Michael Watson made history on Feb. 9 as the first wrestler from Detroit Public Schools Community District or Detroit Public Schools to ever advance to postseason competition.
The 140-pound Mumford Academy junior placed fourth in his weight class at district finals and advanced to the regional tournament on Feb. 17 where his season ended.
“Unfortunately, I lost both my matches, but next year I’ll be going to states. This whole summer break I will be going to wrestling camps to help me get better,” Watson said.
Maybe it took so long for DPSCD to show up in the postseason because Mumford has the first and only public school wrestling program in Detroit. The district doesn’t support wrestling.
Head coach Peter Cunningham started the wrestling program four years ago when he came to Mumford to as a math teacher. He said the sport is a great tool for teaching the benefits of discipline, work ethic, and toughness.
“Wrestling is the fairest sport in the world. It's one-on-one, no excuses,” Cunningham said.
When Mumford was part of the EAA, the administration paid for uniforms and transportation, but DPSCD provides no financial support. Without it, Cunningham has had to fundraise and find other support for everything the team needs. They have raised over $9,000 through GoFundMe campaigns to pay for the kinds of things teams in other districts take for granted: uniforms, tournament fees, helmets, etc. The team is currently working to purchase equipment to transform a classroom into a wrestling room.
Beat the Streets Detroit, an agency with a goal improving the lives of at-risk children by supporting wrestling programs, and the Roughneck Wrestling Club have been important partners.
The team has had some celebrity help, too. Former U-M wrestler and NCAA champion Mark Churella funded transportation costs for the entire season last year. ESPN journalist Jemele Hill, a Mumford graduate also been a generous donor.
Mumford football coach Donshell English supports Cunningham’s efforts and said some of his players have joined the wrestlers.
“Cunningham had a vision and has done a great job putting together resources to keep the program going,” English said.