End of an era: ASU’s Art Martori leaves behind lasting legacy, Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club

Art Martori stands beside friends and family as he was honored during intermission of the Arizona State and Nebraska wrestling meet Sunday in Tempe. (Photo by Emma Jeanson/Cronkite News)

Art Martori listens to friends and family during Sunday’s reception to honor his impactful career in the sport of wrestling. (Photo by Emma Jeanson/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – After almost 50 years of cultivating and mentoring young wrestlers, Art Martori is set to retire.

The founder of the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club Martori was honored recently at Mullett Arena before Arizona State’s wrestling match against Nebraska. He announced his decision in October.

“Art Martori is the greatest friend that wrestling has ever had,” said Don Bocchi, a former senior associate athletic director at ASU.

Many wrestlers who went through Sunkist were in attendance, including more than 20 of the 67 Olympians the program produced. Following several speeches testifying to how Martori changed lives during his impactful career, the ceremony revealed a new award named in his honor for the best wrestler at ASU, the Arthur Martori Outstanding Wrestler of the Year Award.

Martori, who graduated from ASU in 1965, served as president of USA Wrestling from 1992-94 and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999. He is also responsible for founding the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club in 1976.

Sunkist is a non-profit organization that caters to the needs of wrestlers training for major competitions, including the Olympics and Pan American Wrestling Championships. The club also offers a youth training program for both men’s and women’s wrestling.

Sunkist helps relieve the financial stressors associated with the sport of wrestling by providing stipends for housing, training and travel expenses for those who otherwise would not be able to compete.

“Sunkist is meant to open the door and make things available to you,” Martori said. “It offers you the tools to be the best wrestler you can be.”

A history of excellence is attributed to the Sunkist program, which has consistently produced top-tier talent during the program’s existence. Most recently, Sunkist sent four wrestlers – Jordan Oliver, G’Angelo Hancock, Helen Maroulis, and Kayla Miracle – to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Toyko.

Martori and Sunkist have produced an astounding 67 Olympians and 29 medals, including 12 gold medals.

Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club founder Art Martori says he’s most proud of increasing the participation of women in wrestling. (Photo by Emma Jeanson/Cronkite News)

Perhaps the greatest influence made by Martori and the Sunkist program came from the women’s side of the sport. Women’s wrestling has grown tremendously over the years, particularly at the high school level, thanks largely to how Sunkist provided exposure for female wrestlers.

“I look at women’s wrestling as our greatest accomplishment,” Martori said. “To see the level that the women are at change over time is special. Now they are as good if not better technically than the men.”

Between the 2021-22 season and the 2022-23 season, high school girls wrestling jumped from 31,654 participants to 49,127, representing a 55.2%t growth in participation. As a result, the National Federation of State High School Associations decided to expand the sport at the start of the 2023-24 season, which now includes separate weight classes for female wrestlers.

Further evidence of the growth of women’s wrestling can be found every day inside the Sun Devil Fitness Complex from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., with the Lady Devils Women’s Wrestling Club, which was started in 2022 and has increased in popularity since. If women’s wrestling continues to grow at an exponential rate, the Lady Devils are on course to become sanctioned as a Division I program.

The match against Nebraska was a hard-fought bout between two well-coached teams. The Sun Devils started Senior Day strong as Richard Figueroa defeated Caleb Smith in a nail-biter by a 4-3 decision.

Although Nebraska ultimately prevailed by controlling the contests in the heavier weight classes, the silver lining came when ASU’s Kyle Parco defeated Ridge Lovett, the top-ranked player nationally in the 149-pound weight class.

“Winning means that my preparation is coming to fruition,” Parco said. “ I’ve done a lot of work and prepared a lot and now it’s paying off.”

The Sun Devils will enter the Pac-12 Championships with a 4-1 record against conference opponents. They have won five of the last seven conference tournaments, dating back to 2017. The Pac-12 Championships will take place March 10 in Corvallis, Oregon.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Noah Maltzman expects to graduate in August 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism with a related area of popular music. Maltzman has interned at 94.1 WIP, the largest sports radio station in Philadelphia.

Emma Jeanson(she/her)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Emma Jeanson expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. She has covered various sports around Arizona and has worked with AIA and AZPreps365.