CHESAPEAKE (WAVY) – Many have described Old Dominion wrestling as much more than just a “team.”
Jacqueline Kelly, who’s husband wrestled for the Monarchs in the 1990’s, says the sport is “a brotherhood, like no other sport I’ve seen before.”
Facing tough financial times due to the Coronavirus pandemic, ODU was forced with the decision to cut the wrestling program after 63 years. For Kelly, losing the program felt like losing family.
“My husband immediately came to mind,” said Kelly.
Her husband, Jamie, was a team captain and two-time national tournament qualifier for the Monarchs. Before that, he wrestled at Great Bridge High School for a young head coach named Steve Martin.
Martin, ODU’s wrestling head man for the past 16 years, recently tied the great Pete Robinson for the most dual meet wins in school history with 172; a record which had stood since Robinson began coaching the Monarchs in 1957.
On August 27th of last year, Jacqueline Kelly received a phone call that would change her and her family’s life forever. “I got a call from my daughter that daddy won’t wake up,” said Kelly. “(He) went out for a run, and ended up having a massive heart attack in the garage.”
At a perfectly healthy 44 years old, with no history of family illness, Jamie had passed away.
“It was probably the saddest day of my life,” said Curt Krazer, who wrestled alongside Jamie at ODU from 1993 to 1997.
Now, Kelly is trying to keep the memory of her husband, as well as the Old Dominion wrestling program, alive.
“My husband would be putting up a fight,” said Kelly. “Since (Jamie’s) not here, I’m going to do the fighting for him.”
She’s looking to spread word throughout the community with the hopes of reviving the program. More than 11,000 have signed a petition to bring ODU wrestling back. An independent analysis found ODU would save $1 million without the program.
“There are people out there who would be donors. We didn’t know we needed to,” said Kelly.
An an email to another former ODU wrestling alum, Dr. Wood Selig, the school’s athletics director, explained he would need a $25 million endowment in order for wrestling to come back.
“I think if Jamie Kelly were sitting here right now, I think Jamie would tell you…they handled it in the wrong way,” said Krazer.
Whether anything will come out of Kelly and Krazer’s efforts is yet to be determined. Either way, Kelly will continue to fight for ODU wrestling, and for Jamie.
“If he was here, he’d be fighting,” she said. “I’m going to show my two kids that mom can do it for dad too.”