Tejovan Edwards’ feel-good wrestling story has turned into a nightmare.
Earlier this month, the Cox High School senior accepted a scholarship to Arizona State. He fell in love with the sunny, scenic campus and couldn’t wait to begin training under Sun Devils assistant coach Brian Stith — another former Cox state champion and NCAA runner-up at Arizona State.
Signing with the Sun Devils was sweet redemption, the culmination of a dream season for Edwards, who had been academically ineligible for the postseason as a junior. This year, Edwards went undefeated against in-state competition, won the 140-pound Group AAA title in February and jumped onto the recruiting radar with a series of upsets that carried him to the NHSCA senior national finals a month later.
“Everything went perfectly,” Edwards said. “And then …”
“He’s a jokester,” Edwards said, “so I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, right.’ ”
Ten minutes later, Stith was on the phone, letting Edwards know the prank was no prank: ASU announced, abruptly, that it was eliminating wrestling, men’s tennis and men’s swimming, effective immediately. Stith was about to be looking for a job, and he told Edwards to start searching for a new school.
“I was shocked,” Edwards said. “My dad was furious. He was tired of Virginia and he was ready to move out there with me. He was cussing up a storm.”
Lisa Love, ASU’s vice president for athletics, said the move was made to trim $1.1 million annually from the athletic budget. There’s also a Title IX component, Love acknowledged, in that the cuts would balance the number of male and female athletes at ASU.
Whatever the reasons for the decision, the execution has athletes and coaches fuming.
“It was just poor,” Cox coach Corey Williams said. “You just signed these kids, and then you do that? They didn’t give anybody a heads-up. The coach didn’t even know. You better be letting your coach know before he goes out and puts your good name on a piece of paper, asking kids to wrestle for you and making them a promise.”
While ASU has agreed to honor the scholarships of all current athletes and those who signed letters of intent, the wrestlers would have to go elsewhere to compete. However, even if they wanted to wreslte at another school, virtually all of the scholarships for next season have already given away .
“We talked to at least one school that said they’d love to have me, but they’re out of money,” Edwards said.
Williams said coaches at Illinois, Kent State, Delaware State and Clarion have all expressed interest in Edwards. But his heart is still set on being a Sun Devil.
Edwards said he’s considering taking the scholarship and attending ASU anyway, although, “I still have goals in wrestling, people to beat.”
The last few days have provided a glimmer of hope for fulfilling those goals in the desert. Stith said the program’s boosters have frantically begun raising money in an effort to change the school’s mind.
The Arizona Republic reported Monday that Love agreed to retain the program if enough money could be raised to fully fund it — about $8 million.
I think we’ve got about $2 million already,” Stith said. “We’ve submitted a proposal to the school, and they say there’s a chance. So we’ll see.”
National wrestling publications and Web sites have issued a “call to action,” pleading with wrestling supporters around the country to help stop the sport’s bleeding. A Website called saveasuwrestling.com has been developed, providing email addresses for university officials and a way to make donations.
ASU would be the sixth Division I wrestling program in three years to disappear, joining Slippery Rock, Fresno State, Eastern Illinois, James Madison and Oregon.
“They’re dropping left and right,” said Jason Bryant, national wrestling writer for Intermatwrestle.com. “ They just eliminated the only program west of Oklahoma to win a national title.”
Arizona State won the 1988 NCAA championship and has produced eight individual national champs.
“That’s where I want to be,” Edwards said, “but right now it’s a waiting game. I’m going to keep in touch with other schools, but I’m hoping to wait it out, pray that everything works.
“I’m on pins and needles here. I’m dying.”