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Scholarships funneled to wrestling club from general admissions funds

(Brittany Dant / Cluster Staff) Mercer Wrestling ultimately fell to Marian Military Institute, but had a strong showing at the Duals in Dalton, Georgia.
(Brittany Dant / Cluster Staff) Mercer Wrestling ultimately fell to Marian Military Institute, but had a strong showing at the Duals in Dalton, Georgia.

[box border="full"]Mercer’s admissions office has been giving out scholarships to members of the school’s wrestling club for the past four years from a discretionary pool of funds traditionally set aside for merit and need-based financial aid, a Cluster investigation has revealed.[/box]

Admissions director Brian Dalton confirmed that incoming wrestlers receive a renewable “additional funding package” from the University each year, despite the fact that wrestling is not an officially recognized varsity NCAA team and is therefore ineligible to receive sports scholarships from the athletics department.

Dalton refused to release the total amount of scholarship money allocated to members of the wrestling club each year, but said it was a marginal investment given its usefulness as a recruitment tool.

“We’re not talking about a whole lot of money — a drop in the bucket, really — and wrestling has been a very popular and successful competitive club sport that has helped us enroll a diversity of students who might not attend Mercer otherwise . . . it’s been a plus for everyone,” Dalton said.

Under University policy, wrestling is one of six so-called “competitive” club sports funded by Mercer’s Board of Appropriations and overseen by the Office of Recreational Sports and Wellness.

Other competitive club sports include equestrian, cycling, table tennis and ultimate Frisbee. Wrestling is the only club sport to receive scholarships, Dalton said.

Wrestling coach Kevin Andres, who serves as the director of the Office of Recreational Sports and Wellness, would not comment specifically on why the wrestling program receives university-based scholarships except by pointing to the club’s winning track record and popularity.

“We’ve just had a very successful program with a seven-year history, and we’ve brought a lot of good publicity to the university,” Andres said.

Equestrian coach Carole Burrowbridge, who works in the Office of Disability Services, said Andres told her that the initial logic behind the wrestling club receiving university-based scholarships was to balance Mercer’s gender ratio by attracting more male students.

“My understanding from the coach is that it was a gender-dictated decision, since wrestling is typically a male sport. I’ve also felt it has been very hush-hush, and that not everyone in the university has been informed about it in the various departments,” Burrowbridge said.

Athletics director Jim Cole said he was not aware that the wrestling club received scholarships from the university.

“I haven’t been told anything about wrestling scholarships. I only deal with NCAA Division 1 athletics, though, and wrestling isn’t one of our sports,” Cole said.

Dalton said gender may have played a role in the university’s initial decision to provide scholarships to the wrestling team, but that he couldn’t say for certain since the policy was put in place before he came to Mercer in 2008.

The decision to renew scholarship policies is made by the Office of University Admissions each year.


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