Monday, October 29, 2007

Another reason you gotta love the wrestling community

I generally consider myself to be among the more militant advocates for the growth of wrestling. Then Al Bevilacqua sent me an email, slapped me in the head and said, “Wake up!” Al was the successful, long-time wrestling coach at Massapequa High School in Long Island, New York. He was also the 2005 USA Wrestling Man of the Year, primarily because his work as Pesident of the “Beat the Streets Inc.program.

Here’s the cold water Al threw in my face, “Over 60% of the country does not have access to any form of high school or college wrestling and most of them are located in the top 50 cities in the country.” Now he had my attention – 60%?!?!?!

The genesis of Beat the Streets

In 1973 Bud Lindholm, from Pennsylvania, developed the National Urban Program to expand and grow wrestling in large urban centers. Building upon the idea, Al (as state chairman of the United States Wrestling Federation), Dr. Vince Zuaro and Dr Irwin Tobin launched wrestling as an interscholastic sport at 26 schools in New York City.

Unfortunately, these high schools were not as competitive as one would hope. From long experience Al and others knew that a key to building successful teams is developing a “feeder” program. “In 2001, under the leadership of Setrak Agonian, the MWA convinced the “NYC2012” committee (a group working to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York City) to help us (the MWA) in exchange for us managing the world championships.” Bill Crum, executive director of the MWA, began building clubs in NYC.

A major shift was made in 2004. Unlike Europe and the rest of the world, where sports are developed through clubs, in America it’s done through the schools. According to Al, “In 2004 we re-tooled the program by developing designing (sic) “feeder” middle school programs to build the base and drive the numbers up and expand the base of wrestling through the Public and Private Schools.” At the time of this initiative New York City had 23 high schools (out of 179) with wrestling teams and NO MIDDLE SCHOOL TEAMS and no wrestling in the physical education curriculum. In 2007 45 high schools will have teams, 65 middle schools, and they will have six elementary school clubs.

How it works

Al says, “Mats are the key…” “Each unit or team we open requires $15,000 for a mat, equipment and a coaching stipend.” Al calculates that over the life of every mat they purchase for a school they introduce 10,000 kids to the sport of wrestling through physical education classes, intramurals and interscholastic competition.

Beat the Streets will soon run ads in W.I.N. Magazine to attract educator/coaches to the coaching positions being created and will also launch an email recruiting campaign to colleges across the nation.

More than wrestling

Kids who participate in after-school activities do better academically. Countless academic studies prove this to be true. Of all athletic endeavors, wrestling has the potential for greater universal appeal. No specific physical trait like height, bulk or speed is required. Competition always pits opponents of similar sizes and ages against each other. It is, perhaps, the most “democratic” of all sports. The wrestler that works the hardest and learns the fastest and the most usually triumphs. It’s one of life’s great lessons.

What’s in the future?

Beat the Streets was helped by providing a $3 million Partnership Grant with the New York Department of Education. They now have a new goal of having a physical education wrestling unit in every elementary and middle school in the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Neither Al nor Beat the Streets Wrestling Inc. nor the MWA has any plans for taking Beat the Streets national. However, they have made their business model and plan available to interested parties in a number of cities. In May two New York State high school coaches who retired to Norfolk, VA launched a Beat the Streets program there. A similar program has been launched in San Francisco following the BTS model.

However, as Al relentlessly points out, there are still hundreds of thousands of kids who have no opportunities to wrestle. He cited Detroit as an example of a high need city, “I know that last year the NCAA Championships were held in Detroit hosted by the University of Michigan that resides 30 miles from Detroit. There is not 1 high school wrestling program in a city with over 2 million people. Michigan produces some of the finest wrestlers in the country and has left behind millions of kids in their large cites.”

BTS is also a leader in encouraging girls wrestling. “They represent 51% of America and women’s wrestling already is the fastest growing sport for girls now. We would like to get to the point in New York City where we have all girl teams as well as boys. The mat is there, the coach is already in place and we will place major emphasis this fiscal year to do just that. We have several women’s wrestlers helping us with the Beat the Streets already.”

You can help.

The original middle school program was started by a $4,500 gift from a single donor. Since then Al, Board Chairman Michael Novogratz and others have recruited an impressive list of supporters. They need more.

To learn how you can help expand Beat the Streets in New York or to begin a movement in your own community you can contact

Al Bevilacqua
Beat the Streets Wrestling, Inc.
194 S Bayview Ave
Amityville, NY 11701

As Al says, “…action is required, not words.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

A conversation with Mike Duroe - part 1

A conversation with Mike Duroe – part 1

I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in Mike Duroe’s office to “chat about wrestling”. Mike is the head wrestling coach at Cornell College and has coached at all levels of the sport since 1980 - including serving on the staffs of three Olympic teams and as the national resident freestyle coach at the Olympic Training Center.

It doesn’t take long before the passion becomes evident. He just simply loves wrestling and loves teaching it. He also wants to see the sport grow and improve.

For 90 minutes we discussed everything from Joe Heskett’s heart surgery to the need to preserve the legacy of the 1947 Cornell College NCAA championship team. We covered so much ground that I’m going to share it with you in two parts. This week – Mike’s thoughts on the current state of freestyle wrestling and the recent World Championships in Baku.

“The Russians were dominant. They’ve got an arrogance – not really arrogant – but confidant. The rest of the world sometimes has a bit of a fear factor – not consciously. We have to get away from worrying so much about the tactical game that freestyle wrestling has become and dominate and score. We tell our guys, ‘one point isn’t enough. Don’t let it come down to the clinch.”

I asked Mike about the occasional internet criticism of resident freestyle coach, Terry Brands – that not all wrestlers can wrestle the aggressive “Gable style”. “Absolutely Terry has a dominant philosophy. I don’t think the criticism is warranted. He’s still a young coach – he was still competing in 2000. But he’s definitely evolving into a great coach. Take how he helped Bill Zadick (win a world freestyle gold medal) last year. Our overall performance wasn’t as bad as it may have looked on paper and we did qualify five of seven weights.”

“Part of the problem is that we only have most of our freestyle guys at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) a couple months out of the year. The (2007 world team champion) Greco guys are there year around – so are the women. It’s hard – most of our (freestyle) guys are college strength coaches or volunteer assistants. College head coaches are concerned about their own teams and winning, but we (the US freestyle team) need a little help from them. We have to have these guys more.”

This led us to another popular internet topic – the question, “Should America abandon folkstyle and switch to the international styles?”

“Absolutely not – it’s part of our heritage. Besides, which one would you switch to – Greco or freestyle? It would take us 15 – 20 years to even begin to develop enough good coaches at all levels. The NCAA could help us a little. I’d like to see the 1-point pushout rule in college. Think how much more action and scoring there would be. FILA needs to change their scoring so that you get two points for a technical takedown.”

“We need more clubs – more developmental programs. USA Wrestling does a good job, but we need more. Most of our funds come from the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) and are based on the number of medals you win. That’s why swimming and track get so much money. Plus they get so much private money. Art Martori (of Sunkist Kids) has been great for us, but we need more like him.”
When asked about the future of freestyle wrestling Mike said, “I’m not an alarmist, but I’m worried. We’re down to only seven weight classes and the IOC could decide to eliminate one of the styles in the future. Some of our athletes are going into ultimate fighting, where they can make more money. But – it’s everybody’s responsibility to make the sport better”

Next week – Mike on college wrestling.

Here’s a little video from American freestyle bronze medallist Daniel Cormier.

Monday, October 8, 2007

6 things that are good for wrestling


Martin Floreani must certainly be working harder than anyone in the country to promote wrestling. If you’re a wrestling fan and haven’t yet been to - go now. It’s a treasure trove of match videos (including the 1972 Olympics), unique interviews, photographs and articles. Martin’s series of video interviews with national team members and coaches leading up to Baku were stirring.

Here’s a sample.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum

This is a “must visit” for any wrestling fan. The Hall of Fame not only recognizes the accomplishments of America’s greatest competitors, it honors great Americans for whom wrestling was an important part of their lives.

IPTV, CSTV and The Big Ten Network

Iowa Public Television has broadcast college wrestling for over 25 hours. Thanks to them tens of thousands of potential fans have been able to see John Smith, Randy Lewis, Cael Sanderson, and the Brands brothers wrestle.

College wrestling has never been primary fare on sports television. The few matches that are carried by IPTV, CSTV and The Big Ten Network (if they can stop fighting with the cable companies) are bread for the starving.

The Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum

Mike Chapman, the museum’s director and curator may well be the sport’s top historian. Like the Hall of Fame this is a “must visit”. Don’t let the name fool you. It really isn’t entirely about Dan. In fact, the area dedicated to “old time” professional wrestling is one of my favorites (my grandmother loved The Crusher).

If you’re traveling to National Duals in Cedar Falls or the Division II or Division III national tournaments in Cedar Rapids this season, be sure to include a trip to the museum.

Women’s Freestyle

Women’s freestyle wrestling became an Olympic medal event in 2004. Its’ success will only benefit all aspects of the sport. One more wall of prejudice is being destroyed and opportunities for girls and women to participate in the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” are growing. The pioneering Tricia Saunders is a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and wrestlers like Kristie Marano, Sara McMann and Patricia Miranda are medalling on the world stage.

Internet “Magazines” & “Newspapers”

For years local newspapers were the only source of information the casual wrestling fan had. Sadly, many of the writers didn’t know a takedown from takeout Chinese. The internet provides a medium for talented, knowledgeable writers like Jason Bryant, Mark Palmer, Stephen Stonebraker and others to “publish” interesting articles that can help bring new fans to the sport and convert casual fans into true “wrestling geeks”.

Monday, October 1, 2007

What I hope to see this season.

The first college wrestling matches are about a month away. Here are some things I hope I’ll see this year.

Record-breaking attendance nationwide

There are only two certainties – The DI Nationals will sell out and the University of Iowa will lead the nation in dual meet attendance. My first hope is for attendance at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic to top 8,900. Have you bought your tickets yet? Go to to order. Remember that if you want to support this pivotal event in the fight to save University of Oregon wrestling, but can’t attend, we’ve set up a program to give the tickets that you buy to kids and families that can be there. For more information go to or email me at

Your favorite team or event also needs you in the stands.

Dustin Schlatter wrestling Brent Metcalf at least 3 times

Has there ever been a more anticipated collegiate match-up? With all of the side drama surrounding this and the constant internet chatter, it will be great to finally see them compete.

More pins

Ben Askren’s graduation will make this tough, but I really want to see more pinning. Where have all of the pinners gone? With today’s rules and coaching styles will we ever again see another Schalles, Gable or Hodge? Will anyone ever repeat the Kinseth feat of pinning every opponent at both the Big Ten and National tournaments?

Less stalling

Please just stay in the center of the mat and wrestle. And, also – “What’s he doin’ on top?”

More video on the internet

The Big 10 Network, CSTV and Iowa Public Television will broadcast 20 – 25 college total meets this year. Not only does this give us an opportunity to see teams we might not see until tournament time, their websites frequently post selected matches.

Even with that, there are not enough matches on the web. Potential young fans are accidentally stumbling across Tsirtsis vs Griffin when looking for the WWE. The more matches available, the more likely to eventually draw them to a college wrestling event.

Oh yeah, here’s Tsirtsis vs Griffin at the 2007 National Duals.

A Hawkeye national championship