Dustin Basham

Dustin Basham

For one thing, when your mascot is the Thunderduck, every opportunity to form a school sports team of any sort must be seized.

There are even more compelling reasons than that to bring wrestling back to the Richland Community College campus after its 30-year sabbatical, coach Bill Neal says.

“A lot of kids in this area can’t afford to go to a four-year school and don’t have the grades to go to a university, so we’re an option for them which they didn’t have before.”

Wrestling has experienced a revival at the high school level, he adds, and student-athletes are seeking affordable colleges were they can compete. Neal notes that 21 schools in the Dallas ISD have wrestling programs and that many have girls’ teams, too. That’s not to mention Richardson ISD’s Lake Highlands High School, with its strong wrestling program. All told, Neal says, more than 11,000 boys and 4,000 girls wrestle in Texas high schools, so he knows he can build a strong team and enrich life for students, both male and female, drawn to the sport.

This makes Richland the only Texas school and one of only two Southwest region two-year colleges with a wrestling program.

Neal was around in for Richland’s wrestling heyday in the 70s and 80s.

Teams in that era won multiple state collegiate championships, he says, and they finished second twice. The school dropped the program in the mid-80s when traveling to competitions in Kansas nearly every weekend became too much of a strain for the community college students.

In recent years, Neal organized a Richland-based wrestling club called Wounded Ducks, and kids were able to compete in tournaments as individuals. Three women were club members, and at least one is coming back this fall to participate in the school’s new program, he says.

“The women wrestlers were older. They wanted to get into it because it helped their martial arts. Most of them are mixed martial arts, and wrestling helped their leg take-downs and that sort of thing. I hope to get more girls into the program,” he says. “If they’re good enough, they could go to the Olympic Training Center.”

In fact, Neal is already working with a couple of Olympic hopefuls at Richland. There is 19-year-old Dustin Basham, who coaches a local club called Team Punishers. A sophomore at Richland now, he hopes to compete in the next Olympic trials, he says, and later go into professional coaching.

A former classmate of Basham’s, George Haskins, also dreams of competing in trials. He ran into Basham at a tournament and decided to follow him to Richland to train under Neal.

Wrestling will benefit those not quite at the Olympic level, too.

“Wrestling is a strong, disciplinary sport. Student-athletes are very disciplined in most cases because it takes a lot of work,” Neal says. “Wrestling provides a good life lesson — that life’s not always fair, but you can take that and learn from it.”

Richland’s teams will compete this season against four-year schools in the Southwest, including the University of Texas at Austin, UT-Arlington, Texas A&M University, the University of North Texas as well as other community colleges in the region.

Interested students should contact Neal at BNeal@dcccd.edu.