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.