Wednesday November 17, 2010

BENNINGTON -- There are places in the world where regular people can’t go.

One of those places, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., was opened briefly for the inaugural Pentagon Duals wrestling meet and Mount Anthony Union High School grad Jarrod Elwell, an assistant wrestling coach for the American University Eagles, was a big part of making the day happen.

"It was an incredible amount of work," Elwell said. "But it was very gratifying at the same time."

Planning for the event began back in May. Scott Faucett, the Pentagon’s Police Directorate, is a member of the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame. Faucett contacted Elwell, asking if the school, just five miles from the Pentagon, wanted to compete in a tournament at the beginning of the next season.

"I ran it by our head coach and he said to make it happen," said Elwell, who graduated from MAU in 1990.

Over the next few months, Elwell contacted the service academics that have wrestling to come and participate, but only Army was able to do it. Elwell was able to get Franklin and Marshall to be the third team in the tri-meet.

The security on the day of the meet was unprecedented. Each school was allowed to have 75 guests -- friends, family and the like -- and all had to be reported well beforehand and have low-level security checks done. All the schools and their contingents met at American and were bussed the five miles to the federal building.

Then, while there, everyone went through four levels of security clearance, Elwell said. No cameras or video or audio was allowed in either.

"It was really intense," he said. "The Pentagon had never hosted an external sporting event ever."

But there were some snags along the way.

A week before the event, it was almost canceled. A man, in what police believe was a "random shooting," fired six shots that hit the Pentagon and also shot at a Marine Corps recruiting station.

The episode shook up the area, and the meet was nearly halted, but Faucett fought to keep it going as scheduled.

The fact there had never been an outside sporting event there led to more challenges for Elwell. He had to set up the mats the Friday before the meet, and help bring in 300 chairs, as there is no seating in the athletic center.

"It was sort of like being in high school again," said Elwell, who was captain of the MAU team in 1989 and 1990. "We put the chairs up close to the mat, so it was a pretty intimate setting."

Elwell said in Division I, a facilities crew will set up the mats.

Many high-end dignitaries were invited, including some generals, who did attend the meet. Elwell said that Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense under President George W.Bush, and a former wrestler at Princeton, was also invited.

For all his hard work, Elwell was awarded the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- Pentagon medal during the opening ceremony for helping to coordinate and plan the meet.

"I had no idea, I was over talking to my team and I guess he was talking about the symbolism of the medal, but I was focused on the matches," he said. "I went up and accepted the award, handed it to my wife and went back to my team."

He said he really didn’t get a chance to think about the award until he returned home.

"My son was impressed," Elwell said. "And being acknowledged by the Pentagon was pretty cool."

Once everything was set and ready to go, Elwell had other things to worry about: His wrestling team.

"The crowd was excited but I was really anxious," he said. "It was our first dual meet of the year."

To add to the nervousness and excitement around the circumstances of the meet, the match was the first for both the Army and Franklin & Marshall head coaches in their new jobs.

Things went well for Elwell on the mat, as American won both sides of the meet, 26-6 against the Black Knights and 33-10 over Franklin & Marshall.

Incredibly, with only about 300 people allowed in attendance at the historic meet, Elwell wasn’t the only former Mount Anthony wrestler there.

Rafael Vega, a 1995 graduate of MAUHS, is an assistant coach in his second year with Army after heading up the Williams College program from 2003-2009. He was hired into the Army wrestling program last September.

Vega also worked as a volunteer assistant coach at the high school.

"Can you imagine that?" Elwell said. "There probably 250 paid Division I coaches and maybe 25,000 high schools nationally and two of those coaches came from Bennington and were coached by Scott Legacy."

Tentatively, the event is on for next season, and Elwell said he is trying to get more schools involved, including the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, Virginia Military Institute or the Citadel.

"I definitely want to do it again," Elwell said.