Wrestling program enjoys success and loyalty
When Steve Hall talks about the WPI wrestling family, he isn’t exaggerating.
Now in his fourth year as head coach of the university’s wrestling program, he has observed―and is part of―a phenomenon that sees alumni returning home to simply reconnect or become actively involved the program.
And when they reconnect, says Hall, they do it in a big way.
“When we have Homecoming here, we roll out the grill and 100 people show up from all over the place. In fact, the Quad area actually gets laid out around the wrestling group.”
Why is wrestling so big at WPI? As Hall explains, it’s the old adage that nothing succeeds like success. He points out that some people may be surprised to learn that, based on winning percentage, wrestling is the most successful athletic program in WPI history. That percentage is .615 over the last 50 years, he notes, and for a period from the late 1970s to the late 1990s, it reached .850.
Along the way, wrestling teams have garnered four New England championships (plus four runner-up recognitions) and multiple all-America and national ranking honors. That kind of achievement, he says, will naturally spark interest.
“Interest follows success. When the basketball team was winning just two or three games a year, you could hear crickets in the gym. But when it’s (ranked) ninth in the country, there are a lot of people in the stands. WPI wrestling has a long history of success, and crowds follow that,” says Hall.
Those crowds are more sophisticated than in years past, he believes. People understand what collegiate wrestling is, and do not expect to see pyrotechnics and over-the-top characters putting on a show. “That might have been the case 30 years ago,” he says, “but not anymore.”
A former WPI wrestler himself, Hall grew up in central New York State, where wrestling is extremely popular. So much so, he says, that the prevailing wisdom was that “if you couldn’t wrestle, you played basketball.” After graduating in 1987 with a degree in mechanical engineering design, he served as an assistant coach at WPI before launching his own electronics manufacturing company. Upon retiring from heading up the company, he assumed his present position of wrestling head coach.
He says he is very fortunate to be back here working with athletes dedicated to mastering what he calls a very difficult sport.
“It’s kind of a grinding sport, something not everyone can do,” he says. “But it is something special. It’s not necessarily fun all the time. Climbing Mt. Everest isn’t necessarily fun either, but when you get to the top it feels pretty good.”
As for the wrestling family, that term can be applied almost literally to this group. Former head coach Phil Grebinar, who spent more than 30 years building the WPI wrestling program, is godfather to one of Hall’s children. A former wrestling teammate is godfather to his other child. “And we’ve all gone to each other’s wedding,” he adds. In addition, two alumni are assistant coaches for Hall.
“It’s always been that way; people graduate and want to come back and continue,” says Hall. “At any alumni event, the biggest crowd is always the wrestling alums. Whenever we have a wrestler inducted into the Hall of Fame, the group is double the normal size.”
- By Mike D’Onofrio