By Chris Whitfield
As the National Collegiate Wrestling Association returns to Dalton for the fourth straight year to hold its Collegiate Cup beginning today at the trade center, NCWA executive director Jim Giunta sees the partnership between the organization and the city to be stronger than ever.
“Dalton treats us right,” Giunta said Thursday as 24 teams and more than 400 wrestlers arrived for the two-day national duals tournament, the first leg of the NCWA’s Championship Series. “We like the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and we always feel welcome. Our kids and our coaches feel like they are welcome.
“We go to a lot of big cities for various events, but we don’t get the welcome that we get here. We will go to Dallas in March (for the individual-based traditional tournament), and they won’t even know we are there. In Dalton, there are a lot of hotels and a lot of food and a great venue with a lot of community support.”
The NCWA is an organization designed to provide a competition venue for wrestling programs that are not members of NCAA conferences. With scholarship cuts and colleges complying with Title IX legislation for equality in sports by gender, many wrestling programs — such as programs across the SEC — have been reduced to the club level rather than having direct affiliation with their school’s athletics program. Additionally, teams making the transition between levels that aren’t eligible for other postseason competition are among those that take part in NCWA events.
This year’s Collegiate Cup will feature nine of the top 10 teams in the latest NCWA coaches poll, including No. 1 Grand Canyon (Phoenix, Ariz.) University, No. 2 Shorter University from nearby Rome and No. 3 Liberty (Lynchburg, Va.) University — the 2012 Collegiate Cup champion and last year’s runner-up. Overall, 15 of the top 25 teams in the organization are competing this weekend.
Last year’s tournament winner, Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.) is now an NCAA member and won’t be able defend its title, meaning the event will have a new champion for the fifth time in as many seasons.
“I think we have more teams and many more athletes than we have ever had,” Giunta said. “The two teams that will be beating each other up are Liberty and Grand Canyon. Shorter will be a team that will have a big presence. Some of the traditional powers — Auburn, The Apprentice School (Newport News, Va.) and East Tennessee State — are having down years for them, but the competition should be great.”
Also competing are Central Florida, Connecticut, Florida Gulf Coast, Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.), Marion (Ala.) Military Institute, MIT, Mercer, Miami, Middle Tennessee State, Mott Community College (Flint, Mich.), North Florida, South Carolina, South Florida, Southern Virginia, Stony Brook (N.Y.), Tennessee Temple, Texas and Toledo.
On Thursday, teams took part in the NCWA’s 6:12 Project — a service outreach program conducted in cities where the organization’s championship events are held — by volunteering at City of Refuge, and they also provided instruction during a free youth wrestling clinic.
The tournament begins on 10 mats across the trade center floor at noon today. Teams will be split into pools of three for round-robin competition, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to a 16-team bracketed championship. Four rounds are scheduled for today, with the final round beginning at 4 p.m. On Saturday, competition resumes at 9 a.m., with four rounds of action before the finals, which are slated for 5 p.m.
Admission is $10 per day and $5 for students, with 50 percent of all gate receipts going to City of Refuge.
The NCWA will host its national traditional tournament in March in Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. But as part of its points structure, the team championship awarded after that event will be based on a scoring system that includes this weekend’s results.
NCWA information director Scott Farrell said that was one of the biggest reasons the tournament has drawn most of the organization’s best teams to the Collegiate Cup — that and the location.
“A lot of our teams are taking advantage of the new championship rules,” Farrell said. “Even if they are not title contenders here, they will improve their point totals for the traditional championship. Also, the Southeast has always been an anchor for the NCWA. We are based in Texas because the founders are there, but we quickly went to the Southeast after colleges started dropping programs in the NCAA.
“We knew from the participation numbers in the Southeast, we have had programs at Auburn, UGA and in almost all of the SEC schools, and this is where our growth really began. It has always been our unofficial home.”