‘Difficult to see where the future lies’

Prior to joining the University of Regina, Sara Tokarz wrestled for her high school team, the M.C. O’Neill Titans. -- Michael Bell/Regina Leader-Post

Cancelled U of R wrestling program impacts larger wrestling community in western Canada: U of S Huskies wrestler

The cancellation of the University of Regina’s wrestling program a week ago will have lasting impacts beyond the immediate college wrestling community.

That’s according to Kalin Langford, a University of Saskatchewan Huskies wrestler who just completed his first year with the team in the 120-kilogram weight category.

Wrestling programs like the U of R’s and the now-defunct University of Winnipeg’s were staples of their communities, affording senior and club wrestlers unaffiliated with a university a competitive and elite training atmosphere where they can build up their experience, Langford says.

“That’s exactly what happens. Like we have that at our team at the U of S – we have a few senior athletes that used to be university athletes, but they want to continue, and the best way for them to do that is to continue practicing with the university (team),” he said.

On May 1, U of R officials announced they’re cutting the men’s and women’s wrestling programs as well as the men’s volleyball program.

According to the Regina Leader-Post, this past season both gender categories for wrestling ranked within the top 10 of all 16 U-Sports wrestling programs across Canada.

Released this past February, those rankings show that the women’s program was slotted fifth overall nation-wide, while the men’s program was seventh overall.

Now with the U of R closure, there remain just four U-Sports wrestling programs in western Canada – Saskatchewan, Alberta, Calgary and Fraser Valley, located in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

(Simon Fraser University’s program competes in the United States’ NCAA Division I category.)

Training with and wrestling against athletes in university programs goes beyond elder wrestlers simply wanting to continue their passion, post-college, Langford says.

“People who’ve graduated university or aren’t in university but still want to go through to the Olympics, a lot if not all continue to train with universities due to the level of practicing that they’ll get from the universities,” he said.

The Huskies wrestler explained that the best training partners are usually found at university-level wrestling programs. “The best place that a lot of these high, elite athletes can be is at university.”

He agreed that the U of R program is tightly connected to the wider Regina wrestling community.

Langford also said he has concerns about how the team’s members were informed about the program’s closure – spontaneously through email.

After speaking with some of his friends in the Regina program through Facebook and by phone, he said everyone felt the closure announcement was “out of the blue, like it was very unexpected.

“I feel that it kind of makes everybody think that nothing is for sure and anything can happen, which is terrible,” he said, especially in light of last year’s program closure in Winnipeg.

For now, that’s the message that Roxanne Richards is sharing with her wrestlers and students; she’s Langford’s mother and also a wrestling coach at St. Mary high school in Prince Albert.

“What I’ve told my kids, as well as my athletes, is ‘never take anything for granted. Just enjoy every minute you have on the mat, because you never know if that will be your last day.’ Nothing is ever guaranteed in this life,” she said.

Speaking with the Daily Herald on Wednesday last week, Richards said news of the closure was “very emotional. It is shocking. We’re just trying to digest the whole thing.”

She echoed her son’s sentiments about the dwindling number of university wrestling programs in western Canada.

Richards, too, referenced the Winnipeg closure a year ago.

“Western Canada went from six down to five, and now it’s down to four. There are up to about 16 or 17 university wrestling programs across Canada, and for us to have only four in western Canada makes it a little bit difficult to see where the future lies.”

The coach said she’s begun discussing alternative options with a first-year wrestler at St. Mary who had planned to attend the U of R, because of its wrestling program.

Richards agreed with her son, saying she hopes that the wrestling coaches who remain in Regina, will “band together and continue club competition.”

According to Langford, “if they want to continue having a wrestling community in Regina, they’re going to need that support, and somebody’s going to have to step up and continue what has been going on for so many years.”

An example of one person with such longevity is coach Leo McGee, who coached the university’s wrestling programs for more than 30 years, according to the Leader-Post.

“I feel very terrible for Leo,” first-year Regina wrestler Sara Tokarz told the Leader-Post’s Rob Vanstone. “I can feel his pain as a coach to see all his athletes have no place to go if we don’t know what to do.

“I couldn’t imagine what was going through his head. It must be very difficult to hear this news.”

With files from Rob Vanstone, Regina Leader-Post