What are the REAL reasons that
Forest's wrestling program dominated
the Virginia Prep League wrestling scene during the 80's & 90's?
In late January of 2003, someone [later discovered to be posting from Woodberry Forest High School] wrote in a thread at CentralRegionWrestling.com's forum that Woodberry Forest's wrestling program's 18 or so consecutive years on top of the Virginia Prep League were a result merely of superior effort and coaching. He also posted that to suggest otherwise is simply "unsportsmanlike" and that other teams didn't measure up because they had an "inferior work ethic". In response, though, an alumnus of one of the 1980's runner-up schools from from the Prep League publicly disagreed. Below is his response, now preserved enduringly in cyberspace. It's a compilation of complaints heard from many over the years, in fact...
"First of all, it's understandable that you'd praise Woodberry Forest's wrestling "dynasty" so profusely just now, considering how you posted what you did from Woodberry Forest. Indeed, a traceroute of your i.p. address using: http://www.network-tools.com yields the following:
AT&T WorldNet Services ATT (NET-12-0-0-0-1)
126.96.36.199 - 188.8.131.52
WOODBERRY FOREST SCHOOL ATT151176-165-64 (NET-12-35-165-64-1)
184.108.40.206 - 220.127.116.11
Second of all, Woodberry began its run of Prep League
team titles in ways that most public schools would never have allowed. When
the "Tiger dynasty" began a couple of decades ago, the head coach (who had
just left Blue Ridge High School in hopes of obtaining the resources needed
to catch up with the likes of Blair Academy) was also Woodberry's associate
director of admissions. Rather than focus on actually teaching folks
who paid to attend Woodberry to learn to wrestle and compete at the varsity
level by their senior year, something different transpired. Woodberry's
early teams were substantially shaped by someone who clearly sought to compete
using primarily an All-Star list of recruits. In the admissions
office, Coach Glover learned quite a lot about the institutional buttons
that need to be pushed to lure in and secure the enrollment of wrestlers
that he wanted competing for Woodberry. And he worked the levers with
the at times predatory zeal that he had refined while participating inside
the military industrial
complex about which Republican President [and former General] Dwight
Eisenhower earnestly warned
us all in his famous presidential farewell address.
And to put it delicately, "subsidies" were a part of that recruiting endeavor too, were they not? Athletic directors at the NCAA level have been fired for allowing similar things to go on, or am I mistaken? And even by already officially documented accounts, (at least) a third of Woodberry's student body draws from the school's "need-based" financial aid program. Can you actually credibly deny that admissions officials and financial aid officials at Woodberry talk to one another in quiet settings in that relatively unscrutinized rural town of Orange, Virginia?
Further slaughtering the prospects of parity in a predictably decimated Prep League wrestling scene, the Prep League tournament was held at Woodberry Forest disproportionately often and especially during the 1980's, when it was practically always held there. In part this was done to boost Woodberry's recruiting efforts. Dozens of Woodberry students at practically any given time are from the wrestling-rich region containing New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Not all go on to wrestle, but all are nevertheless from a region where wrestling is substantially respected. Other Virginia-area schools which draw almost exclusively from local admissions pools can't replicate such a nucleus of supportiveness for our sport nearly as effortlessly, and it makes a difference as do other factors analyzed here. Meanwhile, plenty of foreign countries are also represented within Woodberry's student body, and it's not above Woodberry to recruit national wrestling champions from abroad. The prospect of getting to further one's wrestling career at a seemingly winning program had its appeal, and Woodberry's Prep League tournament record sort of spoke for itself. Do you think that rival teams like Collegiate, Saint Christophers, Norfolk Academy or Trinity Episcopal (which are NOT even boarding schools) tapped into such resources at the expense of their ordinary students? And by the way, as is the case in places like Fairfax County, there aren't even middle school wrestling teams in feeder regions like the Peninsula area or Chesterfield County.
Woodberry's tournament venue-monopolization was also done as a means of inspiring "bench warmers" to fill up the otherwise less-populated back-up rosters, in case they'd ever be needed at the varsity level for whatever reason such as to help pressure slightly less heavy recruits to lose more weight. The chance to compete before a large home crowd someday was enticing. Ah, but you might try to claim that this offering of facilities for the Prep League's "benefit" was done merely out of the goodness of Woodberry's collective heart, as an act of generosity to all the other schools which apparently lacked gymnasiums. PLEASE. And is anyone surprised to hear that attempts to move the tournament met with considerable opposition, according to numerous witnesses whose complaints I heard over the years? Meanwhile, to further demoralize competing teams' wrestlers and inspire them to want to defect to Woodberry Forest instead, unlike at many tournaments the Prep League tourneys hosted at Woodberry peculiarly offered no trophy for the 2nd place team (at least during the 1980's, if not beyond then).
Now then, referees serve in guilds and these guilds don't
get paid if they can't land "gigs" for their referees. Guess which school
pays those referees' checks at the end of it all? Is it not the hosting
institution, at least for schools that (like Woodberry) have excluded themselves
from the VHSL? Hmmmm... And
as recently as 2002, Woodberry "beneficently" hosted BOTH the Prep League
tournament AND the VISWA
state tournament. With such a cornering of the tournament market,
referees and their guilds know better than to risk the wrath of Woodberry.
After all, how much demand is there for an official without some
prestigious gigs on his or her resume? "Coincidentally" enough, the
most objectionable officiating I have EVER seen transpire at the high school
level benefited Woodberry Forest's wrestlers. Plenty of folks share
(and even helped inspire) my view. How can such peculiar officiating
NOT be expected, though? Even among those officials who think they're CONSCIOUSLY
above being influenced by such tournament hosting-related pressures, a referee's
subconscious is a different matter of which one (by definition) is NOT even
Meanwhile, were Coach Glover's chummy relationships with the likes of longstanding and influential officials Ken Bumgardner and Mike Ingrao (who both refereed many matches at Woodberry) really that unlikely to have helped poison the waters for Woodberry's [competitively disadvantaged] opponents? Doesn't the Atlantic Coast Conference (for example) import referees from other conferences for its important sports competitions, precisely to help avoid such chumminess? For years officials like the abovementioned Woodberry-friendly ones supplemented their incomes by passing judgment on the performance of others. In the process, though, did members of that mutual admiration society conveniently fail to spot potential conflicts of interest potentially affecting their own "judgement"? Meanwhile, let's not forget about homefield advantages in terms of crowd influences (etcetera) on the officials who wanted their contracts renewed by Woodberry later.
Compounding matters, Woodberry reportedly always had around 60% more male students than Collegiate, and until recently the same could apparently be said regarding Saint Christophers. Virginia Episcopal School, which beat Woodberry in a dual meet again in 2003, has at total of merely 125 males. Woodberry has nearly that many in a SINGLE grade level, does it not? Woodberry's Class of '04 has 103 male students, and the class of '05 already has 110. Injuries are a fact of life in our sport, and you can do the math. It's not as if there's much else to do in Orange other than lift weights at Tiger facilities which were endowed by alumni who are inspired by all the seemingly "hard-fought" wrestling team championships that Woodberry "surprisingly" started winning a couple of decades ago.
NEVERTHELESS, Woodberry had to stoop to recruiting even from fellow Prep League competitors rather than let them continue to develop at their own schools which could have consequently produced programs that could have pushed Woodberry to become better. To cite just a recent example, did you know that Woodberry's lone defending Prep League champion from 2002 and its only VISWA state champ from 2003 was actually recruited by Woodberry's Coach Dick Glover (reportedly right off of the wrestling mat) from another school within the same Prep League? Why is this practice banned at the public school level if it's supposedly so acceptable? Even complaints about the Great Bridge High School wrestling program don't include reports of such unsubtle behavior, based on what folks have told me.
Worsening matters still, plenty of "star" wrestlers from Woodberry were too old to compete at the public school level. A friend who was 16 complained to me once about having had to wrestle someone from Woodberry in the finals who was practically twenty years old. If at a public school a near-20 year old picked on a 16 year old (who is clearly still developing), would he not be called a BULLY? Ah but not within the confines of Woodberry's wrestling program. There he was called a good sport. They even profitably used Dick Glover's "achievements" to entice alumni into donating enough money to build a fitness center, with a section that is named after him. It's called the "Dick Gym". Meanwhile, teams that refrain from protesting any of the numerous injustices are potentially rewarded for behaving like sheep by getting a sportsmanship commendation that can help them with their college admissions endeavors. As Dana Carvey's Church Lady on Saturday Night Live used to say: "how conveeeeenient". Even the oppressive dictator Mao Tse Tung probably would have called that an "opiate of the masses."
Meanwhile, I'm aware of a case in which the Woodberry
Forest head coach Dick Glover told a less "sportsmanlike" competitor from
a rival school that he could ride with the Tigers to the National Preps
tournament, and that they'd leave at 11:30 a.m. on departure day.
Are you ready to hear what happened? That wrestler made it to Woodberry
by 11:15 a.m. only to learn that they'd already departed. The
following day Woodberry's coach was politely asked what happened (in
front of coaches and other reliable witnesses from disinterested teams).
In the heat of the moment (which is how painful admissions are often
extracted), Coach Glover admitted to having left considerably sooner than
previously promised. Other coaches who were listening couldn't believe
their ears. A puzzling excuse was offered, though, something
about how no call was placed by that wrestler on the morning of his drive
out to Orange, Va. to confirm the commitment that he and his coach had already
negotiated with Coach Glover beforehand. Dick Glover's subsequent
excuse was unconvincing, especially when one considers how no concerned calls
were made by that reneging coach prior to his hasty and predictably premature
Why was this predictable? Well, if other Prep League schools began to develop heroes of their own in our sport back when the Prep League tourney was still ALWAYS hosted at Woodberry, then it would become tougher to recruit from them using seductive promises of greener pastures in Orange, Va. And with the emergence of wrestling heroes elsewhere in the Prep League, the struggle may have even intensified to host the tournament at schools OUTSIDE of Orange, Virginia too. Incidentally, that stranded wrestler happened to be his high school's first, ever, VISWA state finalist. He had also won the Prep League tournament championship in front of a partisan crowd in Orange, AND he had recently defeated one of Coach Glover's All-Americans despite being outweighed by literally around 20 pounds. He had even given Dick Glover a polite opportunity to back out of giving him a ride with the team up to the Nationals prior to departure day, but it's as if sabotage was at least subconsciously contemplated against that barely 18 year old high school student who, incidentally, had never applied to Woodberry Forest. Let's hear it for sportsmanship as demonstrated by our adult leaders, especially that former associate director of admissions at Woodberry Forest High School.
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg as far as what's been uncovered...because the media doesn't scrutinize Virginia Prep League "secondary" sports like it scrutinizes infringing NCAA-level basketball or football, or even NCAA secondary sports programs. And appropriately enough, as long as such injustices that are fatal to parity in the Prep League conference got to persist, wrestling could remain an obscure enough secondary sport outside of Orange such that other Prep League folks wouldn't see fit to pay enough attention to all the (coincidentally alumni donor-pleasing) questionable practices that transpired within Woodberry's sphere of influence. But then along came the world wide web and the rest of the transparency-creating internet... Since then we've finally seen parity emerge in the Prep League. Indeed, in 1999 Woodberry went from "winning" 18 VPL team championships in a row, to not winning any since after the turn of the century. Unprecedently empowered rival teams' coaches and their inspired athletes have clearly enjoyed the somewhat "less unlevel" playing field, although some with ties to Orange, Virginia selfishly have not.
It's hard not to ambivalently respect Woodberry's (conveniently gentile) coach for having helped make our beloved sport popular at a school where it might not otherwise have been as popular. But at what cost? SUSPENSEFUL championship tournaments (and the prospects of them) motivate, inspire and empower other teams to rally support for wrestling from parents, athletes, fans and even the media. The inevitable traditional lack of suspense in the Prep League over those two decades made it nearly impossible for other schools even to fill their rosters, though. In fact, Trinity Episcopal dropped their wrestling program altogether during the 1990's, despite having had a National Prep All-American (Will Seger, 185 lbs.) during the early 1980's when Woodberry's dynasty was first taking root. Eventually Saint Anne's Belfield High School dropped wrestling, as did fellow Prep League wrestling team Christchurch.
Schools where wrestling has languished if not died due to the lack of realistic prospects of winning the Prep League tournament could have OTHERWISE become sources of strength for our sport, and even for Woodberry... Competition keeps teams more on their toes, but extending the alumni donor-pleasing string of Prep League team titles was apparently too important. Suspense-inspired support for wrestling could have politically enabled us all to keep college wrestling alive at schools where it's fairly recently been nixed such as at Hampden Sydney, William & Mary, Liberty University, Longwood University and perhaps even Hampton U. All of those programs vanished during the Woodberry dynasty years, and not all of them necessarily vanished due to Title IX: proportionality either. For example, Hampden Sydney is all male, just like nearby Woodberry. "Coincidentally", now that Woodberry's Prep League dynasty appears to be on the decline (at least for now), we're finally seeing slight gains made at the college level for Virginia wrestling (as http://www.ncwa.net suggests).
I'm sorry to have had to reveal that you anonymously
posted what you did from Woodberry Forest of all places, but after you suggested
that other VPL schools haven't caught up with Woodberry before now merely
due to a supposed lack of a sufficient work ethic, I wanted to clarify a
few things before others did so less diplomatically. Despite everything,
I sincerely hope that wrestling continues to be strong at Woodberry. The
more good teams there are, the stronger our sport becomes for all.
But to obliviously praise the Woodberry dynasty of the 1980's and 1990's
for being anything other than what it really was is tantamount to
encouraging tomorrow's youth to try and engage in "gentlemanly unlawful"
practices that could land their companies in bankruptcy court, and them in
correctional facilities. Enron, Worldcom, Arthur Andersen, and Lehman
Brothers serve as fairly recent examples of how rules can be bent in callous
ways that can come back to haunt corporate insiders later, as they fail in
their misguided attempts to replicate the controversial (and at times unlawful)
dominance of a company like Microsoft.
Dick Glover may understandably have inspired some (confused) feelings of loyalty among those who understandably sought a father figure while away from home. Such an excuse didn't exculpate those who have been involved with analogous scandals such as that of the Aryan Nations' unfavorable verdict though, did it? Fanaticism is worth acknowledging and addressing, as it's hardly beneath participants in a wrestling program which actually boasts about periodically having a "3 puke practice" whereby practice doesn't end until 3 Woodberry wrestlers finally vomit. By the way, does a program really do society a service by contributing to humanity's already high quantity of teenage bulimics and anorexics?
In conclusion... Is it healthy for our sport or its participants that Woodberry's impressive new head coach is forced to stand in the shadow of a program which adhered to a questionable level of morality that we hope never to see resurface at Woodberry or elsewhere?