Nov. 1, 2012
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Last Saturday (Oct. 27), before the long reach of Hurricane Sandy pushed wind, sleet and dropping temperatures into the Ann Arbor area, the Michigan wrestling team took advantage of a clear, sunny fall day to give back to the local community. Armed with rakes, shovels and paint brushes, the Wolverines worked for several hours to clean up the grounds at Wines Elementary School on the west side of town.
For reasons more than just weather, the timing of the event was perfect.
"It was a great opportunity to build bonds between us," said freshman Conor Youtsey. "We just had our intrasquad, so there was a little bit of tension between the guys wrestling off for spots. I feel like this community service opportunity completely changed that atmosphere. Almost overnight, we went from battling each other to being brothers helping out the community."
The idea originated with assistant coach Sean Bormet, whose daughter Zoë is a third grader at Wines. At a picnic during the first week of the new year, school administrators encouraged parents to sign up for a landscaping committee, and while Bormet's busy and unpredictable travel schedule prevented him from volunteering, the idea stayed in the back of the his head.
A month later, when touring Schembechler Hall, he ran across a showcase devoted to former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr's annual carwash event. He loved the concept of organizing a community service opportunity that the entire team -- a large team -- could do together, and then he remembered the landscaping project at Wines.
The Wolverines boasted nearly 100 percent participation on Saturday, bringing out 30 wrestlers and four coaches to work on tasks like weeding and planting bulbs in several garden areas, painting playground equipment, rebuilding railings around portable classrooms and trimming back trees and shrubs. They split off into several groups across the school grounds, organizing around their skill sets. Some had backgrounds in painting, others in landscaping and construction. After four hours of work the grounds at the elementary school were transformed.
"The folks at Wines were very impressed with how hard our guys worked, how much they got done in a small amount of time and how much of a difference it made," said Bormet. "We felt very positive about the experience. It was fun to see our guys work. When we do some of these different projects outside of the practice room, it can help facilitate the relationships with the team. They were working with each other, and they depended on each other to get certain jobs done. They were having fun and joking around. It gave every guy a different role and a different perspective about their various teammates."
The Michigan coaching staff, now in its second year together, placed greater and earlier emphasis on the importance of community service activities this season. Such projects are not only positive for the community and each student-athlete involved, they help build the mindset that those student-athletes need to be invested in things beyond themselves. It's a message consistent with everything the staff has tried to engrain throughout its wrestling program.
"Everything we've been doing over the last year has been aimed at building a tighter-knit and more collaborative team, where we're constantly pushing toward a common goal," said senior/junior Dan Yates. "We're really focused on coming together as one unit, and I think we're incorporating several different aspects of wrestling and life to reach that end."