in the country– for any sport.
Seay was recently chosen to lead the American team at the World Championships in Budapest this fall. Some might say that if his skill and luck hold, he'll bring back yet another international championship.
Either way, the really lucky ones are aspiring wrestlers living within 50 miles of Charlottesville.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO