The San Diego Wrestling Club was founded as the San Diego Bulldogs Wrestling Club on April 18, 1998 by Russ Connelly and Dennis Mori. Russ and Dennis had earlier placed an ad in a local paper gathering people together who were interested in starting up a freestyle wrestling club. 15 people signed up that first day. On May 17, 1998, a meeting was held to organize the Bulldogs and come up with ideas for finding a practice space and for fundraisers in order to purchase mats. In June 1998, members of the Bulldogs along with wrestlers from the Southern California Wrestling Club in Los Angeles held a beverage bust and wrestling demonstration at a local bar. Money raised from beverage busts along with sales of our logo T-shirts helped put money toward acquiring mats. By August 1998, the club was holding its first practices at a karate studio in North Park with two 12X12 sections of purchased mats in addition to a 12X12 section donated by the SCWC. By the end of 1998, the club roster listed over 40 paid members and a contact/interest list of over 60.
Change has been a staple of the Bulldogs. The karate studio that was used as a practice space was closed in 1999 and the club was forced to look for another space. The Center was approached and an upstairs room was obtained for the huge fee of $2 per user per practice. This space was a long, narrow room that barely allowed two full sections of mat to be used at the same time. Practices were held upstairs until The Center closed for refurbishing in late 2001. Bulldogs practices resumed in September 2003 when The Center reopened. Wrestling practices were on the lower basement level until the Bulldogs moved into The Center's main auditorium in October 2004, where we held practices along with our annual Wrestling Tournament through October 2019. We held the annual Bulldogs Wrestling Tournament 13 times in that auditorium.
Above - San Diego Bulldogs Wrestlers in Los Angeles, November 2003
Bulldogs wrestlers have been involved in the greater wrestling community since the beginning. Director Russ has participated in the annual Golden Gate Wrestling Tournament beginning in 1998. Ten members of the Bulldogs started the tradition of inter-club practices with the Southern California Wrestling club in 2003. In 2006, our diversity came alive when seven members of the Bulldogs competed at Gay Games VII in Chicago, Illinois. Many of our wrestlers compete each spring in open USAW-sanctioned tournaments across Southern California and the U.S. including the Las Vegas Nationals and the Far Western Regionals held in April. In 2009, SDWC earned two first place team finishes, and many members wrestled their way up to the top of the brackets, bringing home many medals.
Social gatherings off the mat have always been a part of the San Diego Wrestling Club. Potlucks, picnics, pool parties, BBQ's, holiday gatherings and after practice dinners have become regular club functions.
Above - SDWC Tournament Weekend Dinner 2013
Above - Upstairs practice, March 2000
The club has benefited from the experience and skill of several coaches through the years. Emmett Higgin was the Bulldogs first coach in 1998. Michael Su stepped in to assist Emmett until the loss of our North Park practice space. Shawn (Doc) Holiday began coaching the Bulldogs after the move to The Center and continued until 2002. Greg Lines was SDWC's head coach from December 2004 until March of 2012 along with two assistant coaches, Mark Paramo and Tim Dowden. Mark's tenure as assistant coach was 2008 through 2011 and focused to develop and train our heavyweight wrestlers. Coach Tim joined the coaching staff in 2010 and focused on lightweight wrestlers until his move away from San Diego in 2011. 2012 saw additional changes as practices were passed into the capable hands of Coach Tom Merkel and Assistant Coach Nick Lopez. Tom's tenure as head coach continued until 2018 and he now has the venerable title of Coach Emeritus. Joining Nick on the coaching staff as we begin a new chapter and new location are Coaches Grant Porter and Ryan Dean.
In July 2005, the San Diego Bulldogs Wrestling club launched its website. Wrestlers from across San Diego county and southern California began to discover the club's new presence on the web, curious about our wrestlers and wrestling program as resources for adult freestyle wrestling had all but disappeared in our community. Our club seized the opportunity to recruit the adult wrestler, and membership has been on the rise ever since. In April 2006 thanks to fundraising and generous donations, we purchased a brand new 30'x30' wrestling mat for practices and tournaments.
In December 2007, the San Diego Bulldogs Wrestling Club was renamed San Diego Wrestling Club. Our new name is strong and focuses on the sport we all love, wrestling, and the beautiful city we call home. One constant is our mascot the Bulldog. Our new logo, the Bulldog paw is tilted to the side to show our Bulldog is on the move and Bulldog wrestlers are on a mission to spread the word of wrestling throughout Southern California and beyond. Today we are the only year-round USAW sanctioned wrestling club in the area that caters to the adult wrestler. Our wrestlers come from many different parts of San Diego including the military, LGBT, martial arts and professional communities. We at San Diego Wrestling believe there is strength in diversity, and all are welcome on our mat.
San Diego Wrestling Club is 25 years of tradition, camaraderie, participation, and achieving personal best on the mat. We hope you'll JOIN US and become a member of our wrestling family today!
Above - SDWC wrestlers at USAW Chula Vista Tournament, April 2012