“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
This saying is known to everyone who’s hit the mat and wrestled at one point or time. For Virgil Moorehead (‘83, Education), Craig Vejvoda (‘80, Business Administration), and Dan Phillips (‘91, Business and Computer Information Systems), who were members of the Humboldt wrestling community, it’s true.
Now, each alumni has committed a gift of $50,000 to help build upon Cal Poly Humboldt's wrestling legacy, supporting an NCAA Division II men’s wrestling program that starts next year. The program will be one of four Division II programs in California, including San Francisco State University and newly accepted Division II schools Menlo College and Vanguard University.
“I made the gift so that someone has the same opportunity to be a part of what I was a part of and what we were a part of with our teammates because we all know how wrestling changed our lives. I just want to give back what was so freely given to me,” Virgil says.
Cal Poly Humboldt launched its original wrestling program in 1952, and it thrived under the late Frank Cheek, the most successful coach in Lumberjack history. In his 20 years as head wrestling coach, the team won more than 250 matches, 46 of which were achieved at NCAA All-American status.
“Some of the most successful wrestlers at Humboldt were my teammates on the 1981 team. We defeated the University of Oregon, a well-established Division I team. We were the underdogs. It was hard work, but it was a great team to be a part of, and we want to create that again for more students,” Virgil says. “It is one of my priorities to give local high school students a chance to continue wrestling at Cal Poly Humboldt.”
Virgil and Craig say they cherish their time wrestling for the Cal Poly Humboldt team under Coach Cheek. Cheek became a positive male figure and mentor in their lives. He taught them how to be resilient, work as a team, and achieve their goals when times were challenging. They appreciate Coach Cheek’s commitment to making the team work hard toward their goals.
“Coach Cheek was a phenomenal storyteller. When he told a story, he’d make you laugh while making a point, but in the mat room, he was a drill sergeant. He was tough, but he was fair.” Craig says. “At first, our relationship wasn’t very loving. It took me a little time to appreciate Coach Cheek, but once I did, he became a father figure to me.”
For Dan, who wrestled at Fortuna High School and College of the Redwoods before transferring to Humboldt, wrestling taught him the discipline he needed to graduate with two majors successfully. Dan says wrestling, and sports in general, teaches students discipline—to set big goals and devise a plan to achieve them.
Today, Virgil is the Tribal General Manager and Tribal Chairperson of Big Lagoon Rancheria. The Rancheria owns the Hotel Arcata and recently developed the two Health Clubs in McKinleyville. Craig is partly retired and has been a Principal Services Financial Advisor at Principal Financial Group, an American global financial investment management and insurance company, since 1983. Dan Phillips is the former Chief Technology Officer at Hulu, the popular online streaming service. He is now the executive vice president and CTO at Chamberlain Group, where he leads the product development functions.
Beyond giving them the drive to be successful, wrestling also gave each of them the space to build camaraderie and long-lasting friendships with their teammates. Many of Virgil and Dan’s friends are wrestlers, and when Craig was hospitalized for a health condition a few years ago, friends from the Humboldt wrestling team visited him in recovery.
“The best thing about wrestling is the friendships that I made, the brotherhood. Sports will create that. It’s like you’re going into battle, and you know someone has your back, and those friendships stay with you,” Craig says.
Now, all three alumni are working to build a strong wrestling community and allow students to join a team and learn to grow.
“In wrestling, you're part of the team, but when you step on the mat, it's just you. That's the beauty of it. It's just you. There’s no one to blame or get the credit except you. That’s one of the greatest things about wrestling,” Craig says.
Dan says wrestling and sports are an integral part of the educational experience for many people. With a robust athletic program, he believes the University can provide opportunities for students to aspire to greatness and foster a sense of community.
“The idea of returning the program is a driving force for me,” Dan says. “With the right funding and support, we can create a great program that offers athletic opportunities and creates scholarships and other opportunities for students.”
You can join donors like Dan, Virgil, and Craig in helping to build upon Cal Poly Humboldt’s wrestling legacy. The wrestling program aims to raise more than $500,000, with a longer-term goal in the future. This funding will be directed towards building an endowment to ensure the program's success. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
To learn more about how you can help support the University’s Wrestling program, contact Development Director Stacie Lyans at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation at email@example.com or (707) 826-5200.
Photo: (From left to right) Craig Vejvoda, Virgil Moorehead, and Dan Phillips each gifted $50,000 to the Cal Poly Humboldt Wrestling Club, building upon the University's wrestling legacy.