wrestlers

The Stanford wrestling team trained at a training camp at Elk Grove during the summer.

With Stanford wrestling not scheduled to start practice until later this year, its freshman class seemed destined to start the school year off distance learning at home.

However, one wrestler’s family stepped up and amid the unusual circumstances this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ming family invited seven Cardinal teammates to live with them until they got the okay to go to Palo Alto.

In addition to missing out on moving into dorms, exploring campus and walking into classrooms, freshmen members of the wrestling program along with the rest of the team had just had a bomb dropped on them: Stanford was cutting 11 sports programs, including wrestling after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.

Having trained in their sport for years, having a place to stay together while they worked to figure out their future was a blessing and welcome distraction.

“It was really only a day or two before we found out the program was cancelled. Peter Ming kind of stepped forward and suggested we stay at his house,” said Nick Stemmet, a 197-pound wrestler from Yorkville, Illinois, on Oct. 9.

Ming, an Elk Grove High School graduate, is attending Stanford on a wrestling scholarship.

His father, Joe, said that everyone gets tested every week and that they aren’t exposed to the public too often.

“We wanted to provide something that was a quasi-experience that was college for them. You can’t make many memories in your room going to college,” Joe Ming said.

As a result, the Ming household has become a safe haven while the team, including six freshmen besides Ming and a sophomore, studies and works to save the wrestling program along with others in a project called Keep Stanford Wrestling.

Former Stanford wrestling coach Kerry McCoy, who led a training camp in cooperation with Elk Grove Wrestling Academy in the summer, is a member of the advisory board of Keep Stanford Wrestling and said that having wrestling cancelled affects more than just competing in a sport.

“There are so many different things that the program means to me. They’re usually very active in the community,” McCoy said of Stanford wrestlers. “We also have a ton of first generation college students. The opportunity to go to Stanford, it’s life-changing. If you get a young man that comes from inner city Chicago and they have the opportunity to go to Stanford, others can say, ‘now I can do that.’”

Stanford announced July 8 it was going to cut funding for wrestling.

Stanford University noted in an open letter to the community that the decision “comes down primarily to finances and competitive excellence,” and that “we would no longer be able to support a world-class athletics experience for our student-athletes without making these changes.”

Keep Stanford Wrestling made a video that is currently on Youtube in response to the announcement as it works to raise enough money to sustain the program. In it, wrestlers shared their reactions, including feeling “hurt, devastated and furious.”

On July 10, student-athletes, coaches, alumni and supporters of the wrestling program sent a response letter and while the future remains uncertain beyond the upcoming season, they are hoping that if they are able to raise enough money, the program will be allowed to continue.

“They’ve already raised 10 million (in pledges),” Joe Ming, Peter’s father, said.

Stanford’s claims that competitive excellence as part of the decision-making process seems to be unfounded as Cardinal wrestling won the Pac-12 Championship in 2019 and was ranked 14th nationally last season.

“We’ve been fighting to get the word out beyond the wrestling community. It doesn’t make any sense. The key is to find ways to get the word out. There are a lot of stories we want to tell. When the non-wrestling community hears it, it’s going to be a call to action,” said McCoy, who coached Stanford from 2005-08 and is a two-time Olympian.

In addition to wrestling, Stanford is cutting men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming and men’s volleyball.

Keep Stanford Wrestling noted that since 2006, “44% of Stanford wrestlers have been first generation college bound and/or low income students compared to the current overall university rate of 17%.”

“It doesn’t discriminate against size. It gives access to an elite school for first-generation kids.  They can’t get into elite schools any more if they’re shutting down programs,” Joe Ming said.

Keep Stanford Wrestling’s current funding goal is to raise $30 million in pledges. The pledges will turn into actual donations only if the athletic department agrees to continue the program as well as start a women’s wrestling program and if an endowment is created solely for Stanford wrestling, according to the website (www.KeepStanfordWrestling.com).

While the team works on helping to keep its existence intact, the Ming family has worked to make their seven guests feel at home and provide extra motivation for their task.

They put bunk beds in an office in their home, went to Lake Tahoe, and hosted the rest of Stanford’s team when they came from around the country for a training camp with USA Wrestling, along with Stanford coaches Jason Barelli, Alex Terapelli and Ray Blake.

“For me, once classes were moved online, I was just kind of getting mentally ready. When the Mings opened their house, it was really cool and obviously super generous,” said Jason Miranda, who is from San Diego. “Once they showed us their set-up here, we were super stoked.”

The wrestlers, who have been in Elk Grove for 5½ weeks, will stay at what has affectionately been dubbed the Mini Farm through the end of the month, as Ming noted that Stanford is planning to open to student-athletes in November, with athletes staying either on campus or in hotels.

Until then, Stanford wrestlers are starting a vlog in hopes of inspiring those interested in the sport and sharing training and travel stories, said Ming.

“To get to where we all are now, we’ve had to get through a lot of training. Just to put all of those hours in, Stanford was kind of the pinnacle for all of us,” Stemmet said. “For the incoming freshmen especially, to hear that we’re not going to have a team after all is pretty devastating.”

Those interested in pledging a donation to Keep Stanford Wrestling can visit the KSW website, which has a link on the top right corner of the page for pledges.