Grapplers make their move to the wresting club; hope to compete nationally


The UNF Wrestling Club is going to the mat in its efforts to establish a grappling group on campus.

What began as a concept discussed over summer 2009 between Zach Lebovic and Luke Weiss — the president and vice president of the club, respectively — has morphed into a growing club with growing expectations.

Lebovic, a UNF nutrition and dietetics freshman, said since the wrestling club’s fall 2009 inaugural semester, membership and participation has grown exponentially.

There are now over 40 members on the club’s roster, Lebovic said, and 10 to 20 grapplers show up for every practice. Practices are held every Monday and Wednesday from 8:45 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at the UNF Arena.

Lebovic procured old wrestling mats from Terry Parker High School, recruited a pair of local coaches who pop in from time to time with pointers free of change and worked tirelessly to promote the club with fliers.

“I even put one in Gandhi’s [the statue] hand,” Lebovic said. “It wasn’t there for long.”

Weiss, an undeclared freshman at UNF, said his role in the club is mostly spreading word of its existence and encouraging folks to come wrestle.

“I try to get people to come out but he [Lebovic] does a lot of the paper work and the tedious stuff,” Weiss said.

Lebovic said the club is geared toward more experienced grapplers and, at this point, does not do much in the way of instruction.

“We’re focused on building skills from high school in the atmosphere of a fun, competitive club,” Lebovic said.

The group’s eventual goal is to join the National Collegiate Wrestling Association and compete nationally against other universities, Lebovic said.

The NCWA is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that seeks to fill the gap between the increasing desire to wrestle and the shrinking pool of Division I, II and III programs, NCWA Executive Director Jim Giunta said.

“Our goal as a bunch of volunteers and old wrestlers was to grow an organization that allowed more opportunity and more participation for students, ultimately maybe pushing some of those programs back to the NCAA level,” Giunta said.

Since 1997, nearly 20 schools have gone from the NCWA to the NCAA, but anywhere from six to 20 schools join the NCWA every year, Giunta said.

The NCWA hosts competitions between wrestling clubs from around the country. There are 11 Florida universities in the NCWA, including the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida, according the NCWA Web site.

Lebovic is looking forward to competing against UCF, who is ranked third in the NCWA Coaches’ Poll and the other schools in the Southeast Conference.

“We’ve got the talent to keep up with them,” he said.

UNF Athletics isn’t looking to add any programs, of any kind, anytime soon, said Jeff Wuerth, assistant athletics director for media relations at UNF.

“Our priority is getting all current sports [programs] fully funded and up to where we need to be to compete for A-Sun titles,” Wuerth said.

Wuerth said the only reason UNF would add a program at this juncture is if the Atlantic Sun Conference mandated it.

Adding a wrestling program “is not on our radar,” Wuerth said.

There is precedent for a student club developing into a full-fledged athletic program, however.

In 1996, the Women’s Soccer Club became an official UNF sports program, said Kathy Klein, senior associate director of athletics at UNF.

Such a transformation is a rarity in UNF history, and one of the reasons the women’s soccer club became a program was due to the need for the Title IX compliance, Klein said.

Title IX is the federal statute that regulates gender equality in collegiate athletics.

“It is relatively uncommon, and in the future, I don’t know if new programs will come out of clubs,” Klein said.

There are no Division I, II or III NCAA wrestling programs in the Florida, Georgia, Alabama or Mississippi, Giunta said.

This is at least partially the result of how athletic departments across the state chose to divide their budgets between male and female sports in accordance with Title IX, Giunta said.

“Truthfully, some of that is because of Title IX, but you know what? I think Title IX is used as an excuse for losing programs,” Giunta said.

Club Alliance Assistant Director Brandon Alanis is a member of the UNF Wrestling Club.

Alanis said he was part of a wrestling club when he was a freshmen, but that club died out. He believes this club has better prospects for continued success.

“They have a group that’s going to be able to sustain for the next four years because the kids that started it are freshman, and they’re going to see this through,” he said.