The question of what can be done to change this is multi-faceted. There is no single answer to that, anymore than there is a single answer to the question of how to become an AA?
The simple answer is just....win enough matches at the nationals to place in the top 8. But the deeper answer must take into account an understanding of the differences between youth/HS wrestling in states like Ohio and Kentucky, and a realization of the differences just in the states themselves.
i grew up in SW Ohio, went to HS and college there, taught HS and coached there, and 30 or so years ago moved to Kentucky. I love it here in KY and will never move back to Ohio. But things are different.
Start with the facts that the population of states like Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc is much larger than the population of Kentucky. Add to that the fact that the overall education system in those states is better, and that a larger % of the kids graduate HS, and that a larger % of the graduates go on to college. They simply have a larger pool of youth and HS wrestler to begin with. A larger pool graduates from HS, and a larger number of them go on to college. Within those states there is more opportunities for those kids to remain in state and to find a college that has wrestling at the highest levels.
Where as in those state you have schools that are members of the BiG 10 (the best college wrestling league in the country) or the Big 12 (the 2nd best) and the kids don’t have to leave home to find the top opportunities to wrestle in college, all that Kentucky has to offer is small college opportunities, and not a lot of them either. No disrespect to any of them, I am very thankful that they exist and support them fully, but it’s not the same as going to an OSU-Penn State match and wrestling on TV and in front of 16,000 fans. Lord that must be awesome! So first, UK and U of L need to bring back their wrestling programs, fully fund them, promote them, support them with top notch coaching staffs, and make it a point to compete at the highest level. Give the kids in KY something to aspire to and dream about.
On the HS level, I also see the need for change. One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that by many coaches in KY there is too much emphasis placed on the regular season records. In the other states, the emphasis is on the state championships. For that reason, the other coaches seek out the best competition they can find, either in-state or out of state. They don’t pad regular season records. I’ve always said that people don’t remember if a kid goes undefeated during the regular season, they remember if they go undefeated at the state tournament. Use the regular season to prepare for the post season. Don’t treat the post season as an afterthought. Be willing to go out of state to compete, or to invite out of state competition to come here..In addition, Kentucky itself needs to do a better job of attracting and keeping the best HS coaches it can. Salaries, budgets, facilities, opportunities, and simply respect from the administrations all need to improve. I’ve seen far to many HS wrestling matches held in practice gyms or elementary school gyms, while the HS gym is sitting unused at the same time. I’ve seen to many wrestling “rooms” that are actually just unused classrooms or lunch rooms. If I’m a college wrestler that has decided to go into coaching after graduation, I’m probably going to take a job in a “wrestling” state over a “basketball” state. KY has really good HS basketball, people know it, administrations support it, and it attracts top young coaching talent. We won’t have top HS wrestling until we get better HS coaching staffs.
We can’t do much about increasing the states popularion. We can do things to help improve the number of wrestlers in the state, the number of HS graduates in the state, the number of HS wrestlers that go on to college and wrestle, how those kids are prepared for college wrestling, and the number of opportunities that those kids have to wrestle in a KY college. But it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be a quick result. Kentucky is about 50 years behind the northern states in much of this. I think the 1st step is to work to improve the youth and high school wrestling staffs. Put people into these positions that have the desire to see their kids go onto college wrestling careers, and will prepare them to do so. Only when that becomes normal and common will we see KY wrestlers excelling at the college level on a regular basis.