PU Coach Ayres Giving Back to Community, Helping Princeton Wrestling Club’s Growth
By Bill Alden
Upon taking the helm of the Princeton University wrestling team in 2006, Chris Ayres worked relentlessly to get the struggling program on the winning track.
Utilizing vision, energy, and an upbeat approach, Ayres has taken the Tigers to unprecedented heights, guiding them to second place in the Ivy League the last two seasons and earning top-5 finishes in the EIWA over that span.
With the program having turned the corner, Ayres has turned his focus to helping the sport grow in the Princeton community, taking a more active role in the Princeton Wrestling Club (PWC).
“We started having success on the college team, so basically I felt like internally that we were doing pretty good and like we needed to reach out into the community,” said Ayres. “The college team is a special thing, but it needs to be bigger than just the alumni; we need to pull in the town.”
Employing the persuasiveness that helped him draw top flight wrestlers to Princeton, Ayres has been making a pitch to area youngsters.
“I have been working hard to pull the community into the university,” said Ayres, noting that the club includes the PWC Youth (grades 3-8) and Tiger Cub (K-2) programs.
“What we are trying to do with wrestling is to say we are part of the community. For myself, I went to three of the local schools and did wrestling presentations, basically recruiting kids from Community Park, Johnson Park, and the JW Middle School.”
PWC has seen its number of youth wrestlers go from around 40 to 70 over the last three years. Reflecting the increased interest, the PWC will be holding its Tiger Classic on February 7 at Dillon Gym featuring Delaware River Wrestling League youth matches before the Princeton wrestling team hosts Cornell in a critical Ivy showdown.
In addition, PWC also includes the Princeton Regional Training Center (RTC), Elite high school program, and a boosters group.
“We joke that we serve wrestling from the cradle to the grave,” said Ayres, pointing out that the RTC program includes athletes in their 20s and 30s.
Noting that he serves in an assistant coaching role, Ayres is happy to provide support to John Bartzak, who leads the Youth and Cub program along with Dr. Bruce Rose. Joe Jamison leads the Elite program, helped by Ayres’s Princeton staff.
Crediting wrestling with changing the course of his life, Ayres is hoping to help others have a similar experience.
“For me, this all stems from what wrestling did for me,” said Ayres, a former star for Lehigh University whose son, Atticus, and daughter, Chloe, both compete for PWC.
“Basically, I probably would not have gone to college if I had not wrestled. I am trying to pay it forward and trying to pull in as many kids as I can.”
In the view of Ayres, Princeton has the potential to develop into a hotbed for the sport.
“If you look at any of the great wrestling areas in the country it didn’t just happen overnight,” said Ayres.
“There was a community of people who said this should be important and they worked really hard at it. I think Princeton can be one of the best wrestling areas in the country.”