Jim Phillips; and Weight Classes  

Jim Phillips

Rest in Peace my dear friend; was not only what my heart said when I heard of Jim’s passing, but also the opinion of everyone who knew Coach Phillips.

The mark of greatness, for any human being, is his or her ability to make others smile, and feel fortunate for having known the person. Jim had that rare ability, and given the number of people who have taken to social media to send his family their regards, and share their memories of him, his greatness becomes obvious.

Jim Phillips; wrestling coach, mentor, father, trainer, educator, friend and dare I mention, owner of a leopard vest that I hope, along with Jim, makes it into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

As for me, I met Jim for the first time in our wrestling room at Clarion in 1974. He had just taken over the wrestling program at Morgan State and as he told our coaches; Bob Bubb and Neil Turner . . .

“I want my athletes to have the best chance to be whatever they can be, and being here, is the best way I know of how to achieve that.”

There’s no question he learned a lot during the time he was on campus, but so did we! Jim’s smile, and genuine interest for those he met was infectious. For five full days he asked questions of everyone, from our trainers, to equipment managers, to the athletic department’s administration. Nothing got by Jim without him asking, why, how, or please show me.

When the team finally left, Jim took with him a complete playbook for what he told me years later became the foundation of Morgan State Wrestling.

At his retirement, 30 years later, Jim had coached 75 All-Americans, 2 national champions, won 13 MEAC Championships and was named MEAC Coach of the Year 12 times.

For all he achieved, one might be surprised to learn that Jim never wrestled himself. But instead, he was a professional football player who lined up alongside such greats as Willie Lanier and Leroy Kelly.

Even the coaches he competed against have had nice things to say, which for anyone who knows wrestling, it’s the ultimate test of greatness.

Mark Manning, “He deserves to be in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.”

Cornell Bass, “No one could out recruit Coach Phil.”

Carl Adams, “Jim was one of the most special personalities in the history of the sport.”

Jim lost his battle with diabetes at the age of 78, but even today, we’re smiling, because that’s the way he left us, with a smile.

PA Drops 2 Weight Classes

This week, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, has decided, but it hasn’t been announced yet, to drop 2 of its 14 weight classes. Starting next year, there will no longer be competition at 106 or 182. That’s what I’m hearing anyway.

Here’s how it happened.

How can you have all these spectators this week at the World Championships in Sofia and expect anyone; athletic administrators, advertising executives, or anyone thinking about trying out for the sport, not to mention members of the media; to believe that what we do is worthy of their time?

The answer is, no it’s not, and that is the basis of ALL our problems.

We argue among ourselves about issues that are important to coaches, while ignoring those that are important to administrators and potential customers. Notice: I didn’t say our customers, I said potential customers, the ones we don’t have, but could have, if our product was worthy of their time. That’s the focus of this story.

Listen to the rhetoric this Summer, and going into the Fall, about our shrinking weight classes. It will all center on how stupid can the PIAA be; “They didn’t do their homework. Statistically, they chose the wrong weight classes to drop if they wanted to reduce forfeits.”

As long as we’re always looking inward, and fighting battles that in the big picture is at best a 4X6, only deepens the divide that exists between administrators and coaches.

Sure, losing weight classes is worth discussing, but it’s not the battle ground we should be standing on.

Instead, we must change people’s perception of wrestling! That’s the far larger picture. Not for those who are currently considered the sports die-hards, but the perception of those who are not currently part of the sport, those which are non-existent at matches. They are the ones who will determine if we’re a viable sport.

Without fans, and that is the one, and only issue our leadership should be focusing on, wrestling will maintain its nothing burger status. Why do I say that; because there are way too many dual meets and tournaments where the athletes themselves out number the fans.

That’s our leaderships fault. And as I’ve been beating the drum for too many years, they should either lead, follow or get out of the way. Even within the sport at the scholastic level, we’ve lost 25,000 wrestlers in the last 5 years. That might surprise some but the numbers are far worse than what you just read. Because other sports are growing at an annual rate of 3% and 7%. So, using the lowest number, 3%; instead of losing 25k wrestlers that are trackable, we’ve lost well over 50,000 when you figure in lost growth.

How can the UFC go from drunks in bars beating one another up to a multi-billion-dollar industry in 20 years and wrestling in the last 150 years is still trying to move from red ink to black? Do you realize that there isn’t one program in America that’s making money!

Without fans, the sport is without revenue. Without revenue, coaches have zero support with their administrators. Without fans and revenue, the media couldn’t care less about us. Without fans, potential sponsors aren’t interested in losing money by advertising with us. And without people cheering us on, does anyone care to guess how many athletes we lose that never came out for the sport because they didn’t want to wrestle in empty gyms?

And yet, here we are, arguing about the loss of 2 weight classes, or tomorrow, over whatever is an affront to our senses. Isn’t it time we make wrestling fun to watch? Not for those who will argue with me over this, but for the millions of fans who have already said they have no interest in our product.

Enough said . . .

As to the weight classes themselves, and the legitimate beef the sport has about 106, and taking opportunities away from our smaller, younger athletes; how about this as a compromise?

Establish two separate sets of weight classes, one for the varsity at the HS level, and the other for the JV’s?

Why we haven’t done that before has always been a head scratcher for me. Younger kids always come in smaller sizes than their older counterparts.

So, why wouldn’t we want to service their needs? Shouldn’t our leadership seriously consider loading up on weight classes at the bottom end of the weight scale for these athletes? Start at maybe 98-pounds and then go to 106-pounds and so on, spacing the remaining upper-weights to meet the needs of these athletes.

Why we haven’t done this before, just points out that those who decide, aren’t problem identifiers, let alone problem solvers.

And I get it, I’m making some enemies out of friends in leadership roles by writing these blogs. And that bothers me a great deal. For that, I’m can’t tell you how truly sorry I am!

But I love the sport more, and owe it more, than to go-along to get-along while the sport eats its own tail.

Fixing the sport isn’t hard, but it requires a willingness to do whatever it takes.

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6 thoughts on “Jim Phillips; and Weight Classes  

  1. Losing two weight classes? Very sad. Most sports are for big people or tall people. Where are the small, lightweight people like those in my family, supposed to go?

    We identify two reasons the sport of amateur wrestling is on life-support.

    The first reason we worry about is the lack of fans. Wrestling doesn’t have the fans to survive.

    We say we need the fans to have the wealth so we are a revenue producing sport. This is true, Why didn’t this matter in the past? Isn’t it true, in the past, sports was more socialism in the athletic department, and has become more capitalism now? Didn’t it used to be, if the athletes wanted a sport, the athletic director would try to find the money? Couldn’t it be said, from each revenue sport according to its ability, to each non-revenue sport according to its need?

    We also say Title IX is killing the sport of amateur wrestling, which I believe is very true. Unfortunately, we can only blame Title IX so much. Women’s wrestling is not a revenue generating sport either. I suspect, even if Title IX were eliminated, wrestling would be on life-support.

    I suggest there are two other reasons wrestling is on life-support.

    I believe one reason amateur wrestling is on life-support is a policy that grew from a seed in the 1950s and 1960s to what we have today. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a concern about the exposure of children to violence.

    How many people remember the 1960s television show, “The Wild Wild West”.? Please look at the wiki for this show. One will find the comment, “Despite high ratings, the series was cancelled near the end of its fourth season as a concession to Congress over television violence.” The show didn’t even have much killing or the showing of any blood and gore. It was still cancelled.

    This attitude has morphed into a zero tolerance policy for anything that resembles violence or might lead to violence. What does this mean and why is this important to the sport of wrestling?

    In the wrestling community, one likes to say, “it’s as natural for boys to wrestle as it is for birds to fly.” I suggest we can view the “natural” wrestling between boys to be consensual, soft-core violence.

    People opposed to bullying have an argument for preventing a wrestling match between boys when one boy doesn’t want to wrestle. What if both boys want to wrestle? Should we allow it?

    People opposed to violence have an argument for preventing someone getting injured in a wrestling match. What if both boys follow the rules and agree not to hurt one another?

    Just because something is potentially dangerous, do we automatically ban it? I believe the amateur wrestling rule-makers suffer this problem when they ban moves and holds that are potentially dangerous if the moves and holds can be taught to be used safely. I believe, any move or hold, or any action for that matter, can become potentially dangerous if one is not taught how to do it safely.

    As a favorite example, it is dangerous to cross the street until one learns how to do it safely. Should we, therefore, make it illegal to cross the street?

    I suggest this zero tolerance policy hurts the sport of wrestling. Boys are left to imagine much more violent actions when they can’t let off steam in non-harmful ways.

    I believe the other reason wrestling is on life-support is the sport itself. Look in the mirror. What was wrestling. What has wrestling become?

    Wrestling used to be a sport with the objective of attaining goals. The goal was to pin. Now wrestling is a sport with the objective of scoring points. Scoring points is not natural for the sport of wrestling. I can go on and on about this topic, but don’t expect people to listen.

  2. you forgot to mention the runner up ,eastern regional champions and our naval academy champions 1981-86.it was amazing seeing all that athletic greatness at the ceremonies for our beloved coach,father and friend james phillips.there were 6 all americans in 1984 including myself! john davis, greg veal(RIP),willard cruz,jeff green(RIP) john vorrice,and myself chuck Kennedy and with coach phillips help I beat several national champions and many national place winners. I ilove and miss you coach!

    • Chuck . . . apologies if I missed out on some of Jim’s accomplishments. But I think I caught the essence of the man in the blog. He was simply a great person.

  3. Jim Phillips – what a class act! I had the privilege of refereeing all three NCAA divisions from the late 70s into the early 2000‘s, and Jim was always a treat to have in the corner. He expected a lot of his athletes, he never whined, and always coached in a very positive way. Not only were his wrestlers successful, but Jim‘s men knew how to conduct themselves on the mat – they were real gentlemen.
    Godspeed Jim!

  4. Even with the 106 lb weight class, it can be a difficult transition for the late bloomer. I’ve seen several cases where kids are world beaters in Middle School, but not big enough to compete in High School. That can be a very difficult transition for the late bloomer and is a reason for some kids to hang it up. I would caution against relying on Junior Varsity programs as not all HS programs cater well to that level. Too often it is the case that wrestlers on a junior varsity program are neglected.

    • Thanks Bryan . . . well said. And I get kit, JV programs are, at a lot of schools, a sign of times past. But regardless, whoever we have out for the sport, we should try to accommodate their needs. Adjusting the weight classes to meet the needs of JV wrestlers, shouldn’t be difficult to understand, and even easier to do. Appreciate you taking the time to write.

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