Boise State’s decision to drop wrestling unpopular with North Idaho coaches, athletes

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  • JASON ELLIOTT/Press Lakeland High senior Jared Walker prepares to take on Tahoma’s Kione Gill in the 195-pound championship match at the Tri-State Invitational on Dec. 17 at North Idaho College.

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    Edelblute

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    Whitcomb

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  • JASON ELLIOTT/Press Lakeland High senior Jared Walker prepares to take on Tahoma’s Kione Gill in the 195-pound championship match at the Tri-State Invitational on Dec. 17 at North Idaho College.

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    Edelblute

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    Whitcomb

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Jared Walker was on a campus visit Tuesday, looking to firm up his future in college and in wrestling.

The Lakeland High senior had verbally committed to Boise State, and was planning to make it official by signing a letter of intent.

What he got was a figurative body slam to the mat.

Late in a day of meeting with coaches and other school officials, Walker was whisked into a room and given the bad news by a school administrator — Boise State was dropping wrestling, effective immediately, and adding baseball.

“I was in the middle of my recruiting trip when it happened,” Walker said.

He was supposed to spend the rest of the day in Boise, then fly back home early Wednesday.

Instead, they took him to the airport and sent him on the next flight back to Spokane.

Walker, a two-time state champ, caught an early morning flight out of Spokane to Boise on Tuesday for his recruiting visit. Once in Boise, he had coffee with the Bronco wrestling coaches, met with the compliance office, had lunch and hung out.

He hopes to major in nursing, so he was shown the nursing building. He watched a workout, toured the Stueckle Sky Boxes which tower over the football stadium.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Walker was in a meeting with an academic advisor when he was taken into an administration office.

“They said, ‘This couldn’t have come at a worse time,’” Walker said. “‘But the AD just informed (the BSU coaches) that we are discontinuing the wrestling program.’”

Thanks for coming.

“It was a little heartbreaking,” Walker said. “None of the coaches knew until 3, 3:30. One of the coaches came up to me and apologized. He wished me luck, and I got in the car and went to the airport.”

Walker, born and raised in North Idaho, had wanted to go to Boise State since he was young.

“I’m kinda sad; there’s not too many wrestling programs in general ... it’s pretty disheartening,” he said.

Boise State was Walker’s only Division I offer. He also has interest from North Idaho College, Clackamas, Minot State and Wartburg.

After Tuesday’s news, Walker got in touch with his training partner, Trevor Senn of Mead, who had committed to Boise State last week. They had been making plans to become roommates in college.

Now ...

“I have to re-weigh all my options,” Walker said. “It’s kind of a crappy deal all around.”

A HANDFUL of North Idaho standouts have gone on to wrestle at Boise State, including Ryan Allen (Coeur d’Alene), Casey Phelps (Lakeland), Matt McLeod (Post Falls), Adam Hall (Bonners Ferry) and Travis Liermann (Bonners Ferry and North Idaho College), as well as Brian Owen and Tommy Owen, sons of former longtime NIC coach John Owen.

And others had offers and or were considering going there.

“I’m very disappointed in this decision at Boise State,” Coeur d’Alene High coach Jeff Moffat said. “This is a punch right in the gut to West Coast wrestling. This really hurts the kids on the West Coast and Northwest that want to stay close to home and wrestle D-I. It seems like the administration did not even try to finance both wrestling and baseball. They just dropped one sport to start up another sport. The way that the situation was handled with bringing in a new coach that already had a good job at Bakersfield, and then dropping the program within a year of his hire is really a horrible way to treat a person. If they had plans to drop the program, they should have done it when they fired the Randall coaching staff. Very poor taste.”

North Idaho College coach Pat Whitcomb questioned the timing of the move — hiring a new coaching staff, then saying the school has been thinking about cutting the program for a couple of years. Also, starting a baseball program at BSU is still 3-5 years away.

“The state of Idaho is a pretty popular wresting state, and now it’s down to just us,” Whitcomb said. “There’s a lot of local ties. It just affects us in that it’s another place we can’t send somebody. We might get a few more numbers in our program; Idaho kids need a place to go.”

Allen graduated from Coeur d’Alene High in 2005. After a redshirt season elsewhere, Allen transferred to Boise State, where he wrestled four years for the Broncos.

“It was a devastating blow,” Allen said. “We love and cherish that program. The opportunities that school gave to a kid who grew up in Idaho. I loved the idea of younger kids having the same opportunity as we had.”

Growing up, Allen wrestled for Team Idaho, which trained in Boise prior to heading to national tournaments. The Broncos coaches helped get the Team Idaho wrestlers ready for nationals.

“Every top-tier kid in Idaho is close to the program, even if they didn’t go there,” said Allen, who now coaches wrestling at Lake City High and Lakes Middle School.

Post Falls High coach Pete Reardon said Boise State dropping wrestling is a “travesty.”

“Wrestling has a strong following on the high school level in Idaho and the states around it,” he said. “This greatly reduces kids chances to attend BSU to continue their careers at the next level. There will be far reaching consequences that will be hard to measure. BSU has graduated many kids who move on to teach and coach wrestling at the high school level. Many of the high school coaches in the Boise area are former BSU wrestlers. Count the number of high school coaches in the Northwest who wrestled for NIC. There are several dozen.”

“It is a sad day for Idaho wrestling,” Lakeland coach Rob Edelblute said. “Boise State had a lot to offer to the sport of wrestling. You hate to see programs cut in any sports, especially in your home state. Idaho has a strong tradition in producing some top collegiate athletes. Many of them choose Boise State or North Idaho College in attempts to stay close to home and represent their state.”

“Obviously it (Boise State dropping wrestling) is bigger to North Idaho than people think,” Allen said. “I was proud to wrestle there, and now I’m proud to be fighting for them.”

A petition has circulated for wrestling fans hoping school officials will change their mind. But that may be wishful thinking.

“I appreciate that wrestlers and their families want to petition, but this isn’t a decision that is revocable,” Boise State president Bob Kustra said in a statement. “This is the final decision. We have to move forward.”

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