The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming
University of Wyoming
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
By Milton Ontiveroz
Ever since the first grade, Lander Valley High School sophomore Mark McConnell has been on the wrestling mat scrapping with opponents in one-on-one duels. It’s in his blood.
His love for the sport can be traced back to the wrestling days of his grandfather, Gary Frank, who was good enough to become a 1964 Western Athletic Conference champion at 147 pounds for the University of Wyoming.
Last summer, McConnell looked at the names of all the past Cowboy greats on a plaque in the wrestling room of UW’s UniWyo Sports Complex. A proud McConnell spotted the name of his grandfather. Someday, perhaps his name will be up there.
The first step: getting bigger and stronger. That’s why he signed up—along with his LVHS teammates—for UW head wrestling coach Mark Branch’s annual team camp.
In fact, student-athletes from across Wyoming have the opportunity to hone their skills each summer using UW’s top-notch athletics facilities. UW Cowboy and Cowgirl coaches and their staff offer camps in nine different disciplines: men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football, golf, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball and wrestling. Camp attendees range in age from kindergarten through high school seniors, and camps include one to three days of individual and team instruction.
“Our camps run the spectrum. Individuals and teams can get special instruction,” says Matt Whisenant, UW Athletics Department deputy director, who oversees the program. “This is a good opportunity for our coaches to evaluate student-athletes as potential recruits and for those athletes to work on their skills.”
Last year, 3,375 Wyoming student-athletes participated in UW-sponsored sports camps, and the camps also draw participants from out of state. Some UW coaches have even offered camps in the Wyoming cities of Casper, Cheyenne, Douglas, Gillette, Jackson, Rock Springs and Sheridan.
As an outreach program, UW sports camps help young student-athletes succeed, says UW head volleyball coach Chad Callihan.
“The benefit to each camper is that they are improving as a player. We have a qualified staff teaching and training these campers, and they typically leave a better volleyball player than when they arrived,” he says. “Another benefit that is often overlooked is that we get a few days to showcase our wonderful university. We will have campers who fall in love with Wyoming due to their experience during volleyball camp. This benefits both the camper and the university.” Whisenant adds that potential recruits who may otherwise have been overlooked by coaches can be “discovered” during their UW camp experience.
“It’s a good way for them to display their skills as a potential recruit,” he says.
Whisenant says UW must follow NCAA guidelines concerning sports camps for public school students, but because UW is the state’s only university, officials are committed to remain connected to their supporters.
“It’s extremely important that we take our camps on the road, and it really depends on NCAA limitations of what we can do, but we consistently talk about what we’re doing and how we can better get out into the state,” he says. “It’s not uncommon for our supporters to drive six, seven, eight hours to get here. It’s our job to try to get out into the state and take our programs out to them.”
As for McConnell, he says working with Branch, his staff and especially 125-pound Poke wrestler Tyler Cox of Gillette, Wyo., helped improve his skills for the 2013-14 season.
“I learned so much from all of them, and they showed me some new moves that I know have helped me this year,” he adds.
Evidently, the UW wrestling camp did help McConnell. The LVHS sophomore ended a sensational year by winning the 106-pound 3A state championship March 1 at the Casper Events Center.