FULTON — With the potential for their final high school season seemingly slipping from their grasp, standout wrestlers from Fulton G. Ray Bodley High School have started to pin down their college ambitions.
Fulton senior Sam May is committed to wrestle Division I for The Citadel next year, becoming the first Red Raiders alum to reach the highest NCAA level in 13 years, while classmate Cuinn Burlingham has verbally pledged to compete for Division III Ursinas College.
Michael Strong is among the other seniors from the decorated Fulton wrestling program that could soon finalize plans for a future in the sport, potentially landing at Oswego State University.
The college-bound group is among the dozens at various age levels in the program that entered the week anxiously awaiting the fate of a possible high school wrestling season despite the cancelation of state and other postseason tournaments due to COVID-19 concerns.
Fulton ended last year with 998 all-time victories, needing just two more to become the fourth varsity wrestling team in the nation to reach 1,000 wins, according to NY Wrestling News. The Red Raiders were anticipating the chance to celebrate that milestone with the community while extending its run of success this winter.
“I’m trying to focus as a coach on the things that we can do and the things that we do have, and not dwell on the bad stuff,” said Fulton head coach, Jeffrey Waldron, who would be entering his seventh season at the helm.
“I feel awful for our seniors, guys like (May, Burlingham, and Strong), they have college ahead of them and for guys that don’t plan to wrestle in college, this was it for them, and it’s awful. But part of what makes wrestling great and different from other sports is dealing with that adversity, losses, things not going your way. … With everything they have accomplished up to this point, they have nothing to hang their heads about.”
May described it as “humbling,” to be the first NCAA Division I wrestler from Fulton since 2008 graduate Matt Bogardus competed for the University of Buffalo, according to Waldron. Through his four varsity seasons, May tallied 90 victories and placed in the top five of his weight class in the Section 3 championships every year, winning at 138 pounds as a sophomore in 2019.
May sent information to The Citadel head coach Ryan LeBlanc — a two-time state champion from Morrisville-Eaton — utilizing a past connection to Waldron and said he was surprised to see his interest in joining the program quickly reciprocated.
May had been researching Cornell and Army West Point as possible collegiate destinations with no intentions to wrestle before he was recruited by LeBlanc to compete for the military college in Charleston, S.C.
May’s father is a former Marine who works in the Air National Guard, his brother is active in the Army, his mother served in the Army and his uncle was a member of the Air Force.
“I wanted to wrestle in college but also wanted to get a head start on my military career, so I figured that would be a good place to start,” May said. “I am driven to serve the country and there’s a long line of history in our family, so it also kind of starts there.”
Burlingham, meanwhile, recently made his commitment to wrestle for Ursinas College in Collegeville, Pa., where he plans to study biology.
He was moved up to varsity in seventh grade and ended his junior season last year with a career record of 110-36, highlighted by four Section 3 finals and two state tournament appearances.
Burlingham locked in on the Bears toward the end of last wrestling season, made a visit last spring, and eventually committed after being accepted through admissions and maintaining contact with coaches.
“I loved the campus, it felt like it was a great place for me to be and felt kind of like home,” Burlingham said. “I’m just looking forward to meeting new people and trying to become an All-American.”
The senior duo is excited for their respective futures but also sharing in the angst felt by their peers statewide in winter sports classified as high-risk for spreading coronavirus — wrestling, basketball, volleyball and hockey. Entering the week, the most recent update was provided Dec. 11 when the state indefinitely postponed those sports and canceled all postseason events.
In the meantime, Burlingham and a few other Fulton wrestlers have taken solo ventures to compete in club tournaments in Pennsylvania. Several members of the program are lifting weights and working out at nearby Great Lakes Athletics Training Facility for free thanks to a donation by alum, Derrick Bartlett, while others are simply running, exercising, and working on technique while at home.
“We’re just trying to stay as active as possible with the cards we’ve been dealt,” Burlingham said.
Many Fulton wrestlers have independently organized small groups to spar and train with, some of which have been working together since the onset of the COVID-19 shutdowns in March.
May, for example, has been working out with former teammates Ben Demars and Andru Walts in his garage dating back to the spring.
“We weight lift and do other training every single day and kind of have been since everything got canceled,” May said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would be doing too good right now.”
Waldron was not optimistic for the remaining chances of a season entering the week and questioned if a handful of dual meets would be worth the physical toll for athletes needing to cut weight and properly prepare for a wrestling campaign.
The Red Raiders will likely need to wait until next year to continue building upon the program momentum.
Last year, Fulton completed its fourth straight postseason triple crown — sweeping the team titles for the Section 3 duals, the Section 3 Class A Tournament, and the Section 3 Division I championships. The program also matched a program record with six individual state tournament qualifiers last year and reached the finals of the state dual meet championships.
“What we can do right now is get stronger, eat healthy, stay positive, go running and work on your cardio,” Waldron said. “We just can’t wrestle.”