Save Olympic Wrestling

On February 13, 2013, the International Olympic Committee shockingly announced that they voted to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision is the result of several rounds of voting by IOC leaders intended to renew and renovate the Games. The announcement is equally surprising and appalling because wrestling has been a part of the Olympics since the 1896 Games in Athens, Greece.

The decision to nix wrestling is also a blow to the United States, recently one of the more successful nations in both freestyle and Greco-Roman events. The U.S. has collected 13 wrestling medals over the last three Summer Olympics, third most behind Russia and Japan.

In reaction to this travesty, one of my close friends, Cliff Fretwell, started a Facebook fan page, Save Olympic Wrestling. I was fortunate enough to be made an administrator on the page, and help in my own little way to fight against IOC’s decision to remove wrestling from the Olympics.

Since that day in February, Cliff has raised over $10k for the fight to Save Olympic Wrestling.

His battle and generosity was outlined in this article by Andy Hamilton of The Des Moines Registry:

Cliff Fretwell’s aunt asked him a few weeks back about how he plans to spend all of his extra time once wrestling’s Olympic fight comes to a conclusion.

The answer was obvious to the 35-year old Georgian, who runs a wrestling club near Atlanta, operates a team apparel business and has taken on two more ventures since the International Olympic Committee put wrestling on the chopping block for the 2020 Games.

“I’m going to sleep a little bit,” Fretwell said. “It’s been a wild little ride these past couple months.”

It started on the morning of Feb. 12 – hours after the IOC’s decision to drop wrestling from its list of core sports in 2020 – when Fretwell launched a “Save Olympic Wrestling” page on Facebook. As the page went viral and its popularity soared to 34,000 likes within hours, Fretwell’s phone buzzed with a text message that sparked a T-shirt crusade.

“In my mind (at the time), I’m only going to sell 100 shirts and that’ll be the end of it,” Fretwell said. “Everybody will stop being pissed off and it’ll go away. I should’ve known better. We’re wrestlers, we’re not going to let that happen.”

With proceeds generated by the global sale of more than 3,000 “Save Wrestling at the Games” shirts, Fretwell will present a check Wednesday for $10,500 to the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling during the Rumble on the Rails in New York City.

“Cliff being able to go out and raise that money to help save the sport he loves, that’s what democracy and that’s what capitalism is all about – creating and being an innovator and taking things into your own hands,” said Noel Thompson, one of the Board of Trustees for Beat the Streets, the organization putting on Wednesday’s meet. “It’s a great, great thing he’s doing.”

Fretwell also donated the shirts – all printed in their native languages – to each of the U.S., Russian and Iranian wrestlers who will compete at Grand Central Station in New York.

“The guy lives and breathes wrestling,” said Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab, who has worked camps at Fretwell’s Compound Wrestling complex. “It’s pretty awesome he’s giving back like that. He could’ve easily just kept that money.”

The Facebook page has grown to more than 92,000 likes. Fretwell uses it to educate his audience on the history of the sport as well as updating news pertaining to wrestling’s battle to regain its spot in the Olympics. He also posts photos of those who submit shots of themselves wearing his “Save Wrestling at the Games” T-shirts.

“Everybody thinks the Facebook page is a whole lot cooler than it is,” he said. “If they knew it was just me sitting behind a computer for 30 minutes a day it would probably take away their big grandiose idea of what they think is behind this Facebook page because there are so many people who are members of it, which is cool.”

The shirt sales have been far more time consuming. Demand trumped supply. Fretwell said he sold the first 300 shirts before they were printed. Packaging and shipping became the biggest obstacle.

Fretwell said “the shirts took over my life for a while.”

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought in the first week it would be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of shirts,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty much full-time job, my wife works at a law firm and has a full-time gig, so it was like, ‘What are we going to do? We’ve created this demand and we don’t know how to supply it.’

“Probably for the first week and a half, I literally stayed up all night, non-stop stuffing flat-rate shipping boxes full of T-shirts. It kind of slowed down for a week — when I say slowed down I’m talking a couple hundred shirts in a week — enough for me to get caught up with the postal business and the UPS business.”

Fretwell said he’s still selling 30 to 50 shirts per day. He received orders from Japan, Germany, Ukraine and Canada. Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, NCAA champions Kyle Dake, Jordan Oliver, Dustin Kilgore and Chris Pendleton are just a few of his well-known customers.

“I think we underestimate the power of a grassroots movement and people feeling like they’re a part of it these days,” Fretwell said. “Wrestlers, we’re that weird, cliquey clan of people that we can put our differences aside and get it together for wrestling. By doing the shirts, everybody felt like they put their little piece in the puzzle to fight it.”

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