The 2019-2020 wrestling season will be the program’s last. Athletic Director Ryan Bowles announced the cancellation in an Oct. 18 email, citing the team’s size as a primary issue for the program’s viability.
With only 11 members, St. Olaf’s wrestling team is significantly smaller than competing programs, whose rosters generally range from 20-30 student athletes. The demands of this smaller roster “do not meet our standards or provide a sustainable model of excellence,” Bowles wrote in the Oct. 18 email.
Bowles made the announcement early in the year “to give our current student athletes an opportunity to transfer to another institution should they so choose,” he wrote. The decision to end the program has been met by heavy backlash from members of the team, especially the five first-years whose college careers are now threatened to be cut short.
Wrestling team member Jack Ridgway ’22 said the team’s small roster can be easily explained. During the 2017-2018 season, head coach Sean Ahrar was called to active duty with the military, missing the season.
“While he did not want to leave his team, his loyalty to his country is immeasurable,” Ridgway wrote in an email.
During Ahrar’s year of absence from the program, the interim coach failed to adequately recruit a full incoming class, Ridgway wrote. Upon Ahrar’s return the following year, he successfully recruited a freshman class of five wrestlers, putting the program back on track to field a full team. The last time the wrestling program featured a full roster was 2016, when star player Garrett Beaman ’20 was named a freshman All-American.
Bowles said he doesn’t see the trajectory of the program improving from Ahrar’s return.
Members of the team argued the decision to end the program disregards Ahrar’s military service and his efforts to restore the program to its former success. When asked for comment on these allegations, Bowles reiterated his reasoning for ending the program.
Members of the team also cited Bowles’ limited financial support as a primary obstacle in recruiting. Even without compensation, Ahrar has travelled as far as Florida to recruit student athletes to the program, Ridgway said. He has already nabbed a recent commit for next year’s class from East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn.
Ahrar has been offered a position in the athletic department as an athletic operations assistant, a role he has declined.
Following Bowles’ announcement, rumors circulated that other athletic programs at St. Olaf might be cut, such as the alpine skiing team. The athletic department has “no such cuts planned,” President David Anderson ‘74 wrote in an email.