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How Three Students of Color Are Redefining American University Wrestling

Carsten, Max, and Breon are three students of color competing on a predominantly white team in a historically white sport, but the trio has not let the sport's noticeable lack of diversity deter them from achieving excellence. Despite their young age, the freshman trio has racked up an abundance of accolades. Carsten, the team's 197-pounder, started multiple duals this season and posted six wins in his first year wrestling for the Eagles. Before American University, Carsten competed at St.Francis High School in California, a notoriously difficult wrestling state. However, the high-level of competition seemed to only better Carsten's wrestling, as he finished his high school career with a record of 18 losses and a staggering 123 wins, including a trip to the state finals. Carsten managed to achieve these feats while competing as a multi-sport athlete. During his high school career, Carsten competed in football, track, wrestling, and lacrosse. Carsten's athletic excellence may come as a surprise to many, but in his family, athletic excellence is the standard. Carsten's father, Cedric, was a multi-sport athlete at Harvard University, splitting his time between the football and soccer fields. Similarly, Carsten's brother, Corban, was an avid swimmer. If you thought Carsten's background couldn't get anymore impressive, guess again. Carsten is exceedingly well-traveled, having visited around thirty-five countries throughout his lifetime.

Equally as impressive is his teammate Max Leete's background. Max is the team's starting 125 pound wrestler. During his exceptional high school career, Max boasted three state championships for his alma mater Danvers High School in Massachusetts. Throughout his freshman year with the Eagles, Max repeatedly proved himself a phenom in every sense of the word. Unsurprisingly, Max is one of the team's best pinners. Max executed arguably the pin of the year via an off-the-whistle headlock in the first period versus George Mason, and he was able to follow that up with an electrifying forty-two second pin at EIWAs, the team's conference tournament. Max posted six dual wins during his first season as a starter.

Sophomore Breon Phifer found similar success during his freshman year. Breon posted four wins in his first season competing under head coach Jason Borrelli for the Eagles. He is no stranger to success in this sport. During his four year tenure at Weston High School in Connecticut, Breon managed to make the podium twice at the state tournament. Breon currently competes at the 165 pound weight class for the Eagles and has one of the quickest low single leg shots you'll see at the collegiate level. The freshman superstar is also very outspoken regarding his love for the sport."I'd say probably the individuality," Breon answered when asked what he loves about wrestling, "How you can only count on and rely on yourself. Compared to a sport like football or basketball, in wrestling you're only accountable to yourself. You only perform as good as you do because of how you train or practice". Going forward, the young Eagle hopes to translate this mindset into a stellar sophomore season.

Throughout their interviews, the three Eagles had a lot to say about the current state of racial diversity in the sport. Each talked about their experience with diversity in wrestling thus far and the direction in which they believe it's trending. "With the sport of wrestling, you're not gonna see many people who look like me," Carsten said about the sport's lack of representation, "but you're starting to see it a lot more year by year". Indeed, the sport has shown noticeable growth in racial diversity over the past decade, due in large part to influences like Jordan Burroughs, currently U.S.'s most recognizable wrestler, pushing the boundaries for young Black athletes. Carsten elaborated further, "It's definitely getting more diverse. As a whole, with college wrestling, you saw last year that five of the ten national champions were Black. You've got a bunch of role models like J'den Cox, Jordan Burroughs, Roman Bravo-Young, all those guys doing big things, and when the younger people like me see that going on they're gonna want to get involved too". Max expressed similar sentiments, "We've seen a huge jump [in diversity] in the past ten years alone. One of the first times I noticed was actually at Fargo in North Dakota". Fargo is wrestling's biggest off-season tournament and one in which kids across the country travel to participate. "I noticed a plethora of kids of color. I noticed kids from every state, not even from the states that typically have kids of color. There were kids from even Alaska and North Dakota…I would totally say that diversity in wrestling is becoming more common". Max credited organizations like the Black Wrestling Association and athletes like Jordan Burroughs for promoting diversity and representation in a traditionally homogenous sport. Of course, while the sport is growing to encompass a wider variety of racial and ethnic groups, there are still a multitude of barriers to entry for minority athletes. Breon opened up regarding issues he thinks are impeding young Black athletes from taking up the sport. "Life situations, money, schooling, a lot of stuff like that. Really stuff where people don't have a choice or have money for it". Indeed, high school wrestling is quite costly. Many athletes, regardless of their talent, may only get scouted if they pay to join off-season club teams or travel to tournaments in very distant, remote locations. Still, as the sport of wrestling continues to grow, many Black athletes will be able to help each other in overcoming these hurdles, and the sport will continue to grow in terms of racial diversity. Until that day comes, however, you can continue to support racial growth in the sport by going to support Carsten, Max, and Breon during the winter athletic season in Bender Arena and following @auwrestling on Instagram.


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