Tony Robie Interview, Part 1: SERTC Update

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Tony Robie Virginia Tech Wrestling
Virginia Tech head wrestling coach Tony Robie (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

This article is sponsored by The Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC): The SERTC is critical to the success of the Virginia Tech Wrestling program. Our goal is to continue to grow the SERTC and add at least one more athlete/coach this season. In order to do so, we need all Hokies to get on board! Your donation can make a huge difference. Click here to learn more and to donate today!


Tony Robie was hired as Virginia Tech’s head wrestling coach in March of 2017, after serving as an assistant under former VT head coach Kevin Dresser since 2006. Since his promotion, Robie has brought renewed emphasis and focus to fundraising for the Southeast Regional Training Center (SERTC), a critical cog in the Virginia Tech Wrestling machine.

If you don’t know what a regional training center (RTC) such as the SERTC is or does, take a minute to read the opening paragraphs of this TSL article from June 2017, which explains the concept of an RTC and why it’s important, and in particular pay attention to this paragraph:

Even though an RTC isn’t part of a college wrestling program, an RTC staffed with high-level coaches and high-level resident athletes benefits a college wrestling program because the college wrestlers can train not just with their own coaches and teammates, but with the resident athletes and coaches at the RTC. A good, vibrant and well-funded RTC is a great recruiting tool and development tool for a college program.

The SERTC currently has a staff of six: Tony Robie is the Director; Jared Frayer is a coach; Frank Molinaro, Ty Walz and Tyler Graff are all coaches/resident athletes;  and the SERTC recently hired former Tech wrestler Jared Haught as a part-time coach. Haught graduated from Virginia Tech this spring in Mechanical Engineering and will be coaching at the SERTC in his spare time.

The SERTC, which is funded solely off donations, has existed for years. Its annual “giving years” run from May 1 – April 30, so while Kevin Dresser was the director of the SERTC for almost all of the 2016-17 donation year (May 2016 – April 2017), Tony Robie just finished his first full donation year as the SERTC director (May 2017 – April 2018).

Robie set the goal of a “Donor a Day” in 2017-18, which was rather ambitious, considering the SERTC only had 135 donors the previous year. (The SERTC maintains a list of donors on their web site.)

In this exclusive interview with TechSideline.com, Tony Robie fills us in on how the year went, and what his plans are for the SERTC in the coming year.

TechSideline: It looks to me, from the outside looking in, that you brought more emphasis to [the SERTC] than Kevin [Dresser] did, and that it’s a bigger point of emphasis to you, specifically the fundraising part. I’ve gone and counted, and in his last year, I counted 135 donors. Your first year, which just completed a couple of weeks ago, you had how many donors?

Tony Robie: We’re over three hundred for the fiscal year. It was good. I think wrestling in general has placed a bigger emphasis on training centers. It’s continuing to go that direction. You look at what the top teams in the country are doing – the Penn States, Ohio States, Iowas, Oklahoma States – and they all have really, really strong training centers. You’re even seeing a lot of places that are hiring a coach just to train your regional training center guys and focus on the freestyle aspect of the sport of wrestling.  I think as much as anything, our sport’s going that way, which is what you have to do to remain at a high level.

TSL: Clearly you have more donors. As far as dollar figures go, what percentage increase would you say you’ve seen as far as dollar figures this fiscal year vs. last year?

Robie:  I would have to sit down and do some math. I can tell you this, from a dollar standpoint, it’s the most we’ve ever raised. So it’s been incredibly successful both in dollars and in donors. We did a good job of both.

Probably the one thing that I focused more on this year was creating that donor base. We’ve always gone after the big dollar donors, the people that are writing large checks that are in that far left category of the donor page. And we continue to, and we’re really successful retaining a lot of those and then adding to that list.

But for me, part of my goal was to just increase the donor base and get new people involved and get more people giving, and that’s something we need to continue to do and continue to build on, and take this momentum into the next fiscal year and continue to run with it, because it’s really important.

TSL: In terms of personnel, both resident athletes and coaches, have you been successful enough that you can add more people?

Robie: Our goal is to bring in one more person the next year, one more resident athlete. Part of it is getting the right person, too. I don’t want to just bring somebody in to have somebody here. Part of it is making sure you bring the right people, in, people who can contribute to what we’re trying to accomplish here.

At the end of the day, all of this is ultimately to help Virginia Tech Wrestling. At the same time, we’re helping Tyler Graff, we’re helping Ty Walz, we’re helping Frank Molinaro, and hopefully we’re going to bring in another athlete. In fact, we have another athlete, another guy coming in next week to look at a position that we’re really excited about.

But ultimately, the goal is for that to trickle down and help the success of Virginia Tech Wrestling, help us bring in recruits that look at this situation, and look at their workout partners, and the atmosphere, the level of success that the athletes here have, and that it’s something that’s really attractive to them.

Jared Haught Virginia Tech
Jared Haught, shown here bending a Duke wrestler into interesting shapes, is the latest addition to the SERTC, as a part-time coach. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

TSL: Independent of whether or not someone is a good fit and has appeal to the recruits and all that, what’s the perfect size of the number of resident athletes? What do the larger programs, like the well-funded Penn States and Ohio States and all that, how many people do they generally have in their RTCs?

Robie: Those places have typically between six and ten guys. They’re competing to make world Olympic teams, Olympic hopefuls. For us, probably somewhere in the category of five to six would be ideal. If resources were unlimited, it would be a different story.

Penn State, they have an endowment within their Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. They’re a little bit different category in what they have available on an annual basis. They can count on an annual basis, too.

One of my goals is to build this up so we have some reserves in place, so we’re not just functioning on operational funds and projected donations every year.

TSL: What particular part of it right now do you need to shore up? Are you missing certain weight classes or disciplines that you want to add?

Robie: We’d like to add one more little guy in here, I think. We have Tyler Graff, who is at 61 kilos I think is the weight – they just changed the weights. The guy we’re looking at is a 57-kilo guy. We’d like to bring someone in who is in the lower weight classes, to help our recruiting in those weight classes. We have need at Virginia Tech in those lower weight classes, as well.

TSL: Is it accurate to say that you’re better at the heavier weight classes at this time?

Robie: Absolutely. We had Dennis Gustafson at 133, who was an ACC champion and had a pretty good year for us. We had a freshman at 125, and a freshman at 141, we had Ryan Blees who had a pretty good year for us at 149. We’re really strong with 165, 184, 197, and Hunter Bolen had a really good year at 174.

Dennis Gustafson Virginia Tech
Dennis Gustafson (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

I think when you look at our program and the future and our recruiting needs, we recognize that we need to bring in and develop some of our lighter guys for the immediate future.

TSL:  How do you feel about what you were able to accomplish this year as far as adding donors and adding money? You wanted to add a donor a day, you didn’t quite make it. What are your goals for next year?

Robie: Just to continue to build it, and grow it, and continue to get bigger. Bigger and better. Bottom line, I think it was a tremendously successful campaign. To be quite honest, a donor a day was pretty ambitious. I still think it’s something that’s still doable for us. But when you look at how we more than doubled our donor base from the previous year, I look at it as a tremendously successful campaign.

And I think we were able to educate people, too. That was a big deal, I felt like. I think a lot of people really had no idea what the Southeast Regional Training Center even was or why it existed. There wasn’t a lot of information out there on how funds were allocated, so one of my goals right out of the gate was to educate people, because a lot of people really had no idea.

I think through the process of educating and promoting it, it helped us accomplish what we were trying to do in increasing the base and increasing the dollars, and I think it was a successful campaign, and we feel good about it moving forward.

SERTC

TSL: At this point, is the improvement in the fundraising anything that’s making a dent in recruiting, or is it going to take adding more resident athletes to really help out there?

Robie: I think it has helped a lot. Just in terms of not only recruiting, but getting Jared Frayer and Frank Molinaro here, the Southeast Regional Training Center plays a big role.

TSL: When did they join?

Robie: They came on shortly after I was hired. But they also have responsibilities outside of some of the stuff they do for Virginia Tech Wrestling, and the Southeast Regional Training Center supplements their salaries as well. So, being able to bring two guys who are Olympians in that are high caliber coaches and have added a lot to the program, without the support of the Southeast Regional Training Center, that wouldn’t have been possible. Keeping Ty Walz wouldn’t be possible, bringing in Tyler Graff wouldn’t be possible. So all of those things have played a big role in maintaining the momentum, and carrying that forward.

So yeah, it’s really important, and if we can continue adding people and adding athletes – and again, the right athletes, that fit into what we’re trying to accomplish as a program, and philosophically being on the same page in terms of what we want to do – it’s going to continue to help build and grow that and elevate the profile of our program.

I feel good about this [high school] junior class and where we are, with the commitments that we have and where we are with some kids that will hopefully be committing here in the future.

TSL: Some of the bigger, better programs around the country, do they actually have separate facilities for their RTC?

Robie: That’s a misconception. A lot of people, because it’s called a “training center,” they think that it has its own separate facility. But no, there’s not one program that I’m aware of, everyone – you know, we have to pay Virginia Tech rent. We rent the wrestling room from Virginia Tech, to utilize it for the Southeast Regional Training Center practices.

TSL:  So that’s good, you don’t need to go raise $20 million for a standalone building or anything like that.

Robie: No. I’d like to raise that for one for Virginia Tech Wrestling, though. (laughs)

In the next part of the interview, Robie answers questions posed by TSL’ers from our Wrestling message board.

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2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. The remarkable success of Mehki Lewis and John Borst at the recent Junior World Team Trial doesn’t happen without SERTC ramping up the way it has. And that freestyle success should eventually translate to individual national championships, more team podium finishes, and even better recruiting.

    The best high school recruits want to join a college program that can help them become NCAA All Americans and National Champions, and they are also thinking about competing freestyle internationally (if they aren’t already doing it). So they want to attend a college with an RTC that helps them do both. VT was a little behind the big four with their RTC, but they’ve gained ground fast!

  2. Good read, kinda the questions I’ve had and digging a little bit too, eg, well did the campaign work? Liked the one about a $20M SERTC building b/c that’s kinda what I had in my mind’s eye, a new facility just off campus or something and I couldn’t reconcile the money they would get with a few new donors with that kind of investment so now I know how it works, renting facilities from VT etc. and the money they are looking for is to hire a few guys to do what they like to do.

    Plus I didn’t know the SERTC was always here just being emphasized more now. I was kinda worried that Dresser has that up personality and that’s why things worked but Robie is getting it done with his own style.

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