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After a three-decade absence, Richland College will revive its wrestling program in the fall of 2016. As a result, Richland will become the only two-year college offering a wrestling program in Texas and, for the first time, also will include a women’s team.
“We’re one of only three two-year schools in the Southwest region with a wrestling program,” said Bill Neal, physical education faculty member and wrestling coach at Richland. “A lot of kids in this area can’t afford to go to a four-year school and don’t have the grades to go to a university, so we’re an option for them that they didn’t have before.”
Wrestling has experienced a revival at the high school level, and those student-athletes are looking for colleges where they can compete. Neal pointed out that 21 schools in the Dallas Independent School District have wrestling programs; most of them have girls’ teams, too. More than 11,000 boys and 4,000 girls wrestle in Texas high schools.
“In the past, I had to recruit kids from El Paso, Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge,” he added. “Restarting the program here was a no-brainer. These kids had no place to go, so we cranked up the program again.”
According to Neal, about 32 institutions in the U.S. have women’s wrestling programs. Neal said before the program was resurrected that he organized a wrestling club called “Wounded Ducks” (the school’s official mascot is the Thunderduck), and kids were able to compete in tournaments as individuals. Three women were club members, and at least one is coming back in the fall.
“The women wrestlers were older. They wanted to get into it because it helped their martial arts. Most of them are mixed martial arts, and wrestling helped their leg take-downs and that sort of thing. I hope to get more girls into the program,” Neal stated. “If they’re good enough, they could go to the Olympic Training Center.”
Dustin Basham, a sophomore who is studying kinesiology, said he plans to train with Neal at Richland for as long as he can, but his dream is to go to Olympic trials and represent the United States in the future. “Once I get to that point, I want to go into coaching,” he said.
The 19-year old coaches “Team Punisher,” a squad of wrestlers ages 4 to 16 years in a Dallas-area wrestling club. “I just love the opportunity to teach kids. I feel like I’ve learned from them, and I feel like I can share my knowledge with kids and hope to motivate them to get to higher levels than I did. That’s my whole goal: to see kids succeed,” Basham said.
George Haskins has learned from wrestling.
Basham had scholarship offers from several universities while he was in high school, and he is expecting more in the future, but he won’t transfer until fall 2017. “I feel like my wrestling went from pretty good – I thought I was decent – to really confident in everything I do. Every time I step on the mat, I feel like I’m light years ahead of anyone I wrestle.”
George Haskins, who went to high school with Basham, also would like to compete in the Olympic trials. He took a year off after high school, but he saw Basham at a tournament, and that got him interested in going to Richland. He said he has trained with wrestler Andre Metzger, who has won world championship medals and also has competed in Olympic trials.
“If I’m not able to be on Team USA, I’d like to be a science teacher and coach wrestling,” Haskins said.
Neal said wrestling helps students outside of the gym as well. “Wrestling is a strong, disciplinary sport. Student-athletes are very disciplined in most cases because it takes a lot of work,” he added. “Wrestling provides a good life lesson – that life’s not always fair, but you can take that and learn from it.”
“It disciplines you in your school work, and it keeps you on task. It’s determination, basically. You have to be determined in wrestling, and you can transfer that to your school work,” said John Paul Robledo, who just graduated from high school and will attend Richland this fall. Robledo, who is planning to study business, also practices jiu-jitsu, a type of martial art. Once he’s finished with his business studies, he said he hopes to open his own gym and coach jiu-jitsu and wrestling.
Neal said Richland’s teams of the 70s and 80s won multiple state collegiate championships, and they finished second twice. But the school had to drop the program in the mid-1980s because the team had to travel to Kansas nearly every weekend for competitions, and that was too much for the students.
Now, as the program returns, Richland’s teams will have to compete against four-year schools in the Southwest, including the University of Texas at Austin, UT-Arlington, Texas A&M University, the University of North Texas and other community colleges in the Southwest.
Recruiting has become easier because some students are just showing up at the college, according to Neal. “More and more just walk in the door,” he added. “One of our kids comes all the way from Rockwall and pays out-of-county tuition because he likes our program!”
For more information about the wrestling program at Richland, please email Bill Neal at