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.

No comments: