Melvin Douglas knows a thing or two about wrestling. The Topeka native won the Kansas state title three times and earned a national junior freestyle championship before heading to the University of Oklahoma where he became a two-time NCAA champion. After failing to qualify in previous Olympic trials, he broke through in 1996 and made his first Olympic team, qualifying again in 2000.
And on Tuesday, Douglas was in Prairie Village to start teaching a group of neophyte grapplers the tricks of the trade.
Douglas is coaching a two-day wrestling camp at SM East put on by the Kansas City Wrestling Club. Fifty wrestlers from across the area, from 6 years old up to high school, jumped at the opportunity to learn from the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. But Douglas’s path to wrestling stardom wasn’t always clear. He said he was initially turned off by the sport.
“I thought it was what you saw on WWE,” he said. “No one was going to knee me on my head, or elbow me in my face, so I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
But after watching his brothers start to compete in the sport, Douglas was attracted to the challenge. At 13, he took to the mat for the first time. He said that the young wrestlers in the room at SM East this week have the opportunity to become great wrestlers as well.
“Wrestling to me is one of the hardest sports out there,” Douglas said. “It makes you a better person, because you’ve really got to be dedicated.”
Grant Kline, a member of the SM East wrestling team, said the chance to learn from Douglas was special.
“It’s really interesting — I like every opportunity I can get to get better,” he said.