Monday, December 29, 2008

I resolve

I resolve to move down at least one weight class this year. I really shouldn’t be a 5’7” heavyweight. I’ll probably have to cut out the ice cream cones at Carver Hawkeye.

I resolve to yell, “What’s he doin’?” only once a meet.

I resolve to care about the growth of new wrestling programs like Grand View, California Baptist, Jamestown College and Baker University as much as I care about the ones that get dropped.

I resolve to convert at least one new person into a wrestling fan (perhaps one of my sons-in-law).

I resolve to attend more high school meets.

I resolve to meet more of my online friends in person (National Duals anyone?)

I resolve to quote Tom Brands no more than once every two blogs (even though he says some of the most interesting things in wrestling).

Finally, I resolve to not take myself too seriously. I’m just a fan who writes a blog about the “world’s oldest and greatest sport”.

Happy New Year, everyone. May it be healthy, joyful and profitable.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa didn't listen

I guess I didn’t get my letter off to Santa in time. Just a day after I included “more college wrestling programs” on my wish list came the news that Norwich University in Northfield, VT will drop its wrestling program at the end of the academic year.

Here is a copy of the press release from Mike Moyer at the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

Without question these are difficult economic times. Companies, government agencies, colleges and universities – and you and I – are all looking for ways to cut expenses. Institutions of higher learning throughout the land are watching their endowment funds shrink with every point the Dow Jones Average falls. In the minds of many college administrators, athletics should be the first budget cut – with “Olympic sports” the first to go. As in the case of Norwich University – wrestling will top many “cut lists”. It seems an easy choice, “computer science or wrestling?” It seems easy – but is it?

Wrestling has been a part of education since Socrates. Plato wrestled. As Mike points out in his press release, thirteen presidents and seventeen astronauts wrestled. Nobel laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug, has credited his high school wrestling coach in Cresco, IA with teaching him the discipline he needed to carry out his research. It is not a stretch to say that millions of people around the world have been saved from starvation, in part, because of the lessons taught Dr. Borlaug by wrestling. Isn’t education supposed to be about teaching the “whole student”?

Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Alden Partridge and is the country’s oldest private military school. It says on the Norwich website, “Norwich has a mission, a job to do, and it takes it very seriously. We are here to serve this great nation and educate students who will become leaders in business, government, and the military in order to advance the causes of the Republic, ensure its continued freedom, and develop the economic, political, and social infrastructure of this new century.”

We are at war and facing an economic crisis. Don’t we need young leaders who have learned how to “get off their backs” and triumph?

I urge you to join Mike in his letter writing campaign. Please express your concerns to

Dr. Richard M Schneider
Norwich University
158 Harmon Drive
Northfield, VT 05663


Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, Chairman
Norwich University Board of Trustees
c/o David Whaley, Secretary
158 Harmon Drive
Northfield, VT 05663

I also reiterate Mike’s request that you be respectful when you write. We’re in for a long battle, but we’re up to the challenge.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I’m a wrestling fan. No, not that steroid laden soap opera you see on “Smackdown” – or whatever. I love the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” – the sport of Socrates, Plato and Lincoln (Abraham or McIlravy)… the sport of Gable, Smith and Sanderson.

I know it’s late for sending you my “wish list” – but here it is.

Santa, I want wrestling to become an urban sport. It is the most democratic of all sports. You don’t have to win any kind of genetic lottery to excel – no excessive height, blazing speed or unusual hand/eye coordination is required. The competitor that works the hardest and learns the most almost always triumphs. Don’t we need to teach those lessons to more kids? Yet, young people in most of our largest cities have no opportunities to wrestle. I even know how you do it. You simply clone Al Bevilacqua from Beat the Streets in New York and drop an “Al” in Detroit or Los Angeles - wherever hundreds of thousands of kids are spending more time on the Wii than on the mat.

Santa, we need more opportunities for girls to wrestle. The lessons taught by wrestling are lessons of empowerment – you can control your own destiny. In all but a few states here in America (Washington, Texas, Hawaii and California) we make it almost impossible for girls to compete. We put unnecessary roadblocks to success in their way - and when someone like Tricia Saunders or Patricia Miranda or Michaela Hutchison fights through it all and does the extraordinary, we frequently fail to give her due credit. Let’s start here in Iowa, Santa. I’ve lived in this state for 56 of my 58 years. Iowa was a pioneer in providing interscholastic athletic competition for girls and has one of the richest wrestling histories in the world. Why can’t we join those two heritages together?

May we please have more college wrestling programs – men’s and women’s? If we believe in the value of wrestling’s lessons, we need educators that can teach those lessons. As youth participation on the mats continues to grow we will need more and better coaches. From where will they come if we continue to eliminate intercollegiate opportunities?

Santa, please make FILA give us back exciting freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. I want to see John Smith turning guys like a top again. How many fans can we bring to a sport where the most riveting action has become the selection of a colored ball from a bag?

Speaking of fans – could you make them more active? Would you get them out from behind the keyboard and in the seats at five or six events a year. I don’t care where – kids’ tournaments, high school meets or the Olympic Trials – just make them pay a few bucks and actually support the sport. And what about the millions of ex-high school wrestlers in America – could you sprinkle them with some kind of magic dust that would convert them into active fans?

Santa, please bring us more and better coverage of the sport. I understand the television Catch 22 – you can’t get air time without a profitable audience and you can’t build an audience without air time. You’ll probably have to mend the fences between the “mainstream” and the “underground” to make this happen, but it can be done. And while you’re at it, please make those providing the coverage give the sport the respect it has earned. After all, Frank Gifford once called Dan Gable “the most dedicated athlete I have ever seen”. John Smith was once named America’s top amateur athlete. Cael Sanderson’s undefeated career and bi-lateral amputee, Nick Ackerman’s Division III national championship are included on the list of the NCAA’s 25 defining moments. These great athletes, and the thousands of others toiling in wrestling rooms around the world, deserve better than to be compared to an entertainer like Hulk Hogan – as was done by the ESPNU in-studio “talent” prior to the broadcast of the Iowa/Iowa State dual meet.

Finally, Santa, I want a new Division III Championships attendance record in Cedar Rapids this March.

I’ll wait a couple of years before I ask you for the Olympic Trials.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Road to Cedar Rapids - Volume 3

Top 10 reasons to come to Cedar Rapids for the NCAA Division III wrestling championships (March 6 & 7, 2009)
10. To see the Tree of Five Seasons (and learn what the 5th season is).


9. To learn to identify what Quaker is cooking - oatmeal or Cap’n Crunch?

8. To visit Cornell College and see the 1947 NCAA and AAU national championship wrestling trophies – the smallest school ever to win the large school NCAA title.

7. A one hour drive will get you to the re-opened Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum.

6. Local entertainment favorite, Penguin's Comedy Club, will be featuring TC Hatter and Marcianne.

5. The Big Ten Championships are all the way out at Penn State.

4. My Second Annual Division III Wrestling Championships Reception at the Cedar Rapids Marriott – Free food and adult beverages.

3. To help break the all-time Division III Wrestling Championships attendance record.

2. To help a great community recover from the worst natural disaster in its history.

AND the number 1 reason to come to Cedar Rapids for the Division III Wrestling Championships:

To watch some of the most dedicated student-athletes in college sports vie for an NCAA title.

Author’s note: It’s the holiday season and hundreds of families in Cedar Rapids are still without homes. Hopes for a merry Christmas are dim for many of them. You can help in a number of ways.

Many families need gift cards from stores like Lowe’s, Menard’s and Home Depot to help rebuild their homes. These cards can be sent to

United Way of Eastern Iowa
1030 5th Ave SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52403

The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation is coordinating several flood recovery funds. Find out more at their website.

The local Salvation Army is working hard to help. You can donate to them at

Salvation Army
PO Box 8056
Cedar Rapids, IA 52408-8056

Monday, December 8, 2008

Me and 15,954 of my closest friends

Wrestling history was made Saturday night and, for once, I can honestly say I contributed. The Iowa/Iowa State dual meet broke the all-time NCAA attendance record when 15,955 people jammed into Carver Hawkeye Arena. That’s about 500 more than Carver can actually seat, but the university got special permission to sell reserved “standing room” along the rail at the top of the concourse.

It was a special moment in college wrestling. I talked with one Hawkeye fan who drove from Colorado to see his first dual in Carver. He had to leave right after the meet and drive straight home. I know of a University of Michigan fan who came in to the meet just to have the experience. At least four or five fans flew in from New Jersey. Press row was completely packed.

If a wrestling meet can be a sporting event of this magnitude in Iowa City (attracting pre-meet attention from USA Today and Jim Rome), why can’t wrestling attract more fans in places like Stillwater or Happy Valley or Ithaca? If we can do it in Iowa – why not elsewhere?

Whenever that question is asked, there’s a fairly stock set of responses.

“Iowa doesn’t have any major professional sports teams, so fans gravitate more toward their college teams – even wrestling.”

“The Hawkeyes have won 21 NCAA titles in the last 33 years – it’s easy to attract fans when you win all the time.”

“What else are you going to do in Iowa in the winter?”

“Our school is a (plug in “football” or “basketball” here) school. If Iowa and Iowa State had better football or basketball teams, they wouldn’t care so much about wrestling.”

These comments are often repeated because there is an element of truth in each one. They don’t, however, really answer the basic questions - Why are so many schools willing to accept empty seats as the norm? Why is the American wrestling establishment content with the current level of fan following? The fault would seem to lie at all levels – administrations, organizations, coaches and fans. Even the University of Iowa can be subject to administrative whim. The Hawkeye athletic department recently scheduled the dual meet with Arizona State at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. (Note: read Jason Bryant’s commentary in the current issue of WIN Magazine for a better perspective on this).

College athletic directors are faced with the fact that wrestling cannot make money. Recent financial statements from the University of Iowa show that wrestling costs the university about $960,000 a year and generates about $300,000 in direct revenue. Any sane person would ask, “If that’s the case, why SHOULD a college support or promote wrestling?” Alumni financial support is one answer. Wrestling fans and former wrestlers are major contributors at many institutions large and small. Educational opportunity is another. College wrestling is on the resumes of countless government, business, medical and education leaders – even a Nobel laureate.

Coaches are another part of the promotion puzzle. Perhaps Tom Brands said it best in his press conference last Tuesday, “Without a product, you don’t generate the excitement. Winning is promotion. I’ve said that from Day One. Winning is promotion. We have to give fans a reason to come, and entertaining wrestling is promotion. Entertaining and winning go hand in hand, and you have a pretty good product. That’s what we communicate to our guys, it’s about how you go out and entertain. It’s not about getting your hand raised, it’s wrestling with a certain energy level, being able to go hard for the entire match, whatever that length is.” Quite simply – you need a great product.

Wrestling fans are a puzzling lot, many clamoring for more and better internet and television coverage, while attending no more than one or two live events a year – if that. We want more exposure for the sport, we want participation to grow and we want more college programs – but only if someone else will do it for us.

Is there anything to be done? This fan hopes so.


Understand the value that wrestling can offer your institution. At some small colleges, a wrestling team can increase enrollment. Schools like Jamestown College in North Dakota have realized that adding women’s wrestling can do just that. You also never know when the next Art Martori or Roy Carver or Bill Krause (major donors to higher education) will be wearing one of your singlets or sitting matside.

Aim higher. The standard was set Saturday and you now know what college wrestling can be. Don’t accept 1,000 attendees as the norm.

Become more fan-friendly. Some college wrestling tournaments are notorious for what fans must endure to attend. Limited views, insufficient seating and inadequate restroom facilities are all too common at college wrestling events. In some cases little can be done. In others, a change of venue might be in order.

Promote wisely – but promote! I recently watched the dual meet between Central and Coe Colleges free online. Will that translate into fans attending more events at Central? I don’t know – but it didn’t cost much and it gave their team exposure to a broader audience.


I’ve never wrestled and I’ve never coached, so I can’t tell a coach how to win. But – I can tell you what fans like. We like action. We like scoring. We like the Mark Ironside approach to wrestling – score early and score often and winning will take care of itself.


It has been said by some (including me) that the way to increase attendance at any wrestling event is to hold it somewhere between Des Moines and Iowa City. While that’s true, it doesn’t really help the sport grow (subliminal suggestion – 2012 Olympic Trials in Cedar Rapids).

The National Wrestling Coaches Association has initiated a marketing study to find ways to increase attendance at the annual All Star Classic. This is a solid first step.

USA Wrestling recently announced the launch of The College Wrestling Network , a partnership of some of the most respected media outlets in the sport., Intermat, Wrestling 411, RevWrestling, WIN Magazine, Takedown Radio, The Wrestling Mall,, and Michigan Grappler have come together with the goal of making more and better content available on the web. This, too, is a great step forward. I hope they’ll include “more butts in seats” as a part of their mission.

(subliminal suggestion – 2012 Olympic Trials in Cedar Rapids)


I’m initiating a new movement – “Take a Friend to a Wrestling Meet”. Find a friend that has never attended a wrestling meet and take him/her to the very next meet near you. If you can, take two. I’m guessing that perhaps a thousand or more fans in Carver Saturday night were “first timers”. Many of them will never be back – but some will, and thus college wrestling will grow in popularity. Don’t put this off. Look at the schedule of your favorite team right now and plan an outing with a “newbie”. Don’t sit back and wait on others – take action yourself.

Together we can help this great sport grow.

Oh yeah – Iowa won 20 – 15.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The rivalry

It’s on ESPN’s list of “101 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die”. It doesn’t have a catchy name like “Bedlam” or “Civil War”. It’s simply the Iowa vs. Iowa State dual wrestling meet – one of the most exciting events in all of the Olympic sports.

In a sport where an attendance figure of 3,000 is considered good, the Hawkeye/Cyclone dual has topped 12,000 twenty-one times and three times has gone over 15,000. Another 30 – 40,000 will watch the live broadcast on Iowa Public Television’s College Wrestling Series.

Why all the excitement over an event that anywhere else in America wouldn’t draw flies? It’s hard to understand – and I’m not sure that I really do. First and foremost – the state of Iowa loves wrestling. Yes – there are other states that can claim to be “wrestling states” – but the numbers don’t lie. Our high school state championships sell out within a few days of ticket availability and the finals are broadcast live on television.

In 1972, when Gary Kurdelmeier took over as Iowa head coach, among his first acts were to hire Dan Gable and to schedule the Cyclones for the first time since the 1937-38 season. Before the first wrestler stepped on the mat the rivalry was off to a heated start. Imagine – at the time, arguably the greatest sports icon in Cyclone history – taking a job in Iowa City. When asked by an interviewer from the Des Moines Register, why he chose Iowa, Gable said, “I wanted to stay in this state. I had lunch with Kurdelmeier one day in Ames and he told me what he had in mind. It took Iowa State months to do anything. I was disappointed in the procedures they used.”

Dan Gable’s first season as head coach turned up the heat considerably. Both schools agreed to a “home and home” arrangement for the first time. Iowa State won the first meet of the 1976-77 season when Cyclone heavyweight Bob Fouts reversed John Bowlsby with 11 seconds left in the final match. Later that season the Hawks, trailing 17-11 going into heavyweight, tied the meet when Fouts was disqualified for stalling.

The series has been filled with dramatic moments. If you’re a Cyclone fan, Dave Osenbaugh pinning Lou Banach probably tops your list. Hawkeye fans lean toward Brooks Simpson’s pin of Eric Voelker. Both were major upsets and both decided the outcome of the meet.

There have been many great individual rivalries. Lincoln McIlravy and Chris Bono fought each other tooth and nail. It’s probably my imagination, but Terry Steiner vs. Torrae Jackson always seemed to generate a lot of excitement. My favorite of the individual match-ups has always been Kevin Darkus and Barry Davis. Darkus would go on to win a World Freestyle silver medal and Davis would win silver in the 1984 Olympics.

This Saturday we do it all over again. By anyone’s estimate it will be one heck of a meet matching the two best teams in the country. The message boards will be abuzz. There are still some questions – Is Mitch Mueller completely healthy? Who will go at 133 for the Hawks. Who will pull off this year’s individual upset? One thing is sure – it will be exciting.

The University of Iowa is trying to set the dual meet attendance record Saturday. It would be more than fitting to have the Iowa/Iowa State meet top the attendance list. As of this writing tickets are still available. There would be no greater time to introduce someone to wrestling. This is also an event that every wrestling coach and athletic director in the country should attend – to know what wrestling can be. You can order tickets online at wrestling tickets or by calling 1-800-IAHAWKS.

Iowa Public Television uses this broadcast for fundraising. If you can’t attend the meet and are in the IPTV broadcast area, please watch – and when Gable pulls out his checkbook and makes his donation – please join him. Better yet – send a donation to IPTV today at

Friends of IPTV
PO Box 6400
Johnston, IA 50131


Order your tickets for the meet.

I’ll see you there.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A man on a mission

Johnny Cobb has a mission – to bring intercollegiate wrestling to Texas. Cobb, the wrestling coach at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, is working to establish men’s and women’s teams at West Texas A & M. He is joined in his efforts by one of his former wrestlers – Olympic champion, Brandon Slay – and Amarillo Palo Duro coach, Steve Nelson.

I asked Coach Cobb, a former Oklahoma State University wrestler, when and why he started this journey.

“…Seriously thinking about it 20 years ago when I first took the wrestling program at Tascosa H/S.

I knew we had great Tx. kids, yet many would never have a chance to pursue a college dream because of the cost of out of state tuition. It was also ridiculous that there was not one NCAA college program in the entire state. Tx. has an Olympic champion and this year Mohamed Lawal missed the team by a few seconds and we had a female bronze medallist (Randi Miller). Texas needs a program!”

According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association participation statistics, Texas has approximately 6,700 high school wrestlers. What makes Texas unique is that roughly 1,600 of those participants are girls (that’s almost 30% of all high school girls wrestling in the country). To make the need greater, there are also no four-year college wrestling programs in the neighboring states of Arkansas (which just recently sanctioned high school wrestling championships) and Louisiana.

If the mission of a state-funded college system is to meet the full educational needs of its constituency, then clearly wrestling should be available to Texas college students.

Coach Cobb and Slay first approached West Texas A & M with a proposal soon after Slay’s triumphant return from Sydney in 2000. They recently demonstrated their total commitment by presenting WTAM athletic director, Michael McBroom, nearly $50,000 in pledges and equipment to go toward establishing the two teams. While AD McBroom was impressed, he painted a challenging picture.

“I am interested in wrestling. (College president) Dr. O’Brien is interested in wrestling, but only when we have the facilities and funds to support it appropriately.”

An expansion of athletic facilities is the first hurdle. The university has proposed just such an expansion, but the national economy is making it more difficult.

AD McBroom estimates that it will cost just over $300,000 a year to fund wrestling. His numbers:

Head Coach: $60,000 (includes benefits)
Graduate Assistant: $10,000
Scholarships: $105,000
Athletic Trainer: $40,000
Sports Information GA: $10,000
Team Travel: $60,000
Recruiting Travel: $10,000
Supplies/Equipment: $15,000

He states that the annual expenses can be met in two ways – attract enough new students that the increased athletic participation fees generate enough revenue or FULLY ENDOW the program. The latter option would require raising $5 million.

There’s a real Catch 22 involved with raising that kind of capital. You have no wrestling alumni because you don’t have a wrestling program. You have no wrestling program because you don’t have the primary type of donors that can fund one – wrestling alumni.

So - Coach Cobb and Brandon Slay are doing it the hard way – knocking on doors, writing letters, looking to the wrestling community for support. They have the backing of some major names in the sport. What they haven’t found yet is someone like Art Martori who was instrumental in saving Arizona State wrestling.

I don’t personally know all those that read this little blog – but I know some – and there aren’t many that have an extra $5 million lying around. However, in the time that I have been writing the blog I HAVE been introduced to people who are very generous to the sport – who work hard for the sport. Most of them do so without much fanfare.

Just Friday I read a set of testimonials from several individuals who have succeeded in all walks of life. All credited their college wrestling experience as a building block of their success. I suspect that there are hundreds – maybe thousands – more who have used the lessons learned from wrestling to excel. Are all of them still connected to wrestling in some way? I don’t know. But if they’re not we need to re-engage them with the sport.

We’re just a bunch of fans – what can we do to help. Well first of all, you can email a pledge of financial support to Johnny Cobb at Just as importantly, perhaps, is to show the rest of the world what wrestling means to us – show up at meets, do what we can to attract new fans, tell anyone who will listen the Henry Cejudo story, email links to videos of the inspirational heroes of our sport like Anthony Robles or Kyle Maynard. The more we ourselves support wrestling the more likely we are to attract the kind of support that can help people like Johnny Cobb achieve his mission.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Road to Cedar Rapids - Volume 2

Last year when Brandon MacWhinnie became the first wrestling All-American in the history of Stevens Institute of Technology it was more than a personal triumph. It was also a victory for Athletic Director Russ Rogers and a group of enthusiasts who were instrumental in returning wrestling to varsity status in 2004.

Stevens dropped wrestling from its roster of varsity sports in 1992. I asked AD Rogers about the resurrection.

“We had a very active club that was eager to take the program to varsity status. Our thought process at the time was centered around trying to meet our students' interests and provide them with the best possible experience. We also felt confident that we could carry a strong program. New Jersey is a great state for wrestling and our institution offers a high quality education.”

Reinstating a program requires commitment from many people. One of those is Stevens head coach Mike Clayton. Coach Clayton was hired last season and was named NCAA Division III Rookie Coach of the Year after the Ducks finished 23rd in the 2008 Championships in Cedar Rapids.

A native of Brooklyn, IA, Coach Clayton wrestled at the Naval Academy, where, after graduation, he was an assistant coach. During his time in the Navy and then, after leaving the service, he coached at the Apprentice School in Virginia. In 2004 he became the head assistant at the US Military Academy.

As we’ve seen all too frequently in the past few years, a wrestling program can be dropped almost instantly. Bringing one back takes a lot more time. Building numbers “in the room” is one of the key challenges. As Coach Clayton noted in a pre-season press release, “We’re excited to see our roster up from 17 wrestlers last year to 27 this year.”

I asked Coach Clayton about the outlook for the 2008-09 season.

“This season we return 9 of 10 starters but will sit one starter out to rehab an injury at 125. We are pretty solid from 133 up through the line-up and for the first time at Stevens actually have depth at several weight classes that will help our dual meet success. We are young and still building. We’ve started the season out ranked #27 in the pre-season coaches poll. This is the first time in school history we’ve earned a coaches’ poll ranking so it’s nice to be recognized by our peers for the hard work we’ve been putting in.”

He’s also excited about the recent hiring of former Division III All-American, Danny Song, to be his assistant. Song has been competing the last couple of years with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club while completing graduate work at the University of Iowa. According to Clayton, “(Song) really brings a great work ethic and strong background to the room having trained with Hawkeye Wrestling Club for the last 2 years.”

In addition to coaching, Clayton is a tireless promoter of his team, his school and his sport. He’s started both a fall clinic and a summer camp and writes a regular blog.

Ducks Blog

As at most Division III schools, academics are first and foremost. According to AD Rogers the wrestling team GPA last year “was almost a 3.2.”
Coach Clayton also talks about the education available at Stevens, “We are listed as one of the top 100 colleges in America each year. Our engineering and business technology departments are excellent as well as offering great opportunities in pre-medicine, pre-law and computer science.”

Coach Clayton is looking forward to returning to Cedar Rapids for the 2009 Championships and continuing the successful rebirth of Stevens wrestling.

Cedar Rapids update

Flood recovery continues. Downtown is now sprinkled with red and white “We’re Back” banners marking businesses that have re-opened.

One of the treasures of downtown Cedar Rapids has always been Penguin’s Comedy Club. Unable to re-build in their old location, Penguin’s has relocated to the Clarion Hotel. They have booked TC Hatter and Marcianne for the weekend of this year’s Division III Championships. It’s a unique act that is “family friendly”. Shows will be Friday at 8:00 and Saturday at 7:30 and 10:00. The late show Saturday will be a perfect way to finish the night after finals. The Clarion is convenient to all of the “southwest side” hotels. For more information visit

Make your trip to this year’s championships even more fun – take in a show.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wrestling Heroes - Volume 3


Tommy Norris was twice an ACC wrestling champion for the University of Maryland. After graduation he enlisted in the Navy in hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, vision problems kept him from flying. Instead – he became a SEAL.

Lt. Col. Iceal (Gene) Hambleton was an intelligence expert who was flying a reconnaissance mission over Viet Nam in April, 1972 when his aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Lt. Colonel Hambleton was the only one of the six-man crew able to eject. The rest were killed.

Hollywood made a movie “based on a a true story”, called Bat 21 about the rescue of Iceal Hambleton.

Because the real story of this mission remained classified at the time of the movie, Lieutenant Thomas Norris and his Vietnamese “frogmen” get no mention in the movie. Lt. Norris and his small team twice went well beyond enemy lines to effect the rescue of, first, Lt. Mark Clark and then Lt. Colonel Hambleton. For his actions, Lt. Thomas Norris was awarded, against his own objections, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Six months later, Tommy Norris would again be sent on a rescue mission behind enemy lines. This time Lt. Norris would not escape unscathed. Suffering a severe head wound, Lt. Norris was given up for dead by all but SEAL team member, Michael Thornton. Thornton refused evacuation from the enemy ambush – “not without my lieutenant”. Thornton found Tommy Morris with a part of his head blown away by enemy fire and carried him to his rescue. For his actions on that October day, Michael Thornton became the first person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing another Medal of Honor winner.

The complete story of these actions can be read at

Since Milo of Croton, wrestlers have been among those that have answered the call when a nation has needed it’s warriors to fight for freedom. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum is filled with Distinguished Members who have served the United States when most needed. J Robinson, Josiah Henson, Bill Smith, Gerry Leeman, Greg Gibson and many others came to our country’s aid in times of war.

The Hall of Fame has begun work on an exhibit called Glory Beyond Sport: Wrestling and the Military which is scheduled for launch in February, 2009. Plans are for the exhibit to travel for a year and then become permanent at the Hall. Executive Director, Lee Roy Smith, has asked for your help with this project. If you know of anyone who has distinguished themselves both in wrestling and in the military, please contact the Hall of Fame at

When we send young men and women off to war we owe them – at least our respect and our thanks – and perhaps so much more.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes during this week to remember those that have sacrificed so that we may have our freedom.

Written in memory of Korean War veteran Sgt. Arthur Brown Jr. Thanks, Dad.


Monday, November 3, 2008

If there were a Wrestling Fan Hall of Fame

Cael Sanderson greets you when you enter Smitty’s Shoe Repair. No – the Cyclone legend is not actually there – it’s an autographed life size cut out of the Olympic champion – holding a giant can of Hy Vee Chunky Vegetable Soup.

Calling Rich Foens, the owner if Smitty’s, a wrestling fan is a classic case of understatement. The walls of his shop on the square in Marion, IA are covered with wrestling memorabilia (and pictures of his grandkids). There are autographed photos and posters from Sanderson, Dan Gable and Tom Brands. You’ll also find the team pictures of the 1954 and 1956 Davenport High School state championship wrestling teams. Rich was on those teams. He finished fourth at 95 pounds in the Iowa state tournament in 1955.

Ostensibly, I had gone in to Smitty’s to get new heels on a pair of shoes. I really went in to ask Rich a question. Last week wrestling history buff, Mark Palmer, posted a video of the 1962 NCAA finals. One of the finalists was identified as “Frank Freeman” from Iowa State Teacher’s College (now UNI). I asked online viewers if this was the same Franc Freeman who coached Bettendorf (IA) High School wrestling for many years – including a couple of state championship teams in the early ‘80s. I got no reply – so I went in to ask Rich. “Yep, Francis O’Grady Freeman – we’ve been friends since the third grade.” Rich took me over to the 1956 Davenport team picture and pointed to a very young Franc Freeman.

Even though we’re from the same home town and attended the same high school, I didn’t meet Rich until about 20 years ago when my wife and I started dating. Romantic devil that I am one of our early dates was an Iowa wrestling meet. We ran into Rich and his daughter there. My wife had taught elementary school in Tipton, IA and had been a neighbor to Rich and his wife. A strong friendship developed. Coincidentally, my wife moved back to Cedar Rapids and Rich bought Smitty’s and moved to Marion. It has now become ritual that Rich and I chat before every Hawkeye meet.

Rich was coached by an Iowa high school legend – Jim Fox. Coach Fox is in the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame and is in the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame as both a coach and official. He coached two state championship wrestling teams, two “mythical” state football championship teams (before Iowa had playoffs) and three “official” championship teams after playoffs were instituted. He also coached a US Congressman (Jim Leach) an Olympian (Gayle Hopkins) and six athletes who played at least four years in the NFL – including Roger Craig.

I asked Rich about wrestling for coach Fox. “He was young then – and hated to lose”. In 1956 the Davenport Blue Devils crossed the Mississippi River to wrestle the Rock Island (IL) Rocks who were coached by Bill Smith – now a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The Rocks won handily. “He worked our tails off after that”, Rich said about coach Fox’s reaction to the loss. Both teams would finish 1956 by winning their respective state titles.

Simon Roberts was Rich’s teammate in 1954 when Si became the first African-American in the country to win a state high school wrestling championship. Rich remembers, “Si was wrestling Ronnie Gray from Eagle Grove in the finals. Si was a senior and Ronnie was a junior. Ronnie had won in 1952 and 1953 and most people thought he was going to become Iowa’s first 4-time state champion (note: Gray would win again in 1955). When Si beat him most people thought it was a fluke. We didn’t. Then when Si (competing for Iowa) beat Gray (of ISU) to become the first African-American NCAA wrestling champion he proved it wasn’t a fluke.”

If you ask Rich about his favorite wrestlers, Gable and Sanderson come up. Ask him to name an all-time Hawkeye wrestling team, however, and he won’t do it. “How do you say Tom Brands is better than Randy Lewis or Mark Ironside? It can’t be done”, says Rich. Yet – if you talk to Rich long enough it becomes apparent that he does have a favorite Hawkeye, “Don’t get me wrong - I know he wasn’t a great wrestler – but I loved to watch Ryan Fulsaas. So many times he would get behind but he never knew how to quit.”

Rich recently celebrated 50 years of owning a small business and 25 years as the owner of Smitty’s. If you’re in the Cedar Rapids/Marion area stop in and say, “Hi”. However, if you mention wrestling – you’d better be ready to hang around for a while.

By the way – if any of you readers know Mark Ironside, remind him that he still owes Rich that autographed picture for his wall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A tale of two icons

Dan Gable turned 60 Saturday. The event went relatively unnoticed. Wrestling historian and writer, Mark Palmer, made note of it on the internet Friday and I’ve seen or read little else about it.

As I’ve said before, my love for the sport started when a friend asked me to ride to Ames with him to watch Gable wrestle – just about 40 years ago. I’m not going to try to write any type of biography here. I’ll leave that to the better writers and those that know Dan well. However, when you have some time, I suspect that you’ll enjoy following Dan’s life through the articles written about him in Sports Illustrated (this may not be a good idea if you’re at work). Here are some of them, from the SI Vault.

The Pancake Man Flattens 'em March 24, 1969

A Kid Who Doesn't Kid Around June 19,1972

Look Homeward, Hawkeye March 22, 1982 (includes the famous Barry Davis
Doughnut story)

The Ultimate Winner July 18, 1984

Cedar Rapids, IA, 1997 March 31, 1997

The Pride of Iowa March 12, 2007

If Sports Illustrated has been featuring you in articles for 38 years, I think you can legitimately be called a sports icon.

Today (October 27, 2008) is the 150th birthday of another icon – and another member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Theodore Roosevelt.

Winner of both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize, Teddy Roosevelt is one of the most complex men in American history. He was a very sickly child, suffering frequently debilitating asthma attacks. He often spent days at a time sitting up – struggling to breathe.

In an effort to improve his health, his father started “Teedy” (the family nickname) on an exercise regimen that included learning how to box. He was a club boxer at Harvard and developed a lifelong interest in the martial arts – including wrestling. Frankly, he wasn’t a very good wrestler, but he loved the sport and the men who practiced it – once entertaining Frank Gotch at the White House.

Here’s a section of a letter from Roosevelt to his son Kermit that mixed martial arts fans may find interesting, “Since Sunday we have not been able to ride. I still box with Grant, who has now become the champion middleweight wrestler of the United States. Yesterday afternoon we had Professor Yamashita up here to wrestle with Grant. It was very interesting, but of course jiu jitsu and our wrestling are so far apart that it is difficult to make any comparison between them. Wrestling is simply a sport with rules almost as conventional as those of tennis, while jiu jitsu is really meant for practice in killing or disabling our adversary. In consequence, Grant did not know what to do except to put Yamashita on his back, and Yamashita was perfectly content to be on his back. Inside of a minute Yamashita had choked Grant, and inside of two minutes more he got an elbow hold on him that would have enabled him to break his arm; so that there is no question but that he could have put Grant out. So far this made it evident that the jiu jitsu man could handle the ordinary wrestler. But Grant, in the actual wrestling and throwing was about as good as the Japanese, and he was so much stronger that he evidently hurt and wore out the Japanese.”

Roosevelt is also credited with starting the organization that eventually grew into the NCAA.

Oh yeah – then there was that Panama Canal thing… and National Parks… and trust busting…

Anyway – I hope Dan Gable had a happy birthday and I hope that at least a few of us take a second to remember Theodore Roosevelt.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Road to Cedar Rapids - Volume 1

When Clayton Rush ran on to the raised mat for the finals of the NCAA Division III wrestling championships last March I was excited that I might be witnessing history – Coe College’s first ever national champion. I saw Clayton wrestle several times last year and became a fan. His performance in the DIII portion of National Duals was dominant in every sense of the word.

No – I’m not a Coe alumnus (St. Ambrose ’74 – Go, Bees!), but I have lived within walking distance of the Coe campus since I moved to Cedar Rapids in 1988. Many small colleges have a claim to fame and Coe is no exception. Two Coe alumni have been named “Coaches of the Year” in two professional sports. Bill Fitch led the Boston Celtics to the 1981 NBA title and Marv Levy coached the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances. Former Kohawk, Fred Jackson, is now a running back for the Bills.

I became a Coe wrestling fan when John Oostendorp became the head coach. John was always among my favorite Hawkeye wrestlers and his 1993 third place finish, where he defeated both Billy Pierce and Rulon Gardner in the consolation bracket, stands as one of my favorite Hawkeye performances.

Clayton took down Seth Flodeen from Augsburg almost immediately in their finals match and quickly also scored nearfall points. The Coe fan section erupted and I was confident that we were all going to see that history made. Then, Flodeen escaped, scored a takedown and eventually locked up a cradle, pinning Clayton and winning the NCAA title.

Coe did make history that night. Sophomore, Tyler Burkle, won the 165-pound title and became the school’s first national champion. The team also scored their highest finish ever – 4th – and Coach Oostendorp was named Coach of the Year.

In June, history of another kind was made in Cedar Rapids – a devastating flood that left thousands homeless. Coe College and Clayton Rush were among the victims. You have to be familiar with Cedar Rapids to understand just how incredible it was for flooding ever to reach the Coe campus – but it did. The power plant was under water and Coe was without power for several days.

Clayton’s house was also flooded. “I was fortunate enough not to lose anything of value. I was, however, flooded out of the house I was renting. I had planned to remain in Cedar Rapids all summer to work out, and had to return home to Illinois. Coe College was closed for a time and had no power, so our team lost it’s wrestling room and I did lose great workout opportunities, along with training with my team everyday of the summer.”

Downtown Cedar Rapids was particularly hard hit by the flood. According to Mary Lee Malmberg of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), “This summer’s flood impacted 450 businesses in the downtown area.” The CVB office was among that group. “(The CVB) was inundated with about 4’ of flood water causing extensive damage. Everything was lost with the exception of what was taken out of the office when CVB staff evacuated.”, said Malmberg.

Cedar Rapids will again host the Division III championships next spring – and both Coe and the city are preparing.

Says Clayton, “Our goal is to be the National Champs. Our coaching staff preaches that day in and day out. All we have running through our minds is to be the National Champions.” As for himself, “I have been training to be a 3x national champion. I don’t want anything less, nor do my teammates. Our goal is to be the National Champions. I have been lifting hard and working out when and where ever I am able. I ended up working for my Dad pouring concrete most of the summer. That along with lifting has really, I believe, helped me gain quite a bit of strength.”

And Cedar Rapids – according to Mary Lee Malmberg, “As of today, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and Grant Wood Studio have reopened, and the Science Station is featuring a new dinosaur exhibit in temporary space located at Lindale Mall. On October 24 (also at Lindale Mall) Theatre Cedar Rapids will begin their season in a remodeled theater and the National Czech & Slovak Museum will open an exhibit and gift shop while their permanent structures are rebuilt. These attractions have accepted the challenge created by the flood and have found new, creative ways to serve the public.

Once again there is availability in local hotels and the Convention & Visitors Bureau is spreading the word that visitors are welcome and encouraged to see Cedar Rapids’ comeback.”

When I asked Mary Lee what Division III wrestling fans could anticipate, she replied, “Wrestling fans can expect an enthusiastic welcome from Cedar Rapids when they visit in March. Eighty-six percent of the city was not impacted by the flood, and many of the businesses in the flood zone will have re-opened by then.

The Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau will staff an information booth at the U.S. Cellular Center for fans arriving on Friday. Information on downtown restaurants that are open will be available as well as other visitor information. Maps and directions will also be provided.”

Recovery from a disaster of this magnitude frequently brings out the best in people. Back in June I wrote a couple of blogs about the flood. Clayton’s mother read them and shared them with him. I pointed out in one of them that my friend Terrance and his family had lost everything in the flood – including all of the Hawkeye wrestling memorabilia that he had collected over the past few years. Clayton’s response was to send Terrance an autographed Coe wrestling tee shirt. Terrance loves that shirt.
Thank you.

So - wrestling fans, mark your calendars for March 6th and 7th and join me at the US Cellular Center for the 2009 Division III Championships. The wrestling will be exciting and you’ll have a great time.

PS If you would like to contribute to the Cedar Rapids flood recovery, please visit

Monday, October 13, 2008

75 miles of glory

I’ve been known to drink the occasional beer or glass of wine. The lounge in the Cedar Rapids Marriott is my favorite watering hole – in no small part because the bartender wrestled in high school and is a Hawkeye wrestling fan. Last Thursday evening I was on my usual perch when two young men and a young woman rolled in. They were sporting white cowboy hats and Cornell College tee shirts. “We just drove all the way from Houston in a Ford Ranger.”

“Are you here for homecoming?”, asked the bartender.


Then absolutely out of the blue one of the men said, “Man I’m glad Terry Brands is back at Iowa. We’ll sure see that old ‘Gable style’ now”. May God strike me down if that is not true. Wellllll - bartender Lenny and I are now ecstatic. The wrestling talk poured as freely as the spirits. After 20 or 30 minutes the young woman asked why we were so involved in our discussion. Her friend replied, “because this is Iowa and wrestling’s a big deal here.”

Go forward one night. One of the managers at the Marriott is the step-brother of a Hawkeye wrestler and we were discussing the video of an Iowa practice that had recently been posted on the internet. The person sitting next to me was a Cornell alum, in town for homecoming. “Do you follow wrestling?”, he asked – followed by – “Did you know that Cornell is the smallest school ever to win the NCAA wrestling championship?”

Bartender Lenny (who attended UNI in the early ‘70s), “Did YOU know that UNI also won an NCAA team title?”

I checked to make sure I had a pulse, because this is my idea of heaven – wrestling talk with strangers – TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW!

I’m a wrestling history geek and the idea for this blog was spawned by those two nights of conversations.

Waterloo/Cedar Falls and Mount Vernon are roughly 75 miles apart. In the post World War II years, Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) and Cornell College joined the “Big boys” of college wrestling – and each won a title. The story of Cornell’s amazing 1947 season is one of the greatest David vs. Goliath tales in the annals of college sports. You can read about it in Mark Palmer's Rev-Rewind article.

Iowa State Teachers College was a power from 1947 through the early ‘50s, winning the NCAA championship in 1950 and producing three 3-time NCAA champs, an Olympic silver medallist and an Olympic champion.

Certainly almost all college wrestling programs would hope to have that history of success. Perhaps, however, what those 2 programs have meant to the sport since the 1950’s is the greater heritage.

Success rarely drops from the sky. That is the case with these two schools. The foundations for Cornell’s emergence were laid in the 1920’s with Hall of Fame coach Dick Barker who recruited Olympic silver medallist and Hall-of-Famer LLoyd Appleton to Mount Vernon. After leaving Cornell, Coach Barker founded the wrestling team at Michigan. Hall of Fame coach Paul Scott took over the helm at Cornell in 1941 and lead the Purple (now the Rams) to their post-war success. In addition to winning the 1947 NCAA and AAU championships he coached 3-time NCAA champion and Hall-of Famer Lowell Lange and NCAA champ Dick Hauser.

Hall of Fame coach Dave McCuskey was a 1930 graduate of Iowa State Teachers College who led the Panthers from 1933 – 1952. In addition to the 1950 NCAA championship mentioned above, Coach McCuskey’s Panthers were NCAA runners-up four times and won three AAU national titles.

From there the influence grows. Cornell grad Lloyd Appleton coached at West Point for 19 years and helped establish what would become the US military wrestling organization – leading us to the likes of Hall-of-Famer Greg Gibson and 2008 Olympian Dremiel Byers. Lowell Lange revived the Georgia Tech wrestling program and his Yellow Jackets interrupted Auburn’s Swede Umbach's 25 year run of (now) SEC titles. Lange’s team mate Dale Thomas went on to coach at Oregon State University, where his 616 victories still stand as the all-time NCAA record.

The Iowa State Teachers College teams of that era have had even greater influence. UNI Olympic gold medallist, Bill Smith is one of the very few individuals to coach high school championship teams in 2 states – Illinois and California. He also coached the Olympic Club of San Francisco team to three national freestyle and four national Greco-Roman championships. Three-time UNI NCAA champs and Hall-of-Famers Bill Koll, Bill Nelson and Keith Young would all go on to be influential coaches – Koll at Penn State, Nelson at the University of Arizona and Young at Cedar Falls High School. Additionally, Bil Koll’s son, Rob, would go on to a stellar collegiate coaching career.

It wasn’t just the Hall of Fame wrestlers from UNI that have influenced the sport. Leo Alitz, a member of those powerful post-war Panther squads, is in the Hall of Fame for his longtime career at the US Military Academy, where he coached Army’s only NCAA individual champ. Hall-of-Famer Bob Siddens was also a part of those outstanding UNI teams. His career at Waterloo West High School is legendary, but he is, perhaps, most famous for being the first coach of a guy named Gable.

Unfortunately – late Friday night – this blog took a sad turn when I learned of the death of UNI Olympic silver medallist and NCAA champ, Gerry Leeman. Like his team mate, Bill Smith – and so many athletes of that era - Leeman’s career was interrupted by World War II, where Gerry served as a naval fighter pilot. When the Osage, IA native returned to Iowa State Teachers College he won a title and was named outstanding wrestler of the 1946 championships. Then, in 1948 he won an Olympic silver medal. In 1953 Hall of Fame coach Billy Sheridan selected Leeman to succeed him as head coach at Lehigh University. While at Lehigh Leeman’s dual meet record was 161-38-4. He won six EIWA championships and had six wrestlers win nine individual NCAA championships – including the legendary “three-timer”, Mike Caruso.

Gerry Leeman

He was more than a coach. In a quote from a 1967 Sports Illustrated article about Caruso, Bethlehem (PA) shoemaker John Pappajohn says, "That Mr. Leeman, he is a very special man. I never forget one time, eight, nine year ago, when he come to get a shoeshine. 'You no look so good, Pappajohn,' he says to me. I say no, things is bad. My daughter is very sick in the hospital and need blood transfusions. You know what he do? He not even let me finish his shoe before he go over to the phone, and he call up the captain of his team. Before the day is through, every single one of his boys is down at the hospital, giving blood so's my daughter can have her transfusions. No, I can never forget that man."

He is survived by his wife, Darlene of Cedar Falls; two sons, Mark Leeman and Jay (Judy) Leeman of Bethlehem, Pa.; one daughter, Jerilou (John) Willmore of Hubbard; two brothers, Wayne (Susie) Leeman of Pinehurst, Ill., and Bill Leeman of Cassa Grande, Ariz.; two sisters, Beverly (Jim) Hoy of McHenry, Ill., and Barb (Larry) Campbell of Winterset; grandsons, Jayson Leeman, Cody Leeman and Travis Moseley; granddaughter, Heather (Justin) Dyar; stepgrandson, Ben Willmore; great-grandsons, Ayden Dyar and Prentice Dyar; sister-in-law, Betty Buckles; and special nieces, Becky (Darrel) Willhite and Bonnie Dunham. He was preceded in death by his parents; siblings, Albert, Dale, Keith, Donald, and Shirley; and brother-in-law, Gene Buckles.
As luck would have it, I attended UNI’s “Night of Champions” earlier this year where Gerry was one of the honorees. I feel honored to have been there.

(My thanks to Mark Palmer for his help in preparing this blog).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Brotherly love

My brother, Bruce, moved to Seattle about 35 years ago. He is a couple of years younger than me and for most of our youth we shared a room. We also argued, fought and competed – in everything from Jeopardy to Risk to whiffle ball.

When it came time to leave the nest, Bruce and I and our friend, Doug, rented a two-room apartment across the street from the Pink Poodle in Davenport (it’s a laundromat – not a strip club). Our sibling rivalry occasionally erupted there and shouting matches would ensue.

After several months of this living arrangement we all three went our separate ways – Doug back to UNI and I to a different apartment and roommate. Bruce stayed on 15th Street and took on someone else to share the rent. Not long after that Bruce moved to the Pacific Northwest.

In that 35 years we have seen each other far too rarely - the deaths of our parents, an occasional business trip – I was even his “date” for his 35th high school reunion. For a short time Bruce taught at the University of Illinois law school and we did get together a few times during his tenure in Champaign. One of those times I drug him to a Hawkeye wrestling meet. He didn’t enjoy it at all. He couldn’t tell you this – but he got to see Tom and Terry Brands wrestle that night.

Last week, in a move that has been rumored on the internet since before the Olympics, Tom hired Terry to come back to Iowa City and be a Hawkeye assistant coach. That’s right – two of the most volatile (and successful) twin brothers in the history of wrestling have reunited and will be working together. The rivalry between these two in their younger days is legendary.

Hawkeye-land is certainly abuzz and the rumors – and questions – continue to fly. Will Olympic gold medallist, Henry Cejudo, and heavyweight, Steve Mocco follow Terry from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train in Iowa City? Is Terry coming to Iowa City as much to restore the Hawkeye Wrestling Club to its past glory as he is to join the rebuilding of the University of Iowa’s wrestling dynasty? Will tempers ever flare?

The Hawkeye fan in me reacted like this.

The wrestling fan in me has more questions.

Most American wrestling fans were disappointed in the overall performance in Beijing – just 3 total medals. It wasn’t long before there were calls for a restructuring of the USA Wrestling coaching staff – even by national freestyle coach, Kevin Jackson, himself. In the past two weeks Jackson has resigned to become head coach at Sunkist Kids and former World Champion, Zeke Jones was hired to replace him as national freestyle coach. Then, resident development coach, Terry Brands left the OTC for Iowa City.

Are these just the natural personnel changes that inevitably follow a sub-par performance by a national sports team – or could they lead to a fundamental shift in how we train our Olympic wrestlers? Do we really need a national training center?

Do regional training opportunities make more sense? Many of our top competitors work as collegiate assistants to support themselves. For much of the year it is a conflict for them to leave their jobs behind and get to Colorado Springs for valuable freestyle coaching. Is it more logical to have top international-level coaches available at locations all over the country? The changes of the last couple of weeks have given us a de facto opportunity to find out.

Kevin Jackson moving to Arizona, Terry Brands to Iowa City and Zeke Jones to Colorado Springs certainly offers a high level of coaching at those three locations. Throw in John Smith in Stillwater, the New York Athletic Club and emerging private clubs like Sean Bormet’s Overtime and you have the potential for a network of training sites.

Is this an opportunity to create a new development model? As it always is – money will be a major factor. The United States Olympic Committee allocates funds to the governing bodies of all Olympic sports – including USA Wrestling. The level of USOC support, in large part, determines how much is invested in developing our national wrestling teams. At Sunkist Kids, Art Martori and others generously support the betterment of the sport. Are there enough other private funding sources to support the clubs in Iowa City, Stillwater and elsewhere to a level that will produce world and Olympic champions? Can a structure be created that allows the USOC to help with regional center funding?

Are these concepts worth discussing?

Come on fans – what do you think?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tough AND funny

Penguin’s Comedy Club is one of the little known treasures of Cedar Rapids. The original location was destroyed by the June floods and the owners have decided to re-open at the Clarion Hotel. Saturday night my wife and I went to see “Bob and Tom” regular Costaki Economopolous, who is the significant other of Caroline Rhea. He was hilarious.

Greg Warren is a regular at Penguin’s. Greg was an All-American at Missouri in 1991. I saw him in that tournament, but – honestly – was more interested in the Pat Smith/Tom Ryan match in his weight class than in any others. Greg does several bits about wrestling in his act. One that I can’t find anywhere is about being ahead of Tim Krieger in a match. He scores a 5 point move on Krieger and Tim has to take an injury timeout. Greg’s coach comes over during the timeout and warns, “I think you pi$$ed him off. Be careful” Krieger won by fall.

Greg’s most famous wrestling “bit” is “Fluteman Greg”.

Here are a couple more of Greg’s classics.

When you come to Cedar Rapids in March for the Division III Championships, be sure to visit Penguin’s.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What fans want

I’m semi-literate when it come to the internet. Most of what I know about it I learned from Tom Terronez, owner of Terrostar , the company that created and maintains my business website. From day one Tom has preached the value of search marketing and the use of site analytics.

When I started the blog in July of ’07 it was an experiment. Did anyone really want to read the opinions of a wrestling fan in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? Well – it turns out that a few people do. Just before Fargo this year I started a research project on my readership. The first year was a little hard because myspace was the primary home for the blog and all I had were the view statistics for each edition. In early July I moved the primary home to blogger and extended my google analytics account to include the blog.


Here’s what I’ve found.

Editions with video are overwhelmingly the most popular. With over 3,200 views, by far the most popular blog was, “Banach is in trouble.” That one was written to thank Iowa Public Television for their years of supporting college wrestling. Pat Rowen of IPTV had graciously provided me with video of one of the biggest upset matches in the history of their broadcasts – Iowa State’s Dave Osenbaugh over Iowa’s Lou Banach. I agreed to leave the video posted for just one week and there was quite a clamor when I took it down (mostly from Cyclone fans).

The most visited page in my archives is “A short video history of American freestyle wrestling”. It became especially popular during the Olympics.

On average, the inclusion of a video in my blog will increase weekly visitors by 400+.

The most prevalent theme in the search phrases that drive people to the blog is “video”. There are a lot of folks out there looking for video of past wrestling greats. Since the first of July this year people have been driven to my site in their search for tape of Rick Sanders (the most popular), Wade Schalles, Doug Blubaugh, Lou Banach, Dan Hodge, Wayne Wells, Cael Sanderson and Sergei Beloglazov.

My conclusion – wrestling fans want more video. The sport lends itself to online viewing. Most match videos last around 10 minutes (so you can sneak one in at work). You can choose who you want to watch and which matches. So why isn’t their more available? In the case of the NCAA and its member institutions, it’s licensing. Last March I got press credentials for the Division II and Division III National Championships. I was classified as “new media” and admonished to read the appropriate rules carefully. Those rules clearly forbid the posting of match videos in their entirety. I can post a 3 minute “representation” (highlight clip), but not a complete match.

All governing bodies: USA Wrestling, the NCAA, the NWCA, individual colleges and tournaments, etc. are cracking down on the unauthorized shooting, copying and posting of videos. Why? If so many fans want to watch these matches, why not, “for the good of the sport”, let them? The week after Fargo the top search phrases for my blog were related to video of the Nate Moore/Eric Grajales match. Clearly, online video is a key medium for the promotion of the sport.

Answer – it just isn’t that simple. When my daughter was in law school she asked her attorney uncle for specialization suggestions. His reply, “Well, if you want to get rich – go into intellectual property law. That’s going to be in the courts for the next 20 years.” Each entity that sponsors or holds an event (i.e. invests the money) has the right to determine how that “final product” is used. In many cases this is further complicated by the web of relationships that frequently must be developed to promote or broadcast the event. Just try any kind of advertising use of that phrase that implies that only four college basketball teams remain in the tournament and see what happens.

I’m not sure that the real issue is availability. It might be cost. There are a number of places that offer match video, but some charge membership fees. Typically, the costs are quite reasonable, but wrestling fans seem to like to pinch pennies.

I also wonder this - if people can watch wrestling for free on the computer will they get off their butts and go to live matches – typically paying $6 - $10 per meet. Attendance at college dual meets is already a problem. Will greater internet exposure serve to motivate fans to attend live events – or will it keep them at home? We don’t have enough data to know yet.

Obviously, there is still a lot to be learned

Anyway, if you have the day off from work and want to watch some wrestling here are a couple of options.

Live Sports Video charges for some things and offers other things free. The 2008 NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals are in their archives.

The Wrestling Talk has an excellent collection of videos at all levels including the 2008 Olympics.

USA Wrestling has a video collection on youtube. Many are interview videos, but there are a lot of matches from 2007 Senior Nationals.

intermat has a great collection of technique videos in their premium section. As a fan, I have found them very informative.

Oh yeah – for that person looking for Sergei Beloglasov – here he is against John Smith.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brother, can you spare a dime?

When it comes to wrestling I’m just a fan. Oh sure, I know the difference between an inside trip and a fireman’s carry – but it’s knowledge gained from watching countless matches at all levels of competition – not actual experience.

Because a few people read this blog every week, and some seem to like it, I occasionally get emails asking to support various wrestling-related causes. I’m also a denizen of several wrestling forums where I will encounter posts asking for some kind of help. (How many of us own tee shirts supporting our favorite Olympic athletes?). Clubs need mats, colleges need money to save programs or to start new ones, the Dan Gable International Wrestling Museum needs money to recover from the flood, etc. All are worthwhile causes.

I may just be a wrestling fan – but I’m a pro at asking for money. Yep, I’ve been a direct marketing consultant for almost 30 years. I’ve sold you or your friends jewelry, shoes, magazines, pizza, air conditioners, router tables, dresses, hotel rooms, etc, etc, etc – all by putting paper in your mailbox. I’ve also raised a lot of money for charities. So, this week I’m not going to talk about wrestling. Instead, I’m going to offer “Fund Raising 101”

A person gives to another person – not organizations or causes.

This is the most fundamental rule of fund raising – and the most ignored. Perhaps the most famous (and one of the most successful) of all fund raising letters is the Frank Deford “65 Roses” letter for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In that letter, Deford tells the story (legend) of how some kids came to call that awful childhood disease, “65 Roses”. He also tells you that his daughter suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and asks you to help him fight the disease.

Save Oregon Wrestling did a reasonably good job of this. Their email efforts are always personal appeals from Coach Ron Finley and do a good job of projecting a “David vs. Goliath” image. The website also makes solid use of individual wrestlers.

This rule applies to all fund raising efforts – not just direct mail. You’ll sell more candy, wash more cars and get more golf swings if you can make the event about an individual instead of the club, team, institution or sport.


A person will respond to a “face”. As you create your materials be sure that your audience can tie a face to your cause.

Make curing cancer “trivial”.

Passion, passion, passion! Your listener, reader or candy buyer has to believe at the very moment of receiving your message that those new mats for Jimmy and Susie are more important than curing cancer. Most donors make a first gift on impulse.

Al Bevilacqua is a perfect role model. His passion for Beat the Streets jumps off the page or screen at you.

Use the “motivators”. We “evil marketers” know that there are only nine prime motivators that will move a person to spend money:


The more of these you appeal to, the more successful you will be. Guilt, exclusivity, belonging and flattery work especially well in fund raising. Anger and fear can be powerful, but can also backfire.

Get the second donation.

After years of testing, the great direct mail guru, Dick Benson, found that a 2X donor is twice as likely to respond to all future efforts than is a 1X donor. That makes the second donation crucial. Here’s a pattern that works.

Get the initial donation.

Send a thank you note within a week of the first donation (do not yet ask for the second donation).

Thirty days later ask for the second donation.

Women write more checks – men write bigger checks.

This is not sexism – it’s data. Think about your particular need. If you’re asking for a one time, major donation you might consider strategies that are more appealing to men. If long term support is your goal, create a message that reaches out to women.

Tell them what you need and ask for a specific amount.

One of my most successful campaigns was for a small town youth recreation center that needed new stairs up to the gym. When I saw the construction estimate I realized that each stair was going to cost $370. I simply asked the readers to donate “a half stair, a full stair, or 2 stairs”. We still received several $25 contributions, but the overall average gift was much higher than previous appeals.

We also put a plaque in the stairwell recognizing all of the donors that gave “at least one stair”.

If you need $10,000 for new mats – tell them. If you need $1,000 per wrestler to go to Fargo – tell them. The “every little bit helps” approach is generally ineffective.

Ask more often.

Most organizations simply don’t ask for donations often enough. Why? That’s just like scoring one takedown at the beginning of a match and never taking another shot. Keep asking. Let your donors decide how frequently they’re willing to give – but they won’t give unless you ask.

Once again, I point to Save Oregon Wrestling as a positive example. If you gave to them, you know how frequently they will contact you.

I hope this helps a little. Now – go out there and raise some money.

Monday, September 8, 2008

An endangered species?

“I would have all of my offensive linemen wrestle if I could.”

John Madden
NFL Hall of Fame Coach

Back at Davenport Central High School in the late ‘60s almost all of the wrestlers played football – probably because Jim Fox (in the Iowa High School Athletic Hall of Fame as a football coach, wrestling coach and wrestling official) coached both sports.
That wasn’t all that unusual.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s it was still fairly common for college athletes to compete in both sports. Every Hawkeye fan over the age of 30 remembers Mark Sindlinger, who in December of 1987 started at center for the victorious Holiday Bowl football team and four months later was an NCAA wrestling All-American at heavyweight.

There are dozens of current and past NFL stars who come from a wrestling background. Hall of Fame coach, Joe Gibbs, was once quoted, “I draft wrestlers because they are tough. I have never had a problem with a wrestler.”

Stephen Neal has a phenomenal resume: two-time NCAA heavyweight champion, World Heavyweight Freestyle Champion and 4 Super Bowl rings as a member of the New England Patriots. Neal, however, was not a two-sport athlete in college – choosing to concentrate on wrestling. Carlton Hasselrig, the only 6X NCAA wrestling champion (3 in Division II and 3 in Division I), followed a similar path. He competed only as a wrestler at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown but went on to a career with the Steelers and Jets.

Other pro football stars excelled at both sports while in college. Curley Culp is probably the most notable. A 6X Pro Bowl nose tackle, he pinned three of four opponents to win the 1967 NCAA heavyweight title while competing for Arizona State University. He would later be named the Greatest Athlete in the History of Arizona during the state’s centennial celebration.

Pro football players, Rob Essink, Jim Nance and Lorenzo Neal were also NCAA wrestling champions.

Match forfeits have become a major problem in high school wrestling. Somewhat understandably, the 103 and 112 pound weight classes lead in the total number of forfeits. Surprisingly (at least to me), a high percentage of 215 pound matches are also forfeited. Wouldn’t this be a perfect weight class for a lot of high school football players? Why are teams finding it difficult to fill their rosters at this weight? Stephen Neal has said, “Wrestling develops skills that translate to football: leverage, balance, explosion and hand fighting?” Are young athletes specializing too early? Are they missing out on the values of wrestling because of a misguided belief that specialization is the key to success?

Has the day of the multi-sport coach gone by the wayside? If so, is this also reducing the numbers of multi-sport athletes?

Lots of questions. I wish I had some answers.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Just what is opportunity?

Olympic champion, Henry Cejudo, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Wednesday night. Henry was funny and charming. His story is well-known to the wrestling community – the son of undocumented immigrants, his early life was filled with struggles. Henry and his six siblings were raised by his mother, who worked countless hours to keep her family fed. They moved from Los Angeles to Arizona for better opportunities. Henry and his older brother, Angel, took up wrestling – and became champions (8 state titles between them). Upon hearing about the 8 championships Leno remarked, “I’ll bet nobody ever stole your lunch money.” Henry’s reply was, “We didn’t have any.”

The desire to win Olympic gold burns intensely in Angel and Henry. They took the non-traditional path of going directly from high school to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Henry has his gold – Angel still pursues his.

(To view Henry’s appearance go to

click on August 27 and fast forward to about 32 minutes)

Randi Miller couldn’t make the basketball team at Arlington (TX) Martin High School because the coaches thought she was too short. Fortunately for her, Texas is one of the few states that sanctions girls interscholastic wrestling. Even more fortuitously she had a coach, Tony Warren, who believes, “Wrestling is a sport that no matter what your size is, it comes down to how big your heart is and how hard you’re willing to work. If you’ve got those things you can go a long way.” He saw those things in Randi.

The path for women wrestlers is more challenging than it is for men. First, in all but a handful of states, if a high school girl wants to wrestle she must do so on a boys team. Only one girl in the history of American wrestling has ever won a state championship competing against boys – Michaela Hutchison.

Randi Miller, however, had the opportunity to compete only against girls. She has credited that for her confidence. After graduating from high school Randi went to Neosho County Community College and then on to one of the few American colleges with women’s varsity wrestling, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL. She then went to the US Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University.

A couple of weeks ago Randi’s journey culminated with a Bronze medal in Beijing.

Nick Ackerman is a bilateral amputee.


In 2001, I went to Waterloo for the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships and saw Nick wrestle. In the finals he faced number-one-ranked Nick Slack of Augsburg College who had won his previous 60 matches. To say that the match was exciting is pure understatement. Ackerman won 13-11 and was named Outstanding Wrestler of the championships. Later that year he would join Cael Sanderson as co-winner of the Hodge Trophy – wrestling’s “Heisman”. Recently, his championship was named by the NCAA as one of the 25 “defining moments” of the last 100 years.

Today, Nick works as a prosthetist – helping other amputees.

Anthony Robles was born with one leg.

Undefeated as a high school senior, Anthony now wrestles at Arizona State University. Last season, as a freshman, he finished one match away from All-American status in Division I.

Michael Spriggs is blind. A recent graduate of Charles H Flowers High School in Springdale, MD, Michael has been visually impaired since birth. Born with cataracts, a series of complications and an accident eventually plunged him into total darkness. From the fifth through the tenth grade he lived and studied at the Maryland School for the Blind. He transferred to Flowers his junior year where he met geometry teacher/wrestling coach Odist Felder. An educator in every sense of the word, not only did Felder figure out methods to teach geometry to a blind student he encouraged Michael to join the wrestling team. Michael was 13-12 his first season and made the state tournament this year.

The only rule concession that is given a blind wrestler is that his opponent must always be in physical contact. The wrestlers must touch hands in the neutral position. If contact is broken they must re-start.

Here’s more of Michael’s story from ESPN.

Wrestling is the embodiment of the “American Dream”. Hard work, learning, tenacity and resilience are rewarded. Best of all - anyone can win. Race, size, gender, economic status, nationality – none of that matters. Even those with physical challenges can triumph. Now THAT’S opportunity.

Monday, August 25, 2008

OW! I've blown my toes off.

The Olympics are over. For two weeks we viewed sports we only see every four years and learned the names or stories of great athletes who normally toil in anonymity. Several sports gained new fans and new participants. The best American wrestling could do during the past fortnight was shoot itself in the foot.

The story that got the most media coverage had nothing to do with the Olympics. It was discovered that two University of Nebraska wrestlers had been paid to pose nude for a website that caters to gay men. Neither young man broke the law – nor did they do anything that countless college cheerleaders haven’t done over the years in Playboy “Girls of the Pac Ten” spreads. However, since they did violate the “code of conduct” clauses in their scholarship agreements, Husker wrestling coach, Mark Manning, removed them from the team.

In the end, they did more to hurt themselves than they did to harm the sport. Oh sure, the story probably generated some snickering, but it will pass.

Meanwhile – back in Beijing – Henry Cejudo won a freestyle gold medal at 55 kilos (121.5 lbs). He was a joy to watch. Henry’s story is compelling. The son of undocumented immigrants, Henry’s mother worked multiple jobs keeping food on the table for her family. A four-time high school state champion (two in Arizona and two in Colorado), Henry eschewed the traditional American wrestling career path of continuing to wrestle folkstyle in college before entering the international arena. Instead, he went directly to the Olympic Training Center to concentrate on freestyle. At 21, he became the youngest American to ever win an Olympic freestyle gold.

Surely Cejudo’s success is exempt from my contention that American wrestling “shot itself in the foot”. Wrong. In a post-medal interview, Henry admitted that he had to lose 10 pounds in an hour and a half to “make weight”. When asked how he did it he replied, “Sauna, plastics (suit)…”.

That’s not all. Greco-Roman wrestler, T.C. Danzler, acknowledged that his performance may have been negatively impacted by the amount of weight he had to lose before competing. Finally, Daniel Cormier was hospitalized because his efforts to make weight led to kidney malfunction. Cormier was forced to withdraw from the Olympics.

This is where the toes disappeared.

Youth participation in wrestling has grown steadily, albeit slowly, since the mid ‘90s. That fact is frequently quoted – sometimes when arguing against the elimination of college wrestling programs and sometimes just to put a good face on the sport. What is less frequently mentioned is that high school wrestling lost 150,000 participants between 1977 and 1995. After 13 years of steady climbing, there are still 100,000 fewer high school wrestlers today than in the 1976-77 school year.

Unhealthy weight loss practices contributed to the decline. The perception that these practices still exist at the youth and high school levels are a major roadblock in the efforts to return wrestling to the popularity it once held. It doesn’t really matter that weight loss practices for young athletes are far more stringently monitored now – because the public still perceives “making weight” negatively. Those beliefs could have only been reinforced by the happenings in Beijing.

Even when discussing “marketing” or “promotion” or “growth”, wrestling tends to look inward too much. Many wrestlers and ex-wrestlers read the previous paragraph and thought something like, “Sucking weight is a part of wrestling. If you’ve ever wrestled, you understand that.” Well – I have never wrestled – and neither have most mothers – and they will have a major influence on wrestling’s future. Moms approve, support and – sometimes – determine their kids’ extracurricular activities. Right now, “Mom” thinks wrestling is unhealthy. Our Olympic athletes just told her so.

Wrestling is trying too hard to be an exclusive fraternity. Sons wrestle because their dads wrestled. Big brother wrestles, so little brother does, too. There’s an initiation – complete with hazing and the weight loss ritual. If you don’t “get it” – do something else. Well – that’s not an attitude that will lead to growth.

So what do we do? First, let’s all (wrestlers, coaches and fans) stop talking about weight loss like it is second only to winning a championship in importance. I’ve been just as guilty of this as everyone else – frequently posting my admiration for the way 3X Hawkeye All-American and 1996 NCAA champion, Daryl Weber, cut to 142 to “help the team”.

Second – add a “parent recruiting” element to participation growth plans. Let parents know that there are rules in place to protect the health of their children. More than that – work just as hard to sell parents on the sport as we do the potential participants.

Finally - let’s get more positive images of the sport out into the world. Let’s talk more about Anthony Robles and Dr. Norman Borlaug and Doug Zembiec. And let’s talk about Henry Cejudo’s gold medal – not his weight loss.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Get them on the mat

Henry “Hank” Krambeck lettered in gymnastics at Indiana University in 1950. His love for the sport had been cultivated within the “Turner” movement in his hometown of Davenport, IA. He left Davenport and enrolled at The Normal College of the American Gymnastics Union in Indianapolis. The school was operated as a kind of extension college of IU and had the primary purpose of training physical education teachers with a background in gymnastics.

Mr. Krambeck (it’s almost 50 years later and I still call him that) returned to Davenport to teach phys ed at Jefferson Elementary School. From 1959 to 1962 (4th – 6th grade) he taught me. Every year he taught a gymnastics unit. More importantly, he started the Jefferson Jesters – the only school-related tumbling team in the city. Kids could try out for the Jesters beginning in the fourth grade. I tried out as soon as I could, but didn’t make it. Then – in the fifth grade I did. There were about fifteen of us and we practiced twice a week after school throughout the school year.

There were three levels within the group. The beginners had all mastered the very basic skills that were taught in the regular PE class units and were ready to move on. Once you could do a handspring and a headstand you moved on to the next level – an “exhibition team” of sorts. We performed at local nursing homes and at the halftime of high school basketball games. In the spring we would give a show for the younger kids at school and one for the parents.

The very best 4 or 5 kids were our “competition team” – traveling around Iowa and Illinois to AAU and Turner-run events. They were good (I never was good enough to make the competition team) – with one of our boys winning the Iowa AAU championships twice. Some of these elite would then move on to Mr. Krambeck’s team at the Northwest Davenport Turner Hall when they were in junior high and high school.

Mr. Krambeck worked very hard to promote gymnastics. Remember – this is long before Olga, Nadia and Mary Lou. As you would expect, because of his love for the sport, the “tumbling” unit was the most fun part of the phys ed calendar. He got kids excited in other ways, too. At the end of every PE class we were required to sit in a line cross-legged while we waited for the bell for the next class. I suppose it was a way to settle us down a little before moving on. About once a month he would line us up early and give a gymnastics demonstration himself. I can still picture him bringing a chair out of his office and doing handstands and flips on and off that chair. We just sat there in awe.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If you read my blog two weeks ago you would recognize that Mr. Krambeck’s efforts to grow his favorite sport are amazingly similar to the model presented by the National Wrestling Coaches Association in the Pyramid of Participation.

Clearly, wrestling’s governing bodies want youth participation to grow.

Can we fans help?

Kids need exposure to the sport and every one of us can help with that.

Donate wrestling books and videos to your local elementary and middle schools. Friend of the blog, Gregg Dinderman, recommended, Wrestling: A Boy’s First Book, for elementary school readers ( I highly recommend No Excuses, by Kyle Maynard and Four Days to Glory by Mark Kreidler. Both are appropriate for middle school and high school students and Kyle Maynard’s story is inspirational to all.

Speaking of Kyle Maynard – share this video clip as a way of promoting the sport.

Let kids see live wrestling. Most colleges have group and youth ticket packages that make sending an elementary school gym class or a youth wrestling club to a meet pretty affordable.

Support your local club. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a youth wrestling club that couldn’t use a little financial help. Give them a boost.

If we really love this sport, it’s up to all of us to help it grow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The greatest wrestler in history

Wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports.

What if NBC had covered the ancient games?


When we come back – we’ll talk to Milo of Kroton who will be going for an unprecedented sixth Olympic wrestling championship.


“Milo, you won here first in 540 BCE as a boy. It’s 24 years later and you’re going for a sixth championship. What are your thoughts on your opponents?”


“Well, Bob, I never worry about my opponent. My goal is to force my style on him.”


“It’s been said that you are the strongest of all wrestlers. What is your workout routine?”


“This rock weighs 326 pounds. I’ll curl it several times and then bench it a couple dozen more.”



“Wow, I can’t even budge that.”

“I understand that the past couple of years have been pretty eventful for you.”


“Well, first there was the attack on our town. A neighboring city attacked and I put on my Olympic crowns, dressed like Herakles and led my fellow citizens to victory.”

“Then last year there was the incident at Pythagorean Hall. The roof started to collapse and I held the center column until everyone else in the hall escaped. Then, thanks to the great god Zeus, I was able to escape before the roof completely collapsed.”


“Amazing. Milo, good luck in the finals.”


“Thanks, Bob.”


“When we come back – an interview with Michael Phelps’ kindergarten teacher.”