Penn wrestling is still more than three weeks shy of its home opener, but Philadelphia has already gotten a sneak preview of the Red and Blue’s talents.
Last Friday, the Quakers participated in the program’s inaugural “Grapple on the Green” event, setting up a practice session on College Green from 9 a.m. to noon and giving onlookers a never-before-seen opportunity to observe the sport up close in a non-competition setting.
“I think it went great; we had a lot of people stopping and watching, and it was pretty high-intensity,” junior Marc Mastropietro said. “It was a really good workout, and we showcased that to everyone.”
While an outdoor wrestling practice might seem unconventional, the Quakers merely produced the latest example of a nationwide trend involving attempts to bring greater fan attention to the sport. In fact, Penn athletes and coaches had pushed for a similar showcase event for several years, but logistical issues had plagued them until last week’s breakthrough — most recently including a rain delay for what was supposed to be the “Grapple on the Green” debut in November 2015.
“There have been people across the country doing wrestling matches outdoors, matches in football stadiums, just trying to do creative things to market and promote the sport,” coach Alex Tirapelle said. “We felt like it’d be a good way to increase visibility for the program on campus, let people know that we’re an important part of the athletic department.”
Understandably, the novelty of the outdoor practice brought heavy anticipation, with even the most experienced members of the Red and Blue eager to see how their pastime would be received by the school.
“It’s really exciting because one, we’ve never done it before, and two, a lot of my friends will say like, ‘Oh, you wrestle? I’ve never seen a wrestling match before,’ let alone a practice,” fifth-year senior Brooks Martino said.
“So we’re kind of bringing wrestling to them, and it’ll be interesting to see people’s reactions to us throwing each other around in an area where students are not normally doing that.”
But while witnessing live physical contact in an area normally reserved for studying and ultimate frisbee might have been a change of pace for Penn’s passers-by, this adjustment was matched by that made by the athletes themselves. Dealing with sunlight, wind and a slightly uneven grass surface under the mats forced the Quakers to adapt on the fly, adding an intriguing wrinkle to an already groundbreaking day.
“Honestly for me, [the biggest adjustment] was probably that it’s a little bit hotter out here,” Mastropietro said. “And also the leaves on the mat was kind of a unique thing to have; wasn’t used to slipping on a leaf before so that was kind of funny. But nothing too crazy, so it really ran pretty smoothly.”
Mastropietro’s words were justified by a strong supporting crowd, with students and parents stopping by College Green all morning long. Needless to say, the team succeeded in its goal to attract attention — but it has no plans of stopping there.
“I think curiosity intrigued a lot people stopping by. People taking pictures, a little video, sharing on social media, that’s exactly what we were going for,” Tirapelle said. “We’re going to continue to find creative ways to increase visibility and get people excited about the sport on campus.
“There’s a big push across campus right now to get the undergraduate student body excited about Penn Athletics, so hopefully we’re able to do a little bit of our part and push the envelope in the right direction.”