PELLA — The Central College wrestling team is using its status as one of the most diverse programs on campus as a way to unify towards a common goal.
Central’s 52 wrestlers come from far and wide to wrestle in the state many consider the mecca of wrestling. The Dutch roster includes 33 from out of state. and has a heavy West- Coast lean, featuring features nine student-athletes from California, eight from Arizona, four from Washington and one from Hawaii.
“We take a tremendous amount of pride in our geographical and racial diversity,” coach Eric Van Kley said. “Our goals are far greater than just making great wrestlers, we want to make great young men that when they leave here are able to interact and work with a variety of different people. We think embracing that on a team for four years is a wonderful opportunity.”
Other states represented on the roster include Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. With geographical diversity comes racial diversity as well. About one-third of the roster identifies as something other than just white/European-American.
“You definitely get a little bit of everything,” Chris Wilson (sophomore, Houston, Texas, Cypress Ridge HS) said. “It’s kind of like a salad bowl of different personalities, backgrounds and races. There’s a lot to learn from people who do things in different ways.”
The change of scenery has been an eye-opening experience for many of the student-athletes.
“In California, I was always surrounded by people that had similar beliefs or a similar way of living,” Eric Santana (junior, Palm Desert, Calif.) said. “After moving to Iowa, I experienced the exact opposite, especially on the wrestling team. The different views on life or different life experiences are okay and it is important to recognize everyone has a voice and should have the opportunity to use it.”
Despite the influx of talent from around the country, there’s still a strong core of local Iowa products like 184-pounder Griffen McBride (senior, Pleasantville).
“It’s great having such diversity on our team,” McBride said. “It provides strength through different perspectives, which helps each individual grow physically, mentally and spiritually.”
Nearly 4,000 miles away from home, Shandon Akeo (senior, Honolulu, Hawaii, Kapolei HS) has found a little piece of his native islands in the cornfields.
“My friends and I like to go to Lake Red Rock, being near the water reminds me of home,” Akeo said. “Since I’ve been here in Pella, everyone is very nice to each other and respectful. In Hawaii, we call this ‘The Aloha Spirit.’ It’s a way of living and treating each other with love and respect. From the first day I arrived here, I’ve definitely felt ‘The Aloha Spirit.’
For student-athletes like Peyton Hammerich (sophomore, Princeton, Ill.), the team’s diversity has provided a unique camaraderie.
“Having the opportunity to wrestle at Central with such a diverse group of people has allowed me to grow in ways I could never have back home,” he said “The diversity of our team has made us stronger.”
Even though wrestlers compete as individuals on the mat, it’s still a team sport.
“I can trust these guys to be there at my weakest and at my strongest,” Wilson said. “It almost makes you want to cry because they’re so impactful and powerful as people. Taking out background and ethnicity, all I see is guys that want me to be the best I can be, and that’s why I love the wrestling team so much. It’s a brotherhood without the blood.”