John F. Russell: Wrestling surviving changes

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Things have changed since Steamboat Springs wrestling coach Jay Muhme was in high school.

Back then, the entire town showed up to the old gym for the opening meet of the season. The stands were packed, and teams came from across the state to see if they had what it took to stay on the mat with the kids from Steamboat Springs.

Back then, the only thing more crowded than the Steamboat gym on opening night of the wrestling season was the school wrestling room, where students lined up for a chance to wrestle for legendary coach Carl Ramunno.

Earning a spot on the team for that opening night was never a guarantee. Most weights were stacked with wrestlers. No one expected there would be a day when Steamboat would have to forfeit matches because the Sailors didn't have any one in a weight class.

These days, Muhme, who wrestled for Ramunno, still likes to chat about those "good ol' days" as he watches the 18 members of this year's wrestling team prepare for another season.

To some, today's turnout might be considered disappointing. But the sight of the wrestlers warming up is a treat for Muhme's eyes. He has spent the past four years trying to bring the team back from the brink of athletic extinction.

He admits that there are no guarantees that all of his wrestlers will make it through the season, and he is certain this year's team will not fill all its weight classes.

But he has high hopes that the students who have been trickling in since practice started last Monday have the desire to earn an invitation to the state tournament in February and will stick with the team until the end.

In the back of his mind, he holds onto the hope and dream this is the season that the Steamboat wrestling program turns the corner and begins the journey back to prominence.

But Muhme is guarded.

He understands the challenges wrestling faces in today's fast-paced world.

He knows that many kids would rather flock to team sports such as basketball and hockey.

He understands that the physical demands and personal sacrifices of a sport like wrestling are not the most attractive prospects to high school students raised in an overly sweetened world of fast food.

Muhme admits he isn't as hard on his wrestlers as his former coach was. He wants to keep athletes in the program, but he knows that the challenging physical training is typically the difference in the final period of most matches.

Muhme is not alone.

Today, students have more sports to choose from, the field of available athletes is limited in all sports -- and the effect on wrestling has been felt throughout Northwest Colorado in places such as Hayden, Oak Creek and, rumor has it, Moffat County.

Muhme doubts wrestling will never be what it was when he was in high school, but the coach works every year to make sure that its legacy in Steamboat will survive.

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