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.

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