Fresno State: The Road To Reinstatement
By Ryan Holmes
But in an instant, it turned into a day that he would never forget.
“I remember it to this day,” Deliddo said. “I was shocked. I was driving with Shane Snyder, who wrestled for me, and he looked over at me and said, ‘They just dropped wrestling.’”
It was probably some of the worst news about the wrestling team he has loved and supported for decades.
“I said, ‘What? You’re kidding!’” Deliddo continued. “I was on my way to pick up a set of shelves that I bid on at a live auction to support the school. It took me by complete surprise.”
The word that no wrestler, coach, or fan ever wants to hear when it comes the wrestling program they support.
Stephen Abas along with 21 other All-Americans and two more national champs, became a casualty of, “a cost-reduction measure and a significant component of a long-range strategic plan for Fresno State athletics.”
But on June 15, 2006, Fresno State, which produced three-time NCAA Champion and Olympic silver medalist
Fortunately, it wasn’t a death sentence. Fresno State is about to join a short list of programs, including Bucknell, Binghampton and Cleveland State, to have wrestling programs cut and later reinstated.
And like the others, Fresno’s rebirth can be attributed to the outrage and unyielding passion for wrestling shared by the program’s supporters.
The announcement of the termination of Fresno State’s wrestling program came in an official press release issued by former Fresno State Athletic Director Thomas Boeh, who, ironically, can credit his job partially to the initial support of Deliddo.
“I hired (Boeh). I drove all the way to San Francisco to hire that dick,” Deliddo said. “The first question I asked him was, ‘Would you ever drop a sport?’ He said he would never drop a sport. Later on he drops wrestling. There were never any warning signs. They passed the budget on Thursday, with wrestling in it, and dropped it on Friday. We were totally blindsided.”
According to those close to the program, wrestling was cut without any further explanation other than “cost reduction” by Boeh and John Welty, the university’s president from 1991 until his retirement in 2013.
“Nobody could believe they dropped the program,” former two-time All-American Stan Greene said. “It came out of nowhere.”
Despite the lack of cooperation from the administration in place at the time, the community, alumni, and students banded together in an effort to have the program reinstated. From fundraising to rallies outside the former president’s house, they tried everything to get answers as well as a resolution.
Although Deliddo, as well as other former Fresno State wrestlers, never received the meeting they desired with the previous AD and president, an official statement was released by the school on August 9, 2006. In this statement were answers to about 20 questions that seemed to be the main concerns of everyone understandably upset about the decision.
One of the questions addressed was the termination announcement with no warning, which the administration justified by saying “the decision was made as soon as possible following an assessment of the current and future budget challenges here at Fresno State. With that, as other institutions have learned over the years until the decision to discontinue programming is finalized, it makes little sense to put the program at risk unnecessarily.”
In addition, people questioned how the money was being spent at the time by asking
“is it true that the athletics department is building a new scoreboard for football? How does that athletic department justify spending money on a scoreboard when a sports program has been discontinued?”
It was answered with the following statement: “It is accurate that there we are constructing new video wall structures on the north end of Bulldog Stadium as well as on the southwest corner of Cedar & Barstow. Please be advised that the resources that are being utilized to build the structures are derived directly from corporate partners through Bulldog Sports Properties (Learfield Communications). In essence, the sponsors have provided the cash resources for the specific purpose of procuring advertising opportunities on the structures. In short, if the video wall structures did not exist, neither would the advertisers and....if the advertisers did not exist, neither would the video walls structures.
In any event, the video walls project will neither procure nor expend significant cash. The project was advanced specifically to enhance our marketing efforts as well as the opportunity to further develop the ‘game day entertainment package’ at Bulldog football games (a financial resource that we must protect in order to fund the entire department). However, the project does not, and cannot, affect the annual pool of resources necessary to support sports programming.”
These answers weren’t fooling anyone. It was apparent to wrestling community that wrestling was not seen in a favorable light by the administration.
“The President and AD realized quickly how big of a mistake they made,” Greene said. “It caused an uproar. But it really seemed like they wanted to get rid of the wrestling program. There was some vendetta with the AD. He was a very, very unpleasant guy.”
This decision was not going to be something that the former wrestlers or the community were going to take laying down. From the start there was a push to put the Bulldogs back on the mat.
“I’m a very, very, very pushy guy when it comes to wrestling,” Deliddo said. “We raised money and we had rallies in front of Welty’s house. We were not just going to let it happen without a fight.”
According to Deliddo, money being a legitimate factor in dropping the program is suspicious because of all the fundraising he had done while at the helm, most of the money from which was still in the account he had opened while he was coaching.
“Over the years I probably raised a million or two or maybe even three, who knows how much it was. I was there for 24 years,” Deliddo said. “But we had like $100,000 left in the fund when I left and then all the sudden we were down to $87,000.
“I was the only one who was supposed to be able to sign for it. So I asked who was taking the money and I got nothing back until they said they sent it to California USA Wrestling. We never got that money back.
“I think they gave it to California USA Wrestling because I asked about it,” Deliddo added. “They knew I had caught them in something so they came up with something quick.”
Deliddo isn’t alone in his sentiments.
“It’s how you want to work the numbers,” Clovis High School Assistant wrestling coach Adam Tirapelle said. “It’s just a trick. It’s all smoke and mirrors. They’ll say they allocate athletic department expenses across the board, but the marketing department spends 99% of its time on football. I don’t have a problem with that because I know football makes money, but then that’s not allocating expenses across the board.”
As far as the Fresno State wrestling supporters were concerned, President Joseph Castro, who took over for Welty after he retired, was the missing link to bringing the program back.
“We knew that it was going to take getting a new president and AD to get it back,” Deliddo said. “The new AD they have in there doesn’t know as much about wrestling as I’d like, but he’s on board with everything.”
With the new regime in place, things are moving along swimmingly. It’s been said that it could “cost [about] $500,000 annually to keep the new wrestling program operating,” according to an article The Fresno Bee on November 11, 2013.
“When Castro came in he got rid of the old AD who did some really bonehead things,” said Greene. “Now there are some really good things happening and it looks good for the future.”
On February 2, President Joseph Castro uttered the phrase that everyone was waiting for in a television interview.
“We’re going to reinstate wrestling.”
While Castro and new athletic director Jim Bartko did not respond to requests for comment, both have expressed their thoughts and plans on the matter with other publications.
“I think there is a compelling case that’s being made for wrestling, and I want to make sure that information is all part of the review and the discussions,” Castro said in the aforementioned article before making his official reinstatement announcement a few months later.
In moving forward, the new regime has been mum on past practices. Everyone seems focused on starting over.
“They’ve been pretty protective about wanting to disparage the decision by the former AD,” said Nick Zinkin, a former four-time state medalist from Clovis who went on to wrestle at Fresno State.
“They haven’t wanted to try and justify it either. They’ve just kind of given us the impression that they realize it wasn’t the right thing to do and want to know how they bring it back. So no real good reasons from the new administration and I don’t think in their mind they believe that there was a good reason so the last thing they would do is tell us there was a good reason.”
After being dropped, the only form of wrestling on campus was as a club sport. And despite the program’s pending return as a Division I team, wrestling will for the time being still remain as a club activity according to former club President Adam Wong. But all the efforts over the last couple of months and years have paid off and the process to rebuild as a Division 1 sport has begun.
“We were never given a number so we are just going to keep throwing money at the program so that this never happens again,” Deliddo said. “Whatever needs to be done we will do.”
As the announcement to reinstate turned into effort-driven reality, the athletic department --led by Bartko -- along with Castro, put together a five-point plan for the entire athletic department, which includes what’s needed for each sport on campus to thrive and continue to grow under their watch.
Wrestling is included in that plan.
“It’s just amazing,” said Greene. “There’s just pure excitement in the community now that there is a plan in place.”
However, it’s going to take some time before the Bulldogs roll out the mat in 18,000- seat Save Mart Center. Bartko told The Fresno Bee that it’s “a two- to three-year process” of getting the program back on its feet.
That process has already begun. However, it won’t be until they have the right coach in place that things will really get going. So far they have been discussing some candidates and have received interest in the position as well, but none of those names are being made public as of yet.
“They’ve said that they had about 10 head coaches call about the position, but they aren’t saying who,” Dellido said. “None of the guys are local but there’s interest. I know Tirapelle isn’t. He’s staying at Clovis High.”
The one name that has been thrown around a bunch is Tirapelle, a two-time California state champ, and three-time NCAA All-American, who is now coaching at Clovis. It’s pretty simple to see why they would want him to lead the pack and rejuvenate the program.
But that will have to remain a wish since Tirapelle is not budging from his post at Clovis.
“It’s beyond me at this point,” Tirapelle said. “I have a job that I like and I do well at that allows me to do the things I want to do, so I’m not going to take the job. I’m not going to put in for it, and I told them that.”
Though Tirapelle isn’t interested in coaching, he will still have a presence around the Bulldog program.
“I would like to be involved with the program and help out from a business side,” Tirapelle said. “Anything that I could do to help, I’ll do. My dad is retired and I know that he would love to be involved too. I think we could add a lot of support to the program, but no, I’m not interested in being the coach. I heard people say stuff about it. I haven’t heard directly from Fresno State, but I’ve heard that. And I appreciate it, but it’s not for me.”
With community support for the new coach and administration embracing the program’s reinstatement, Fresno State wrestling would seem to be on the fast track back to prominence, perhaps as soon as the next two years.
“We are going to look to hire a coach anywhere from this fall to right after the NCAA tournament,” Zinkin said. “Whoever the coach is will determine if the program comes back in 2016-17 or 2017-18. The AD is going to defer to the new coach on how much time they need for recruiting and everything. So that’s really going to dictate which season it’s going to be in. Obviously, we are all hoping that we can see it all happen in 2016-17.”
While there is no concrete date for the reinstated program’s debut, the process has not slowed one iota. Everyone realizes there is still a lot of work to do.
“We are far from finished,” said Zinkin. “There was never a known number so fundraising is ongoing. Even though we already have a commitment to bring it back (with a tentative start date), we are still in the process of major fundraising.”
Besides who the new coach will be, there is some question as to which conference Fresno State will fit into.
Before being dropped, the Bulldogs competed against Cal Poly, Boise State and Stanford, which are all in the PAC-12. So will they fall back in with their old crowd or make the move to the new Big 12, which recently merged with the WWC?
There are plenty of things that are still unanswered. But one thing is for sure; Fresno State wrestling is back.
“The feeling is that the program is coming back irrespective of what funds are because this community needs it,” said Zinkin. “So everyone in the community is excited.”
“I always put it into wrestling terms,” Deliddo added. “For a while they got on top, wore us down, had us on our belly and kept trying to turn us. And for years we couldn’t get off our belly. But now, we got back to our base, up to our feet and got the escape now. So now, we are ready to go.”