Monday, September 24, 2007

Goals for the season

The 2007-08 college wrestling season is fast approaching. Official practices begin this weekend for many schools and the first meets are just a few weeks away. If they haven’t already done so, wrestlers and teams will soon be setting season goals for themselves.

Why shouldn’t we fans also set goals for ourselves? I have.

I will help increase attendance at college meets all over the country.
I will help reverse the trend of wrestling program elimination – not just stop the elimination – but do anything I can to help schools add wrestling.
I will bring new fans to the sport.

Right now I’ll bet you’re wondering – “How does this short, fat, middle-aged goofball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa think he can have any impact on college wrestling?” Darn good question. The first step is to stop asking myself that very question and just start doing every little thing I can think of to reach my goals. I took my first step Friday. I bought two more Hawkeye season tickets than I have in the past. I’ll give those away for some meets and take a couple of extra kids to others.

Today’s blog is the second step in reaching my goals. I’m drafting you to help. Please join me. If you’re tough enough to take on these challenges – here are some things you can do.

Buy season tickets. This seems like such a simple thing, but I know that there are some of you who don’t support your favorite team or sport by doing it. If college administrations start to see an increase in both revenue and attendance they’ll find it harder to eliminate teams so nonchalantly. If you already regularly get season tickets, get two extra this year. If you’re one of my few readers who isn’t really a wrestling fan, but you want to help me “tilt at this windmill”, buy a season ticket or two at the nearest college with a wrestling team, send it to me and I’ll see that a kid gets it.

Attend more meets. I live in a hotbed (maybe THE hotbed) of college wrestling. I can walk to Coe College meets from my house and have to drive less than 2 hours to attend events at Wartburg, UNI, Loras, Luther, William Penn, Cornell and Augustana. In addition to my normal Hawkeye schedule I have vowed to attend at least 5 more events at a variety of these schools. For my readers in the Midwest – remember – both the Division II and Division III nationals will be held in Cedar Rapids on back-to-back weekends this year.

Buy tickets or attend the NWCA All-Star meet. The National Wrestling Coaches Association is using their annual all-star meet as a tool to fight the elimination of wrestling at the University of Oregon. The event will be Monday, November 19th at McArthur Court in Eugene, OR. You can order your tickets by calling (541)346-4461. If you cannot attend, but still want to support the meet – just order the tickets (2 reserved seats will only cost you $30), send them to me and I’ll get them into the hands of someone that can go.

Send this blog to a friend. I currently have about 400 regular readers (the issue about Danielle Hobeika drew 650 views). Copy the link to that got you here and email it to a friend – or five.

Give to Save Oregon Wrestling. A group of dedicated enthusiasts are working hard to save the University of Oregon wrestling team. Go to and find out how you can help.

Support Eastern Illinois Wrestling. William Perry, the new president at Eastern Illinois University has agreed to consider a proposal to reinstate the wrestling team. You can email your support for this proposal to

Support Grandview College Wrestling. Last week Grandview College in Des Moines announced the likely addition of a wrestling team in the 2008-09 season. Email your support of this action to athletic director Troy Plummer at

Support “Giving Nationwide”. While not specific to college wrestling, The Oregon Wrestling Forum has developed “Giving Nationwide”. The concept is simple – any wrestling organization can post its’ specific needs (money, mats, headgear, etc) on the site. Current listings range from kids’ clubs to a university that is trying to start a club team. Check it out at

Come on folks – let’s all work to make this the most successful college wrestling season ever.

By the way – if, as I have suggested above, you need my help in distributing tickets, email me at and I’ll send you my address.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Past world championships

The world championships begin today in Baku. Let’s just watch and celebrate some American gold medal wins from the ‘90s.

1991 Zeke Jones vs. Valentin Jordanov

1993 Tom Brands vs. Reynoso

1998 Sammie Henson vs. Namik Abdullaev

1999 Stephen Neal vs. Andrei Shumilin

Monday, September 10, 2007

Someone you should know

Wrestler, photographer, web designer, activist – meet Danielle Hobeika.

I “met” Danielle while searching the internet for a way to join the fight against the planned elimination of the University of Oregon wrestling team. Sure enough, I found I clicked on the webmaster link to see who had gotten a website that good up that quickly – and found Danielle. Since then we’ve communicated online a few times and I asked if I might feature her on my wrestling blog.

Her interest in photography began early. “I was obsessed with (the) camera and photography ever since I was a little girl. I would always steal my grandfather’s Polaroid and snap away”. She developed her photographic skills at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Massachusetts and then while working on the Harvard Crimson in college. Her photographs range from beautiful landscapes to some of the most thrilling wrestling action shots I’ve seen.

An athlete herself (swimming and tennis), she was introduced to wrestling her junior year in high school when a friend invited her to attend one of his meets. Says Danielle, “… after witnessing the intensity of my friend’s wrestling meet, I was immediately drawn to the sport and decided that I would join the (boys) team my senior year in high school.” Three other girls decided to join the wrestling team with her.

“We were fortunate that neighboring Brookline had an all-girls team made up of about twenty (members). Brookline hosted a lot of girls wrestling events – from actual tournaments to informal “wrestle-arounds” where they invited girls from all over New England and paired them up according to experience level so that girls could get several matches every couple of weeks against other girls.” She and her teammates were successful that first year and the sport was growing on Danielle, “… my spring season of tennis I found myself doing push-ups on the tennis court all the time because it lacked intensity to me compared to wrestling.”

After being accepted at Harvard she learned that they had a female, Lauralee Summer, on their wrestling team. According to Danielle, “(Lauralee) has been one of the most influential people I have met in my life.” They started training together the summer before Danielle entered college and Lauralee convinced her to join the team at Harvard. “I was hesitant to walk into a Division I men’s program with only a few months of wrestling under my belt, but with Lauralee’s support, I did it.” She received tremendous support from the Harvard coaches and team and has had a successful career in women’s freestyle. Her most successful year was in 2002, when she won the 112-pound University National Championship, placed first at the NYAC International Open, finished second at the US Senior Nationals, and third at the World Team Trials.

Danielle started photographing wrestling while still in high school and covered wrestling for The Crimson. In 2002 she began taking her wrestling photography to a national level. At the US Nationals that year she met Al Elrefai and a business relationship began that eventually became I asked her if there have ever been conflicts between the two careers. “There have been times that I have been at competitions where I have been warming up for a match, and people come up to me and ask me if I can take photos of their next match for them. It’s difficult because as much as I would like to do both at the same time, I need to focus on one or the other.”

Danielle earned a degree in psychology at Harvard. I asked her about the evolution of her interest in web design. “I started becoming interested in graphic design in college. My mother is a graphic designer (print) so that influenced me a bit. I started taking on projects doing some design work for guidebooks. I also had a friend who was a computer science major teach me some html. So I started putting the two together, reading web design tutorials, and teaching myself the basics. My first projects were designing a personal website for myself and the Harvard wrestling team website.”

One rule for budding entrepreneurs is to take something you know and love and build a business on it. Danielle has been able to do that. While she has created websites for many businesses and artists, wrestling-related sites comprise the bulk of her portfolio. Says Danielle, “I started doing websites for some of the other athletes on the freestyle and Greco circuit, and they would refer me to other people they knew who wanted sites. After I started doing more photography and becoming more involved with the NCAA community, I made even more connections and it kept growing.” Her sites include, the Overtime School of Wrestling, and the Brands-Gable University of Iowa Wrestling camp.

Danielle is an activist. She fights for the betterment of her sport and she fights for kids. In addition to the Save Oregon Wrestling site, Danielle has designed a site for Pinning Down Autism, an organization made up of members of the wrestling community who are dedicated to defeating autism. She is also active with Beat the Streets, a program that teaches wrestling to inner city kids in New York City. On August 26, Danielle launched the new Beat the Streets site ( She recently began work on Project Torch, an organization whose goal is funding wrestlers at all level of competition – from underprivileged kids to elite Olympic athletes. I asked her what drove her to do so much non-profit work. “I am a person who highly values reciprocity. The wrestling community has done a lot of good for me, so it’s only natural that I would want to give back to it as much as possible.”

What’s in the future for Danielle? For one thing she’s considering retiring from competition. It’s a difficult decision, but Danielle feels she can help wrestling more by focusing on her creative and promotional talents. She believes that the internet can be invaluable in both promoting the sport and attracting new participants. “I see it as a tool to inspire kids to participate in the sport and keep them involved in wrestling.”

Wrestling attracts a variety of fascinating people. We fans are glad to have someone like Danielle Hobeika fighting for our sport. To get to know Danielle better visit her website at

Monday, September 3, 2007

Favorite wrestling moments

There have been a lot of memorable moments in the 30+ years that I've been going to wrestling meets. Here's a short list of my favorites.

The first time I saw Dan Gable

In 1969 I rode with a friend to see Gable wrestle in a dual meet. I can't recall the opponent, but I do remember the double arm bars - and the pin.

Watching an acquaintance

Virginia Wohlers was a classmate of mine from the third grade until we graduated from high school. Her brother David, two years our junior, had lost his sight as a young boy and until high school had attended the Iowa Sight-Saving School (such an ironic name). He learned to wrestle there. When time to go to high school, David went to Davenport (IA) Central, went out for the wrestling team and essentially became a workout partner. One night he got a chance to wrestle in a JV meet. The only allowance made for his blindness was that both wrestlers had to always be touching. In the neutral position the wrestlers just had to touch each others' fingers. It would be heart-warming to say that David won - but he didn't. He fought hard and was tough to ride - but way too easy to take down. He asked for no quarter and competed as an equal.

Gable wins Olympic gold

I watched it on television - enough said.

Randy Lewis wrestles with one arm

Like virtually every long-time Hawkeye fan, I loved watching Randy Lewis. But - watching him wrestle in the NCAA tournament his senior year with that horribly injured elbow was one of the most courageous things I've ever seen.

Jeff McGinnis wins 4th

We're lucky in Iowa. The high school wrestling finals are broadcast live every year so I've seen every four-time Iowa state champion since Mark Schwab, either in person or on TV. I just happened to be in "The Barn" (Veterans Memorial Auditorium) the night Jeff McGinnis won his fourth. It was typical McGinnis - he totally dominated the guy. The ovation when he got his medal was unforgettable.

Travis Fiser beats Randy Couture

Oklahoma State came into Carver Hawkeye Arena rated number one in the country. It was a very close meet. When Travis Fiser upset the number-one rated Couture it sealed the win for Iowa. With 14,000+ people in the stands it was one of those moments in wrestling that only happen in Iowa City (and maybe rarely in Minneapolis or Stillwater).

1997 NCAA Division I tournament

Oklahoma State came into the 1997 tournament the prohibitive favorite. From day 1 the Hawkeyes got on an unstoppable roll. The memorable events in that tournament are numerous - Gillis throwing and pinning Maldonado, Jesse Whitmer, Lincoln Mac over Bono in OT. However my favorite moment is Sandy Stevens introducing Dan Gable's high school coach, Bob Siddens, to present Dan with his 15th - and last - NCAA championship trophy.

Nick Ackerman wins the NCAA Division III championship

Nick Ackerman had his legs amputated just below the knees when he was 18 months old due to meningitis. I went to Waterloo for the 2001 DIII tournament specifically to see him wrestle. In the early rounds I was amazed by how solid his cradle was. I wish I had kept track of how many back points he scored in that tournament. No one, however, gave him a chance in the finals. He was going up against Nick Slack of Augsburg who was the defending national champion and was riding a 60-match winning streak. Ackerman hit a roll early in the match for a 5-point move and from there it just went back anf forth. He held on to win 13-11. The place went nuts! His mom came down out of the stands - there wasn't a dry eye in the place. I've read that the ovation lasted two minutes. It seemed like twenty.

This truly is the greatest sport.