Williston Wrestling Ends Long Career


Matt and John Risley

Credit: Williston Flickr

Last winter could have been the last time that wrestling is offered as a sport on Williston’s campus.

Right now things are up in the air with the wrestling program, and it is unclear if students will be able to participate on the team this winter due to a multitude of reasons.

One of the reasons is the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, wrestling is a sport that requires people to be in very close contact with one another, so the addition of Covid makes it extremely difficult to figure out a way to safely compete on the mat.

Without Covid, wrestling already has its challenges with staying healthy during the season. Skin diseases such as ringworm are very common in the sport, so it is mandatory that every competitor’s body must be checked for marks on the skin before competing.

This attention to detail within the wrestling community shows good signs for the challenge of staying safe from Covid, but this is a disease that is undetectable to the eye.

Mark Conroy, Williston’s Athletic Director, is a big advocate for keeping the wrestling program but believes that Covid will make it extremely difficult to offer it this year.

“Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that there will be any wrestling this winter on prep school campuses,” he said. “The nature of wrestling being such a close contact sport makes it nearly impossible to even consider offering [it] this coming winter.”

Mr. Conroy has seen the positive effect that wrestling has on students, but he understands the reasoning for the recent decline in interest on campus.

“I have always been a huge supporter of wrestling,” he said. “I think, for the students who have wrestled in high school, it can be a transformative athletic experience. I know I saw this firsthand from my own son’s experience.”

“For many years, wrestling would draw 25-35 students every winter,” he added. “For the last few years, these numbers have dropped significantly. I think there are several reasons for this, including the decision to significantly upgrade a seasonal strength program that clearly attracts many of the students who used to do wrestling.”

Many students are also understanding of the decision but wish it didn’t have to be like this. Jack Higgins, a senior boarding student, is sad to see his sport sidelined, but believes that last year was a great way to go out for the program.

“I am disappointed that the program has ended, but I was glad to be able to be a part of it,” he said. “With three New England qualifiers and Will [Gunn] going to Nationals, I think we ended as well as we could have.”

Will Gunn, a 2020 graduate of Williston, had one of the best individual performances in the school’s history during the programs last season. He was the top-ranked wrestler and New England champion in the 220-pound weight class.

For Matthew KaneLong, the head coach of the wrestling team, this was a great way for the program to go out. It is a huge hit on him and the school to lose the program, but it has reached the time where Coach KaneLong can take a step away feeling happy about the history he has left behind.

“In my 20 wrestling seasons so far at Williston we have had five NE Champs and three All-Americans,” he said. “Most recently, of course, William Gunn last year.”

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Conroy,” he said. “He has been a great friend, boss, and mentor in my years here.  His son wrestled for me and now coaches wrestling.  I have been wrestling and/or coaching since the fall of 1979.  Both of us want wrestling to continue at Williston, but both of us want to have a program that is thriving and helping young women and men to grow as athletes and more importantly as people.”

Due to many factors all coming together this year, wrestling is sadly unlikely to resume at Williston for the time being.

“Because of the current dynamic of low numbers at Williston and the greater NE prep landscape … we both came to the conclusion that we would like to end things now rather than have the program deteriorate to something we would not be proud of. We are going out on our own terms.”