EMORY, Va. — With the recent addition of wrestling, Emory & Henry will offer sports for 26 teams next year.
That’s only part of the story.
“We’re growing, and we’re going to have to expand our facilities. There’s no doubt about that,” said E&H Director of Athletics Anne Crutchfield.
According to Crutchfield, college officials recently completed a strategic plan that includes an initiative to improve the athletic facilities at the NCAA Division III school.
“Later this spring, we will look at the information from feasibility studies and make a decision about what we want to do. We will prioritize from there,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield said work on a track and field facility will likely be one of those priorities.
It was announced on Jan. 9 that E&H will begin competition in men’s and women’s wrestling during the 2020-21 academic year.
Pete Hansen, who had been serving as an E&H football assistant, was selected to coach both programs on Feb. 18.
Hansen wrestled at Southern Virginia University, earning All-American status in 2009 after he finished fifth at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NWCA) national championship.
“We started talking about adding wrestling early last year,” Crutchfield said. “We thought about competing at the club level at first, but we felt certain more schools were going to start programs for women.”
In June, the NCAA committee on women’s athletics recommended that all three of its divisions add women’s wrestling along with acrobatics and tumbling as emerging sports, a key step toward championship-level status.
Among schools in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, only Ferrum offers both men’s and women’s wrestling. Roanoke and Shenandoah recently announced plans to join Washington and Lee as ODAC members that compete in men’s wrestling.
The ODAC needs one more wrestling program in order to host a conference championship.
USA South Conference members Averett and Greensboro also compete in wrestling, while King University fields teams for men and women.
“I think wrestling is a natural fit for Emory & Henry,” Crutchfield said. “The sport is very popular with high school athletes around Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee and western North Carolina, with Grundy earning national recognition. Wrestling is also the kind of sport that goes back to our blue-collar roots here.”
Abingdon High School wrestling head coach Clayton Scott said the introduction of wrestling at E&H could have many positive spinoffs.
“I’ve been coaching wrestling for 20 years, and I would have given anything if Emory would have had a program when I started,” Scott said. “This will be a good opportunity for local athletes. It will also help elevate the sport around the area because athletes will want to stick around and be involved with the sport as coaches.”
Crutchfield said that several current E&H students have expressed interest in wrestling. A number of E&H football players competed in the sport in high school.
There is one problem, especially given the growth of the Exercise Science and Health & Human Performance programs at the college.
“The King Center is home to both of those academic programs, along with athletics,” Crutchfield said. “There’s just not enough room at the inn.”
There are other projects on the E&H drawing board.
“We have significant work we need to do in baseball and softball,” Crutchfield said. “We’d like to get those fields enhanced, and we definitely have to put lights up.”
Once those improvements are made, E&H would be able to host more high school events and tournaments.
Schools such as Abingdon, Holston, Northwood and Patrick Henry have played games on the E&H campus.
“We take pride in being part of the community,” Crutchfield said. “I coached at the high school level, so I know how special the playoffs are.
“We want to help make those experiences memorable for athletes and fans. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.”
There are no plans for a weight training or indoor training facility for the Wasps' football program, Crutchfield said.
As the E&H athletic program continues to expand for men and women, one roadblock remains.
“We either have to expand or build,” Crutchfield said. “Our needs are great, but we want to do things in a financially responsible way.”