Ken Chertow interview on AWN
Ken owns a system of wrestling camps that travel around the nation.
AWN recently interviewed Ken Chertow. Ken, a Penn State graduate, was a 3X All-American, 3x Academic All-American, and member of the U.S. Olympic Team. He is also our AWN Training Tips Columnist. The following is a blow-by-blow Q & A.
AWN: Where do you currently live and coach?
Ken: I live in State College, Pennsylvania where I train Pennsylvania wrestlers throughout the year. My Gold Medal Training Camp is based in State College, but I also conduct camps throughout the nation.
AWN: Where do you conduct your camps?
Ken: I conduct my summer and winter camps in nice hotels in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. In Pennsylvania we use the State College Ramada Inn, and we have added a new Pennsylvania site for August 2002, the Allentown Days Inn Convention Center. I also run 3-day weekend Camp of Champs throughout the year in State College and in 11 different states.
AWN: Why is your camp in a hotel?
Ken: Hosting my camps in these quality hotels creates a great learning and training situation! I attended many weeks of camp every summer throughout my career, and I have vivid memories of the hot gyms and stuffy dorm rooms. Instead of being in hot college gyms for over 6 hours daily, we have an ideal training environment. Plus, between sessions our campers can comfortably recover and get rested for the next session, instead of lying uncomfortably in hot, humid dorm rooms.
AWN: Why did you choose to settle in State College?
Ken: State College is a great place to live, raise a family, and coach wrestling! I have actually chosen to move here on three separate occasions — when I chose to attend Penn State, when I chose to Coach Penn State, and finally, when I chose to settle here permanently with my family.
AWN: Why did you leave State College in the first place?
Ken: Great opportunities. After graduating from Penn State, Russ Hellickson hired me as his assistant coach and I also attended Ohio State Medical School. I spent three years at Ohio State and had a great experience. I fell in love with coaching for good! After my first year of med school, I took a leave of absence to focus on coaching and never looked back. At Ohio State, I helped develop three 3x NCAA All-Americans at 126, 134, and 150, and these guys were our leaders en route to two Top 5 NCAA finishes. Ohio State has never done better before or since those two top 5 finishes.
While at Ohio State, I also started my Gold Medal Summer Training Camp and local wrestling school. Many of the little guys from my original wrestling school have gone on to achieve much success. Two of the older boys have already graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, while the two youngest students, C.P. and Dustin Schlatter, have won many U.S.A. National age group titles.
AWN: Why did you leave Columbus?
Ken: When I left Penn State, I had told John Fritz that when he became the head coach, I would welcome the opportunity to return to coach with him. When John became the head coach in 1992, he asked me to be his assistant and I returned to Happy Valley. Our team won the 1993 National Dual Meet Championship and we were 2nd in NCAA Championship.
AWN: When did you leave Penn State?
In 1993, I left college coaching to work full-time with kids. I had coached college for five years and found it to be challenging, but I found working with kids at my camps to be more rewarding. I opened a wrestling school in my boyhood home, Huntington, WV and began putting more time into the planning and organization of my camp system and teaching system. After living in Huntington for a few years, my wife, Laurie, and I decided the best place for us to raise a family and for me to coach kids wrestling was in State College.
AWN: Where did you meet Laurie? How many kids do you have?
Ken: I met Laurie while I was coaching at Penn State. I never wasted much time with girls while competing and coaching, but once I got to know Laurie, I knew she was someone special. Laurie worked in the athletic department and one of her responsibilities was tracking the admission status of our recruits. Coach Fritz put me in charge of recruiting, so I dealt with Laurie frequently. Before I left Penn State, John Fritz and I signed the #1 recruiting class in the nation: Glenn Pritzlaff, Biff Walizer, Clint Musser, Eddie Jayne, and John Lange. As you can see, I had plenty of good reasons to visit Laurie’s office that year.
Laurie and I have been married 7 years. We got engaged and I decided to quit college coaching to focus on working with kids and putting more time and energy into my camps. Laurie is very involved with our camps and her efforts have been integral to the success of our camp system. Laurie is also a full-time mom. We have a 6-year-old daughter, Emily, and 4-year-old son, Alex. Emily is into gymnastics & ice-skating. She has more coordination then I ever had. Alex is into building and playing with trucks. Both kids take swimming lessons from 2x U.S.A. Olympian, Penn State Great Janie Brown. We are very fortunate that Penn State offers so many opportunities for our children.
AWN: What got you excited about teaching kids?
Ken: I have been helping young wrestlers for as long as I can remember. My brother, Todd, is six years younger than me, and I always helped him and his friends at elementary practices. By the time I was in high school I was doing most of the instruction at the elementary school workouts. I enjoyed working with the young kids and I played an important role in their development.
Throughout college, I worked and trained at camps all summer, and I ran summer day-camps in my hometown. My first camp had 12 kids including my brother, Todd. I am very proud that Todd, and three of his training partners became State Champions in high school. Todd wrestled at Ohio State and is now an Orthopedic Surgeon.
AWN: When did you start doing overnight camps?
Ken: When I graduated from college, I changed my day camp into an overnight camp, and I have been working to help kids through my camps ever since. While many camps come and go and others drop in quality or enrollment over time, I am very proud that my camp has grown annually since 1989.
AWN: How many campers do you have?
Ken: An average week of my summer camp has 220 kids. I divide the kids by skill, weight, and experience into approximately 10 groups of 22 kids. There are two coaches in charge of each group, and the kids get personalized instruction from my dedicated coaching staff and me in small groups.
AWN: How many coaches are on your camp staff?
Ken: I always have over 20-30 coaches on staff each week. I have a core of a dozen coaches who help me throughout most of the summer, and then I bring in a wide array of clinicians and coaches for a few days or weeks. I have found one of the keys to running a successful camp is to surround the campers with many dedicated coaches who are passionate about helping kids. I have worked hard to assemble a diverse group of men who believe in my camp system and know what it takes to be successful on the mats and in life. I am proud to surround my campers with awesome role models.
AWN: Who are the favorite clinicians at your camp?
Ken: That is very difficult to say. Over the past couple of years, I have been able to bring in some of the greatest clinicians in our sport to my camp. I am not limited to a specific university, so I am able to bring in coaches from throughout the nation. During the past year, 10 U.S.A. Olympians taught at my camp including: Kendall Cross, Bruce Baumgartner, Charles Burton, Rob Eiter, Lou Rosselli, Gray Simon, Doug Blubaugh, Rodney Smith, Rob Hermann, and Butch Keaser.
Orthopedic Surgeon and NCAA Champions, Dr. Jim Martin and Dr. Scott Lynch, have worked at many of my camps the past 3 years along with numerous other Penn State Greats. I have as many excellent role models as possible share their motivational stories with my campers. We strive to teach kids not only wrestling, but also how wrestling is training for the rest of your life.
AWN: How do you compare your camps to others?
KC: My camps are special because throughout the past decade I have spent far more time and energy planning my camps than anyone else in the nation. I have developed an organized training system that is superior to what the rest of the camps offer. Although there are many great coaches conducting camps, most of them have other priorities throughout the school year. I am intimately involved in every facet of my camp.
AWN: Who were some of the best kids you ever trained?
Ken: Another tough question. Depends if you define college boys as "kids". I typically do. At Penn State I trained Olympians, Cary Kolat and Kerry McCoy for two years. Although Cary and Kerry were already very talented when they arrived on campus, they had plenty of room for improvement and made very steady strides during those years of training at Penn State.
When I was coaching at Penn State I began training Nathan Galloway. Nathan was 8 years old at the time and I gave him personalized, one-on-one lessons for two years. I would often finish going through our Penn State workout with Kolat and John Hughes, and then Nathan would meet me for more wrestling. I have been training Nathan at my camps and wrestling school since 1993. He has come a long way, but he will need to remain very focused and healthy throughout college to achieve the level of success that Kolat and McCoy have. Some of my most dedicated local schoolboy-age kids who I currently train include: Brad Pataky, Matt Kyler, Justin Shafranich, Quentin Wright, and Nikko Leitzel. Hopefully, these boys will find great success when they get to high school.
AWN: Did you always want to be a coach? Do you or do you ever want to be a high school or college coach?
Ken: My dream throughout high school and college was to be a successful Sports Medicine Doctor and have a big wrestling room in my back yard so I could train kids in evenings and on weekends. I did not even consider being a full-time coach until I had been in college for a couple years. Choosing to coach wrestling full-time was a progressive decision that took years to make, not a choice that I made in one day. I did a lot of soul searching before leaving medical school, but once I decided to coach full-time I never looked back.
Again, I did extensive soul searching before leaving college coaching to focus full-time on working with kids at my camps. I have made a total commitment to helping my campers achieve great things on the mats and in life. I occasionally miss the challenge of college coaching, but it would have to be a perfect situation for me to take a college job. I may want to coach the Olympic Team in 2012.
AWN: Why 2012?
Ken: It is going to be in the U.S.A., and I expect most of the team member to be kids who have grown up attending my camps.
AWN: What are your thoughts on Women’s Wrestling?
Ken: I think wrestling can teach the lessons of life to girls just as well as it teaches them to boys. I hope over the coming decade enough girls will be wrestling that they can have their own teams and compete against each other. Until interest is high enough, they should be allowed to train with and compete against boys if they choose.
AWN: What was your college major? Did you take school seriously? What courses did you like?
Ken: I was a biology major. I scheduled a very challenging curriculum and I took my schoolwork very seriously. School and wrestling were dual priorities for me. I am proud that I graduated from Penn State on the Dean’s List with a 3.6 G.P.A. I remember walking into the classroom on test days and seeing many of the other pre-meds around me sweating bullets, whereby I would be calm and focused. Just like when I would step on the mat to compete, I was prepared. The anxiety of taking a big examination is nothing compared to competing in Rec Hall, Hershey Park Arena, or the Olympics. It is amazing how many students choke on big tests and in big matches. Developing an intense work ethic and self-confidence are essential if you wish to excel in school, wrestling and life.
I believe the huge workload I took on throughout college has prepared my mind to think effectively and efficiently today. On a more practical note, although my favorite subjects were math and science, I took many English and Speech Communication courses too. My writing, reading, and speech courses have undoubtedly helped me tremendously. A successful coach must be a great communicator!
AWN: Who had the most influence on your life?
Ken: Undoubtedly, my parents had the biggest impact on my life. My mom and dad are very hard working people and they always emphasized the importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge. Although neither of my parents had any background in wrestling, once I made a commitment to finding success in wrestling they were very supportive. My junior high, high school, and college coaches all had a big impact on my life.
AWN: What part of the USA do you feel is the best for wrestling talent?
Ken: Pennsylvania! What else am I allowed to say? Seriously though, our state has many dedicated kids, coaches, and parents. Wrestling is an important part of our state’s culture. Most successful wrestlers who excel in high school and beyond have supportive parents, dedicated coaches, and often come from communities that take pride in their wrestling programs. Fortunately, we have many dedicated wrestling parents, coaches, and communities in Pennsylvania.
AWN: Do you feel the sport of wrestling is growing?
Ken: Wrestling is undoubtedly growing at the youth level. We coaches need to keep recruiting kids to participate at the junior high level and keep workouts interesting so the kids stay motivated to compete throughout high school.
Obviously we are struggling to keep our college programs, but that is often due to the misinterpretation of Title IX, not lack of interest in wrestling. I believe the college coaches should do much more to promote our sport both on campus and in their community. Many of the programs that have been dropped were not well promoted. Building a successful program at any level entails much more than just conducting workouts.
AWN: Any final thoughts?
Ken: Laurie and I are excited to be in Pennsylvania permanently! We recently bought four acres of land six miles from Penn State and are building a new home and wrestling facility. Our complex will include our camp office, video analysis room, full locker room, and two big wrestling rooms. We broke ground a couple months ago and expect to move in this spring. We will continue to conduct our summer camps in hotels, but we will be hosting our most dedicated campers at our home for small group training sessions.
AWN: What is your favorite wresting publication?
Ken: Amateur Wrestling News!