Camp brings wrestling heroes
An Olympic champion and a four-time NCAA Division I All-American are helping Baldwin High School wrestling coach Kit Harris with the Team Champions Wrestling Camp this week.
The camp that finishes up today began Monday at Baker University. Around 130 wrestlers are participating in this year's camp, almost doubling last year's 70.
"It was a success last year and I really like bringing high level wrestling events to Baldwin," Harris said. "It's good for the community and the kids in the area."
This year Harris has brought in 2000 Olympic Champion Brandon Slay and Iowa State University four-time All-American Eric Akin who graduated from Bishop Miege High School in Kansas City, Kan.
Harris said getting quality wrestlers to come can be as easy as picking up a telephone.
"You just call them and ask and they are happy to do it if it works out with their schedule," Harris said.
Akin said he was delighted to work the camp, because he has known Harris since they were young and wrestled together. Akin also wants to help build a strong camp in Northeast Kansas.
"I think it would be good to get a really good camp going on in this area, since I grew up in this area," Akin said. "I just want to help build on something that is already there."
Slay said he enjoys the chance to give back to the sport, because it was camps like this that helped him become what he is today.
"I have a desire to affect the young wrestlers' lives in a positive way," Slay said. "I have extreme passion for it, because I realize if I wouldn't have had coaches and clinicians to come and teach me how to wrestle, I never would have learned. I feel kind of a responsibility to give back to the sport."
Slay said he always enjoys the chance to work with friends at camps.
"I've known Eric (Akin) for a really long time," Slay said. "We've wrestled on the national circuit together and we've traveled outside the country together. Him being a good friend of mine, it's always good to do camps with your friends. After this is over, we get to hang out and catch up on things."
Since arriving Monday, Slay and Akin have taught the campers many aspects of wrestling.
"They show excellent technique, but it's also inspirational to learn technique hands-on from someone with the accolades that they have," Harris said."
The campers also learned about weight training, nutrition, sports psychology and wrestling technique. The camp also included dual competitions among the wrestlers. The final duals start tonight at 7 p.m. at Collins Center.
During the week, the campers have also been able to hang out at the Baldwin City Municipal Swimming Pool and watch movies together. Harris said the bonding time can help athletes become friends.
"It gives the guys a chance to meet other wrestlers from other towns," Harris said.
Akin said he has enjoyed his time helping at the camp, because it is his way of giving back to the area.
"It's my way of giving back to the community and the people that watched me wrestle when I was a kid," Akin said. It's really cool how the Kansas community has treated me. They treat me like wrestling royalty. It keeps me going."
Most of the wrestlers at the camp came from the Topeka, Kansas City or Lawrence areas. But Harris said the furthest west camper came from Wakeeney and the furthest north came from North Dakota.
Akin, who now lives in Gardner, said he is teaching his 14-year-old son to wrestle, because he wants him to learn some life lessons from it.
"My oldest son wrestles, mostly because I want him to learn work ethic, failure and goal setting," Akin said. "Those are the things that really help you in life down the road."