Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, and upstate New York are the hotbeds of nationally ranked high school wrestling teams. College athletic departments looking for top wrestlers recruit heavily from the Northeast—sometimes a little too heavily. As college admissions directors seek out student-athletes across the nation, they find the West has few serious high school wrestling programs.
One Utah family’s passion for wrestling hopes to change all that, and their three boys have already drawn national attention. The Lang brothers are a triple-threat, with a family wrestling legacy rooted in upstate New York—though their hearts are at Rowland Hall.
Drew and Jack Lang are members of Team Legacy, a club team out of Murray, Utah. Drew was named the 2014 Middle School Wrestler of the Year by the Utah Amateur Wresting Association. Jack is positioned as one of the top incoming freshman wrestlers in the state of Utah, and has won multiple state championships. The oldest Lang brother, Will (a Rowland Hall Middle School graduate), is a senior at West High School and is predicted to leave West with the most wrestling wins in that school's history. Will was recruited by Harvard, Brown, Williams, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago, and recently accepted an offer to wrestle for Princeton University beginning fall 2015. All three boys wrestle from September to June.
Regardless of the accolades and championships, their mother, Jill Lang, said the most important parts of competing are “the life lessons and personal conduct, win or lose.” Jill is particularly happy with the team-first attitude perpetuated by her sons' coach and Utah Valley University's first all-American wrestler, Ben Kjar.
The boys’ father, Dave Lang, was a top-notch wrestler in high school and college. Dave's uncle, Richard J. Lang, is a beloved and skilled coach. Last spring the Niagara County Legislature of Buffalo, New York, declared an official Dick Lang Day in honor of the longtime high school wrestling coach, who was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
“It’s not a glamour sport,” Jill said. “It’s not expensive—all you need is a room, a mat, and some wrestling shoes. And quite honestly it has always been a blue-collar sport.”
Truly wrestling is the everyman sport. It officially begins and ends with a handshake; it is a one-on-one sport, matched by size and weight; and it is decided in approximately three to six minutes. The old reputation of wrestlers cutting weight through unhealthy habits isn’t exactly a thing of the past. But nowadays, athletes are required to pass a hydration test before a match.
“As parents,” Jill said, “we have to encourage long-term healthy, clean eating rather than waiting until the week before and trying to drop a weight class.”
Here in the Western United States, wrestling often exists in the shadow of other team sports, so participation in national tournaments and rankings are particularly important to catch the eye of college coaches.
“Unless you are in the key wrestling states,” Jill explained, “college coaches have no way to measure your success, unless you compete at the national tournaments.”
However, even if Utah is not known for its wrestling programs, it has a strong history of familial wrestling creds—most notably, the Sanderson brothers, a family consisting of 2004 Olympic champion and Penn State coach Cael, Cole, and Cody Sanderson.
When Drew won the coveted Trinity Award in 2013, which roughly 10,000 wrestlers compete for each year, the wrestling world collectively took notice. It requires winning three national tournaments in the same year: the Cliff Keen Kickoff Classic in Oklahoma; the Reno World Championship in Reno, Nevada; and the Tulsa Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It can be likened to winning the Triple Crown of horse racing.
Although Will left Rowland Hall to compete and attend the IB program at West High, Jill and Dave say they will be investigating the wrestling program at East High School for their younger boys so Jack and Drew can stay at Rowland Hall but wrestle for East.
“Rowland Hall’s mission for students to pursue personal excellence and lead ethical lives are the same values our boys are learning from the sport of wrestling,” Jill said. “Rowland Hall doesn’t have a wrestling team, so our boys will wrestle in our district while still benefitting from the academic excellence of Rowland Hall.”
Update September 2019: Rowland Hall alumnus Jack Lang ’19 attends and wrestles for Princeton University. While wrestling for West High School, he placed at State three times and racked up two Region championships. Brother Drew is a sophomore at Rowland Hall and off to an impressive start wrestling for West.