They have to come from 10 different states, from all over the country.
They are of all ages and abilities, looking to gain the kind of wrestling knowledge you can’t get just anywhere, from one of the best in the game.
And is it all happening over a matter of days right here at the Lakeview High School gym in Battle Creek.
Rob Waller’s Pennsylvania All-American Wrestling Camp made a stop in Battle Creek this week. With his name on the camp, that means young wrestlers from all over the country are also spending the week in Battle Creek to get little bit of the coaching this man has to offer.
“It’s a nationally recognized camp,” said Lakeview wrestling coach Chris Dunham, who is working as a host for the tournament at Lakeview. “He brings in the best talent, he has the best people around. He’s been doing this for 40-plus years. He’s an old gym rat, he does it because he loves it. We have kids from 10 different states, from California, all the way to the East coast. They are all here for Rob Waller. There’s not a lot of places you can go to get coaching like this, so to have it come to your back door, you just can’t beat that. It feels like we have hit the lottery here.”
Also at the camp in Battle Creek, because of his respect for Waller, is national championship wrestler Gabe Dean, who won the NCAA title at 184 pounds for Cornell University each of the last two years.
“Coach Waller is a walking legend,” said Dean, a high school wrestler at Lowell, who will go for a third national title next season as a senior at Cornell. “I went to his camps when I was a kid, he has been doing this forever and people know his brand and his name really well and that’s why they come. He did a lot for me when I was growing up and he continues to do a lot for the sport. I have the utmost respect for him and what he does for kids and anything I can do to help that guy out, I would be glad to do.”
The 66-year-old Waller has been coaching for 47 years and has run his camp in Pennsylvania for 43 years. He has been inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame and still has a training site in Pennsylvania that he works out of when he isn’t on the road running this camp.
Still moving around the mat in wrestling shoes, barking out instructions, Waller is engaged with the campers, who seem eager to learn from the best.
“I’m honest with kids, they know where I stand and I’m old-school,” said Waller, who ran his Michigan-based camp in Lowell for years before moving it to Battle Creek last summer. “And even doing that, believe it or not, in today’s world, that keeps me awful busy with a lot of wrestlers coming to these camps. Even though I tell them things they might not want to hear, they usually respond, because these are good kids. Especially here in Michigan. We always get good kids here in Michigan. We teach them what they have to do to be successful at a high level, not locally, but at the state tournament. And if they listen they can succeed and have some fun.
“I think we get people from all over because they see my kids at national tournaments and they see the singlet and they ask about us and they want to be a part of it. This summer, we have had kids from Alaska, California, everywhere. It’s word-of-mouth and it has seemed to work all these years.”
The camp in Battle Creek has been going all week with wrestlers from the age of 5 to high school doing two sessions a day for five days, with the out-of-town athletes spending the night. What local wrestlers can get out of the camp, Dunham says, is they get to wrestle with some of the top athletes in the country.
“We have all levels,” Dunham said. “We have kids from everywhere for all different reasons. We have kids here because their dads were coached by Rob and they want their kids to get the same thing. For our local kids, it’s great. It gives them the opportunity to see some elite-level kids and work with them, because they are here, when otherwise they wouldn’t see this kind of talent. It’s like an all-star camp and our local kids get to be a part of it.”