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Boston University wrestlers bond together while facing program drop at end of season

By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling | Nov. 27, 2013, 11:11 a.m. (ET)

Also read: Inside Higher Ed article on BU Wrestling: Going to the Mat

For those involved with Boston University wrestling, the current 2013-14 season has been the best of times and the worst of times.

Consider these exciting developments for BU wrestling:

  • Nationally-ranked Nestor Taffur become only the second Boston Univ. wrestler to ever compete in the NWCA All-Star Classic, when he wrestled at 157 pounds in Fairfax, Va. in November.
  • BU is one of the programs competing at the prestigious Grapple at the Garden in Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 1, where they will face Penn and Hofstra in dual meets in front of a large crowd.
  • Three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State will visit Boston University for a dual meet in Boston on December 6. It is the first time in BU history that the No. 1 ranked wrestling team in the nation will compete there.
  • Boston University is in its first year in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA), one of the strongest wrestling conferences in the nation which includes many prestigious and academically successful programs.

In spite of all of these amazing opportunities, it is clearly the worst of times right now. On April 1, 2013, Boston University announced that it was dropping the wrestling program at the end of the 2013-14 season.

The announcement was made without discussing the issue with long-time coach Carl Adams or the alumni of the program. No effort made to include the wrestling program in the decision process. The first time that Adams or the alumni heard that the university was even considering dropping wrestling was the day that the university announced it was being eliminated. In spite of active alumni efforts to save the sport over the last seven months, Boston University has been standing firmly behind its decision.

“We have had to face the harsh reality of the business world, that decisions were made and the voices of those people affected were not a priority,” said senior Nestor Taffur, the top star on the team.

In its April announcement, the BU administration “determined that to bring the wrestling program to a championship-caliber level, an immense infusion of resources, including major facility enhancements and additional staffing, would be required.”

The decision was not expected by the BU wrestling alumni, and the reasons given by the administration did not make sense to those who had been part of the program for decades.

“The school is telling the wrestlers that they are sorry, but this is a business decision, and the reasons included financing, performance and having no conference. All of these excuses have been disputed. We have addressed all of them directly. The story keeps changing and morphing. Now it’s all about the strategic goals of the university,” said BU wrestling alumni leader David Leonardo.

The athletes on the Boston University team this year have set a very high standard for themselves, in spite of the pressure they face on a daily basis with the program facing the ax.

“This is the tightest team that I have ever coached,” said Adams, in his 33rd year at BU. “Their attitude has been amazing. Their work ethic and their goal-orientation have been tremendous. They have also had the need to show the BU administration that it was a bad idea to even consider dropping the wrestling program.”

Instead of breaking apart, the members of the Terrier team decided to stand together united for this season.

“The people we have had around us have been a good thing. The response has been awesome. We are coming together, and have decided to enjoy the ride and try to bring the program back,” said Taffur.

Both Adams and Taffur point to the character of the seniors on the team as a key to dealing with the pressure.

“The biggest thing has been the leadership on the team. We have about 10 seniors, who are leading by example. The seasoned wrestlers have helped the younger wrestlers and kept the group focused. What helps is that the guys have goals to be on the podium at the NCAAs. We have a great room with wrestlers with high expectations. It raises the focus of the entire group. When they dropped the program, it added to our fire. It has been positive to our goal-setting, an extra boost of confidence and focus,” said Taffur.

Instead of bailing ship, the wrestlers decided to stay and try to fix the boat.

“Some of these wrestlers had the opportunity to transfer, but not one kid transferred. They understood the mission of saving BU wrestling,” said Adams.

The announcement did affect the team in one big way. Adams said that he had a strong group of recruits who had committed to BU. As expected, those athletes decided to attend other schools rather than take the risk of only having only one season on the mat in Boston.

“The fact that we lost every recruit except one, a Massachusetts wrestler, and that we are still competing effectively on the Div. I level this year is amazing. With a little luck with our health, because we don’t have the depth we would have had, we may still have one of our best teams ever,” said Adams.

Since the announcement was made, Taffur noted that the student-athletes and coaches from the other sports teams at BU have rallied behind the wrestlers and their cause.

“The other student-athletes have been tremendous. They have all reached out to us. They sent us text messages and used social media. They said they would do anything they could to help us. We have been very active in the student-athlete community and we have friends on other teams. But they were concerned that it could have been them. They are wondering if the student-athletes’ best interest have been kept in mind,” said Taffur.

The alumni have been active since the day that BU made the announcement, with regular conference calls and organization activities. Meetings have been held with the athletic director and administration leaders. This led to the wrestling alumni to develop with a comprehensive plan to save the program, which was recently presented to the administration but rejected by the university. At this point, BU tells the alumni that it is no longer willing to speak about its decision to drop wrestling.

“All of the current athletes know that all of the former wrestlers are doing whatever they can to help save the program,” said Leonardo.

Meanwhile, the wrestlers in the room are controlling what they can. Coming into the season, BU was No. 8 in the EIWA preseason rankings. The Terriers dropped a tight 16-15 match at Rutgers to open its dual meet schedule. The team also had solid performances at the Bearcat Open at Binghamton, where Taffur won a title, as well as at the Keystone Classic held at Penn.

They hope that the two matches at the Grapple At the Garden and the home dual meet against Penn State will given them a platform to tell their story.

“This is a chance to showcase the talent on our team and to show the character of our program. It will put a face on our team. We want people to see something at these competitions, where they will see what BU wrestling is all about,” said Taffur.

The athletes and coaches have tried to let their performance on the mat, and their leadership off the mat, do the talking for them.

“Our goal as a program is not to let any negativity affect our program. We want to be as positive as possible, and to be the best we can be on and off the mat. We have no other choice. We will speak our mind. We feel that we can do the most by being our best. That is what we preach to the kids,” said Adams.

The current members of the BU team would like help save the program and allow future wrestlers to have the same opportunity which they have had there.

“As student-athletes, we want the opportunity for growth, physically, mentally and spiritually, with wrestling as the vehicle. That is what being a student-athlete is all about. It is about developing leaders. I would love for future wrestlers to have that opportunity in this awesome city and at this university,” said Taffur.