Sesker Slant: Fargo is still a special place

By Craig Sesker for The Predicament

FARGO, N.D. - It’s not the easiest place in the world to get to.

And maybe it’s not high on the list of most popular summer vacation destinations.

But thousands of people still flock to eastern North Dakota every July.

When you say “Fargo” to anyone who follows wrestling, everyone knows what you are talking about.

It’s USA Wrestling’s annual extravaganza, the mega event known as the Junior and Cadet Nationals.

It’s the biggest wrestling event in the world with over 4,000 wrestlers taking part. And it quite frankly is a tournament like no other.

The best male and female high school wrestlers in the United States converge on Fargo every summer in pursuit of coveted national championships in the international styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman.

It also is a great opportunity for wrestlers to earn a scholarship with top college coaches filling the Fargo Dome while looking for elite recruits.

In the decade I covered this event for USA Wrestling from 2006-15, I saw some outstanding wrestlers compete in Fargo.

Among those top athletes were Olympic and World champion Kyle Snyder along with World champions Kyle Dake, David Taylor and J’den Cox. Snyder battled Cox in Fargo and Dake competed against Taylor in this event.

I returned to Fargo this week and was able to check out the wrestling action as a spectator on Tuesday afternoon at the Fargo Dome. It was the first time I had been to this prestigious tournament since 2015.

I was quickly reminded of how special this event is and what a staple this tournament is on the wrestling calendar.

You can’t beat the atmosphere with 20-plus mats and the elevated mat for the finals. It’s awesome walking around the venue and seeing all of the booths and vendors. And it’s fun sampling the cuisine from the concession stands.

The competition at Fargo is still amazing. The freestyle finals of the Junior Nationals featured some high level wrestling. There were so many outstanding athletes competing. It was enjoyable to watch.

The U.S. has one of the best freestyle teams in the World right now at the Senior level and that trend likely will continue with so many talented young American wrestlers excelling at the age-group levels.

I was impressed in particular Tuesday with two champions Iowa fans are definitely interested in. Fort Dodge’s Drake Ayala looked strong in winning Junior Nationals at 113 pounds and Iowa Hawkeye recruit Abe Assad looked outstanding in winning a loaded bracket at 182 pounds.

Ayala simply put on a show in winning by technical fall in the finals. Assad, a Cadet World medalist, is going to be a force at the collegiate level.

It wasn’t just the boys who stood out in Fargo. The female wrestlers continue to thrive and it’s refreshing to see how much the number of women’s participants has grown in the last few years. The quality of female wrestling has improved significantly since I first watched the girls in Fargo 13 years ago.

It’s great seeing the women being treated with the respect they deserve when they step on the mat. They are legitimate wrestlers who definitely belong on the big stage alongside the boys in Fargo.

I remember watching a pair of top prospects - Colorado’s Adeline Gray and Maryland’s Helen Maroulis - trying to make a name for themselves as young teenagers in Fargo. Gray and Maroulis have gone on to win a combined six World titles and an Olympic gold medal on the Senior level.

It was enjoyable for me to return to Fargo to watch some high-caliber wrestling and also enjoy a couple of great meals with old friends. If you’re looking for a good restaurant, I highly recommend Granite City along with Osaka Sushi and Hibachi. The food was outstanding.

If you’ve never been to Fargo and you love wrestling, you really need to go check out this tournament sometime.

It’s an incredible event with an electric atmosphere. That’s why wrestlers from all over the country find their way to Fargo every year.

Chances are you will see someone competing in Fargo who will win a World or Olympic title someday.

It’s not an easy place to get to, but once you make it here it’s definitely worth your while.