Monday, December 28, 2009

A warrior's battle

I got a phone call Saturday from Bill Lahman and you could hear the sorrow in his voice.

For those of you who hang out on the internet wrestling forums, Bill is the infamous willyman57. To say that he can be abrasive when posting is to say that Bill Gates made a little money in the software business.

There’s another side to Bill that doesn’t always travel well through the ether. He’s a caring man who is passionate about wrestling – and wrestlers. He and I developed an affinity because we live in the same city and because we were both present at what we old timers consider the most famous athletic event in Iowa high school history – the 1965 football game between Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Davenport Central. I was in the stands rooting for the Central Blue Devils and Bill was down on the field helping the J-Hawks to a 20-18 victory.

Bill’s Saturday call had nothing to do with that game. It was about Adam Frey and the impending end to Adam’s battle with cancer. Telephone conversations are only slightly better than computer messages when it comes to gauging the emotions behind the words, but based on the way Bill’s voice kept cracking, I suspect that there were tears in his eyes.

“Jim, we’ve got to honor this young man – the wrestling community, the NCAA, everyone. Couldn’t teams sew a memorial patch on their singlets? I don’t know, but we have to do something. Have you read the last few entries on his website? Did you read the letter to Adam’s mother from his former teammate at Blair? By God, that says it all.”

Less than two hours after Bill called word came that Adam was gone.

For those who don’t know about Adam – here’s the short version. He was an outstanding wrestler who was a junior nationals freestyle champion. One of Cornell University’s top recruits, he qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships as a freshman. On March 25, 2008 he was in a car accident. Swerving to avoid an oncoming car in his lane, he crashed into a tree. His injuries were not life threatening – but, during a routine scan for internal injuries, three tumors were discovered – one in his lung, one in his liver and one in between his kidneys.

Rumors of his diagnosis immediately hit the wrestling websites and forums. Adam’s friend – and the wrestling world’s go-to web development goddess – Danielle Hobeika, confirmed the diagnosis and had a website created and up for Adam in just a couple of days. It was through this website and his blogs that thousands of us got to know Adam and his family. We learned of his quirky sense of humor, his individualism, but most of all we got a lesson in courage. Bill Lahman was one of the very first to send Adam well wishes.

Adam touched those of us who never met him in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine. Those who did know him – well – Jason Bryant says it this way.

So - how do we honor Adam Frey? How do we keep his memory alive with the respect he deserves. The wrestling community is already rallying. There are early indications that something might be done at the Midlands Championships. This note came yesterday from Pat Tocci of the National Wrestling Coaches Association:

“We are thinking of something that would promote his foundation at the National Duals. It might be something as simple as a table on the concourse (where) people can make a donation and have a book (available) to write wishes for the family. We want to do something that will be sustainable over the course of time.”

As for Bill - he already has a group of people creating a sticker that can be worn on headgear or affixed to equipment bags or laptops – anywhere that will remind us of Adam’s courage.

Ultimately, it’s within us all that his memory must live and it’s obvious that there are many who will never forget Adam Frey.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Santa 2009

Dear Santa,

I’m late with my list again – sorry.

First, thanks for giving us some of the things I asked for last year. I requested more wrestling opportunities in America’s largest cities and you sent Mike Rodriguez who, with the help of Mark Churella and others, launched Beat the Streets Detroit.

You packed your sleigh with new programs like Baker University and Lake Erie College. You brought intercollegiate wrestling opportunities to untapped areas when new teams were announced at Shorter College in Georgia, Wayland Baptist University in Texas and Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas. Someone at Norwich University must have moved from the “naughty” column to the “nice” column because you reinstated their program less than a year after they dropped it.

Thanks, also, for putting more wrestling coverage under my tree. Just yesterday I got to follow Wartburg’s Desert Duals through a live blog – and boy am I thankful! It’s pretty likely that there will be a shakeup in some individual Division III rankings after the action in Las Vegas.

I’ve kept a couple of items from last year on this year’s list. We still need more opportunities for girls to wrestle. The success of girls’ interscholastic wrestling in Texas, Hawaii, Washington and California and the growth of women’s intercollegiate programs prove that girls want to wrestle. They just don’t want to have to wrestle boys. Please, Santa, send us someone enlightened enough and with enough energy to lead the grassroots effort required to expand girls’ wrestling.

I’m still looking for a “shinier” version of freestyle wrestling, too. I’m afraid that even John Smith would look boring under the current rules.

I’m pretty greedy, so I’ve added a few things to this year’s list. Could we get more press conferences with Tom Brands? I know that a lot of fans love to hate Hawkeye wrestling, but Coach Brands just might be the most interesting interview in all of sports. “Poop his pants” has now been added to his long list of “quotable quotes”.

Can we get more kids on the mat? Dan Gable’s latest catchphrase is, “America needs wrestling”. I watched a video where he was wrapping up a clinic session and he explained a little about what he meant, “We need (toughness). If the power goes out and you need heat you need to be able to use a chainsaw. If the chainsaw breaks you need to be able to use an axe.” Wrestling teaches toughness and resiliency in ways that nothing else does. We need “tough” scientists like Norman Borlaug – and “tough” writers like John Irving – and “tough” leaders like Teddy Roosevelt. Where will they come from? You can be sure that some are going to walk off the mat and into greatness.

Finally, I want more wrestling events in Cedar Rapids. This is a great town, filled with wonderful people – many of whom are still struggling with the devastation of the 2008 flood. By some estimates we are still hundreds of millions of dollars and several years away from a full recovery. Last year, wrestling tourism – the Iowa High School Dual Championships and the NCAA Division III Championships – contributed roughly a million and a half dollars to the local economy. What better way to fight off our backs than wrestling. How about the World Team Trials – or another USA vs. Russia event, but let’s make it even bigger and better. Maybe we could add a kids tournament. Is it too much to ask for people to equate Cedar Rapids with wrestling? I don’t think so.

Until next year, Santa.

Jim Brown

Cedar Rapids, IA

Wrestling fan

Monday, December 14, 2009

Real drama in Carver Hawkeye Arena

Two events of the past three weeks have brought to mind the single most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen at Carver Hawkeye Arena – the resuscitation of Joel Schatzman.

On February 6, 2000 the Iowa Hawkeyes were leading Northwestern 41-3. The Wildcats’ only victory was an upset by fourth-ranked Scott Schatzman over Iowa’s returning NCAA champion and top-ranked Doug Schwab. I don’t really remember much about the match except that perhaps Schatzman won by controlling Schwab from the top.

Several minutes later some of us noticed stirring behind the Northwestern bench. It started to get quiet in the arena and we could hear a women screaming for help. Then Scott Schatzman started running, hurdled a chair and ran up a few rows into the stands. His father had collapsed from an apparent heart attack. Public address announcer, Phil Haddy, put out a call for help from any medical personnel that might be in attendance. Registered EMT and “avid Hawkeye wrestling fan”, Kevin Greenley, was among the first to arrive. In an interview for the Summer 2000 issue of EMS Update, Greenley said, “The others in the stands (who came to the patient’s assistance) and I, quickly discovered he had no pulse and determined that he needed a defibrillator. We performed CPR to provide circulation until the defibrillator arrived.” Fortunately for Mr. Schatzman an automated external defibrillator had been placed in Carver Hawkeye less than a year before.

Most of us stood as the drama unfolded. It was amazingly quiet. We spoke to each other in hushed tones. An ambulance arrived and the paramedics joined the treatment team. Wrestling no longer mattered. After the ambulance pulled away, Phil Haddy got back on the mic and announced that the meet was over. Joel Schatzman recovered at the University Hospitals and Clinics and a month later attended the Big Ten Championships.

Fast forward to November 20,2009. The Hawkeye meet with North Carolina-Pembroke was just about to start when I got a phone call from my wife. My 85-year-old father-in-law had fallen and at that moment was in a helicopter flying to the University of Iowa Hospital. She was en route and asked me to meet her. University Hospital is roughly a ten minute walk from Carver Hawkeye for a middle-aged, overweight man so I arrived just minutes after the helicopter landed.

As you get older you start to spend way more time in hospital waiting rooms than you would like. My wife, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and I huddled outside of the emergency room awaiting a diagnosis. When it came it confirmed what had been determined by the staff at St Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids – Lee had fractured three vertebrae in his neck and had been transferred up to the intensive care unit. While waiting for permission to go see him Nora, my mother-in-law, said, “I’m sorry to take you away from your wrestling” – and actually meant it. She just hates to bother anyone. I turned to my wife, Cindy, and asked, “Remember the night Scott Schatzman’s dad had his heart attack?”

When we were allowed to go back to see him we met an amazing team. Lee was under the care of an emergency room resident, a trauma specialist, two spine specialists (one of whom bore a strong resemblance to Doogie Howser), an ICU resident and assorted nurses and technicians. That first night Lee was unable to move his right arm or leg and had very little movement on his left side. He was in University Hospital intensive care for ten days before being transferred to the physical rehabilitation unit at St Luke’s in Cedar Rapids. He is making astounding progress and the prognosis is good.

When long-time Northwestern coach, Tim Cysewski announced last week that he was stepping down, I once again thought of Joel Schatzman.

Blogging is self-indulgent by its very nature and today I’m indulging myself. Thank you University Hospitals and Clinics. You were wonderful. If any of you readers are acquainted with any of the staff there – tell them that there’s a doofus wrestling fan in Cedar Rapids who thinks the world of them. I’m pretty sure that popular Hawkeye forum poster, USAFHawk, is on staff there. If you know him – ask him to spread the word among his colleagues.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The doers

Dan Gable was wounded, but showed up and did his job. Dan fell and broke a bone in his leg on Thanksgiving, but he was in Ames last night with broadcast partner Tim Johnson to cover the Iowa vs. Iowa State dual. It was the opening telecast of Iowa Public Television’s 34th season of bringing wrestling to fans in Iowa, southern Minnesota, eastern Nebraska, western Illinois and northern Missouri.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, IPTV used the event as a fund raiser – and, true to form - Dan got out his checkbook. He does a fabulous job of “working his audience”. A couple of weeks ago when a touring team of Russian wrestlers was in the area for one of the “Russia vs. USA” Gable invited them to his house. In last night’s appeal he said that those young Russian wrestlers knew about Iowa and where Iowa is on the map. Then he pulled out the “exclusivity” motivator, “They probably don’t know about anyplace else in America, but they know about Iowa and wrestling.”

It’s a sign of what Dan Gable has become – American wrestling’s top advocate. In the past few weeks he has been in California to support the NWCA All-Star Classic and Cal-State Fullerton wrestling; then he was in Mount Vernon, Iowa signing autographs and contributing to the webcast of Russia vs. the USA and last night he was at Hilton Coliseum – crutches and all. He gives speeches, helps with clinics, raises money for new programs – anything that will grow the sport. It goes even beyond that. On Friday, November 20th several wheel-chair bound persons attended the Iowa City Duals. Gable spent time with every one of them – talking, signing autographs and laughing.

It’s no secret that I’m a Gable fan. It was a trip to Ames to see him wrestle that first drew me to the sport. I’d like to think that he has inspired me in some part to achieve whatever small successes I have. He and my father have been the shining examples of a principle in which I’ve come to believe – “Don’t talk – act”.

Wrestling is blessed with lots of “doers” - Michael Novogratz and Al Bevilacqua at Beat the Streets, J Robinson, Mike Moyer at the NWCA, Jason Bryant, Kyle Klingman, Lee Roy Smith and dozens of others from volunteer table workers to the parents who run youth wrestling clubs. Many contribute without any recognition.

Here’s my challenge – tell me about your favorite unsung wrestling “doer”. Who is that person you know who has worked countless hours to get more kids on the mat or more fans in the seats? You can send an email to me at, leave a blog comment or respond to a forum thread. After Christmas I’ll include your top nominations in a blog. Here’s your chance to thank that person you’ve always wanted to thank or tell someone’s good story.

And, Dan – thanks.

Monday, November 30, 2009

When 1 meets 2

The anticipation is growing. Number 1 versus number 2 in a contest that won’t determine, but may well influence the outcome of a national championship. No – not Florida and Alabama for the SEC football championship. It’s time again for the annual dual wrestling meet between The University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the Iowa State Cyclones – one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. ESPN has included this event on its list of “101 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die”. If you’re a wrestling fan and have never attended – shame on you.

The meet has somewhat of a different feel this year because former Iowa State coach and Cyclone icon, Cael Sanderson, has moved on to become the head coach at Penn State. Sanderson has been replaced by Kevin Jackson who in his collegiate competitive days transferred to Iowa State after LSU dropped wrestling. His matches with Iowa’s Royce Alger are legendary.

Legend – that’s part of the appeal. Fans on both sides have their favorite moments. For many Cyclone fans it’s Dave Osenbaugh pinning Lou Banach. Fanatics in black and gold favor a similar upset by Brooks Simpson over Eric Voelker. Each was a major upset and each won the meet.

The last three editions have featured newsworthy “extracurricular” aspects. In 2006 Iowa coaches Tom Brands and Dan Gable squared off in a heated debate with Sanderson and his assistant, Tim Hartung. It generated one of the most famous photos in recent years. Then came “the curtain” in 2007. Iowa State athletic director, Jamie Pollard, decided to limit seating by curtaining off thousands of seats. (Note: this will not be done this year.) Last year’s edition brought a new NCAA dual meet attendance record. People traveled from all over the country just to be able to say that they were there that night.

This year’s battle will feature two senior-dominated lineups, but two redshirt freshmen just might provide the highlight bout of the night. Both are three-time Iowa high school champions and both are off to undefeated and dominating starts in their first year of varsity competition. The Cyclones’ Andrew Long is from Creston and the Hawks’ Matt McDonough is from Marion.

For over 30 years Iowa Public Television has broadcast this and dozens of other top quality wrestling meets. Thanks to IPTV we’ve had the chance to see future Olympic and World Champions like Kenny Monday, Kendall Cross, John Smith, Tom and Terry Brands, Randy Lewis, Ed and Lou Banach, Cael Sanderson and Kevin Jackson as collegians. IPTV has used this broadcast as a fund raising event for the past several years. In these days of statewide budget cuts they’ll need your support more than ever. A feature of the telecast has been when Dan Gable gets out his checkbook and writes his check “on air” (by the way – according to IPTV’s public records – he writes a big one).

If you’re one of the 30,000 or 40,000 people watching the telecast – please call and make your pledge. If you’re going to be in Hilton Coliseum for the live action, stop now and send your check to

Friends of IPTV
PO Box 6400
Johnston, IA 50131

Make that number 1 on your agenda.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Russians were here, the Russians were here

If you wanted to learn how to hold a wrestling event, you should have been at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA last night. The USA vs. Russia dual meet had everything a gala should have – pageantry, history, star power, mystery, excitement and a “standing room only” house.

Here are some random observations.

The kids

It was heartening to see so many youngsters at the meet. There must have been at least 40 kids from the North Cedar Wrestling Club seated near me – and what a great job their coach did! He took them on a tour of the facility including taking them to Cornell’s outstanding wrestling room.

As is always the case, dozens of kids had to get Dan Gable’s autograph. However, it was especially encouraging to see some of them – especially the younger ones – getting the autographs of the Russian athletes and coaches. There’s one young man from Linn-Mar who better hang on to that shirt.

The history

Cornell College is one of the most unique places in American wrestling history. It’s the smallest school (620 students at the time) and the only private school ever to win the NCAA Division I championship. It was my good fortune to get to meet, and sit next to, Bob Majors. Bob wrestled at Cornell in the ‘50s and was a team mate of Cornell greats like Warren DePrenger and Lloyd Corwin (who defeated 1960 Olympic champion, Doug Blubaugh in the 1955 NCAA semi-finals). It was a treat for me to listen to Bob talk about wrestling.

Master of ceremonies, Scott Casber, did an excellent job of emphasizing the historical aspects of the evening. He introduced former Cornell wrestlers Richard Small and Lynn Stiles and pointed out American wrestling legends Randy Lewis, Tom and Terry Brands and Zeke Jones.

One of my favorite memories from the event will be the looks on the faces of those young Russian wrestlers when Gable walked over and introduced himself and shook their hands. They have the same respect for him that we do.

I left the event with a distinct feeling of the links between the past of wrestling to the present of wrestling to the future of wrestling.

The crowd

I imagine that fans in other parts of the country resent hearing that “Iowa wrestling fans are the best in America”. Well – we only say it because it’s true. Last night was a prime example. It wasn’t just the size of the crowd – it was the respectful and welcoming applause for the Russian team, it was the ovation for Mike Zadick when he was introduced and the roar when Doug Schwab won his match.

Kudos go out to everyone involved in the evening, starting with the Cornell staff. Athletic director, John Cochrane, and wrestling coach, Mike Duroe, worked diligently to make the night a success. The only potential hiccup on the evening was when the sound system failed for the playing of the Russian national anthem. Assistant AD, Dick Simmons, who seems to be Cornell’s go-to problem solver, fixed it and the rest of the event went off without a hitch.

Tom Lepic and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club also deserve recognition. In case after case we’ve seen how hard it can be to raise money to support wrestling. Tom and the club recruited sponsors for the $2,000 prizes that were awarded to the winners of each match.

We also need to thank USA Wrestling for their support and encouragement.

I’ve already mentioned Scott Casber, but I can’t emphasize enough the role he played in making the event enjoyable.

When it was all over I walked to my car with only one question – “If these folks can create an event like this, why aren’t the Olympic Trials in eastern Iowa?”

(to be continued)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming

When I was growing up in Davenport, Iowa I watched a lot of professional baseball. My dad would gather up my brother and I and take us to Municipal Stadium to watch (first) the Quad City Braves. If the weather was nice we would walk the mile and a half to the stadium. Sometimes we would stop at a stand on the way and buy a big paper shopping bag of popcorn and take it with us.

In 1962 the Quad City team became affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels – then a one-year-old expansion team. It was cheap entertainment and my dad was a fan so we went to at least one game every home stand. Two things happened in 1963 that permanently cemented my love for baseball. First, the QC Angels held a clinic for kids aged 10 – 16. I got to be down on the field and taught by REAL PROFESSIONAL baseball players. I got batting instruction from the Angels’ manager, Chuck Tanner (yep – that Chuck Tanner, manager of the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates). I was thrilled.

A few weeks later the “big club” came to town to play an exhibition game. It was a major event. The stadium was sold out. Since I wouldn’t attend my first major league game until the next year – it was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen. Bobby Knoop, Jim Fregosi and Leon Wagner were among the LA Angels that played in that game. Wagner hit a home run that took one bounce after leaving the yard and landed in the Mississippi (think McCovey Cove). To make the event even more spectacular – Gene Autry was there. He sat right behind the third base dugout, his “ten gallon” white cowboy hat visible from anywhere in the stadium.

I still rank that night as one of my favorite all-time sports experiences.

If you’re within driving distance of Mount Vernon, Iowa you have the opportunity to give your young wrestler/wrestling fan a similar experience Wednesday night (November 18th). A team of Russian wrestlers will battle a team with ties to the Hawkeye Wrestling Club in a freestyle dual meet at the Small Multi-Sports Center on the Cornell College Campus. The doors open at 5:30 and wrestling begins at 7:00.

When I first started following wrestling the legendary Soviet heavyweight, Alexander Medved, was the only foreign wrestler whose name I knew and the only time I saw him wrestle was on television in the 1972 Olympics. It wasn’t until I started to study the sport that I learned that he won 3 Olympic gold medals and 7 world titles. Since then I have come to appreciate Russian wrestlers as among the most dominant – if not THE most dominant – in the sport. The advent of youtube has allowed me to watch many matches featuring greats like Sergei Beloglazov and Buvaisar Saitiev.

This could be a once-in-a-lifetime event for you and your kids. Make the most of it. I’m no expert on Russian wrestling, but this is a good team. Yesterday (Sunday, November 15th) they defeated an American team in Chicago that featured Danny Felix, Coleman Scott, Trent & Travis Paulson, Carl Fronhofer, Andy Hrovat and Tervel Dlagnev. (See Craig Sesker’s full write up.). Wednesday the Russians will face a team that includes former Hawkeye NCAA champions Doug Schwab and Steve Mocco and Hawkeye assistant coach and World silver medallist, Mike Zadick. Tell your kids stories as you drive about your favorite Schwab or Zadick match or about Gable in the ’72 Olympics.

Go early so you can revel in the amazing history of Cornell College wrestling. Point to the 1947 NCAA championship trophy and tell the kids that this is the greatest David vs. Goliath story in collegiate wrestling history. Be sure that they see all of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame plaques. Pass on a sense of awe about the accomplishments of Paul Scott and Lowell Lange.

Gene Autry won’t be there, but I’ve been told that Dan Gable will. Get the kids an autograph. I’ve also been told that Scott Casber from Takedown Radio will don a tuxedo and be your announcer.

Tickets are $10 for adults and just $5 for kids. You can buy them today (Monday) from 10:00AM to 2:00PM at the Mount Vernon Bank and Trust, Lepic-Kroeger Realtors (2346 Mormon Trek Blvd, Iowa City) or at the Overhead Door Company (6515 4th St SW, Cedar Rapids). Tickets will also be available at the door Wednesday night.

You have an opportunity to enhance a kid’s love for the sport. Why not do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A heavyweight's fight

In 1974 the University of Iowa battled the University of Northern Iowa in a dual wrestling meet at the West Gymnasium on the UNI campus. Mark Onstott, a member of the UNI Athletic Hall of Fame as a swimmer, was there. “My favorite, non-swimming, athletic memory from UNI was the 1974 Iowa versus UNI wrestling meet. All of the swimmers came right out of practice, sat on the front row and cheered the guys on…It came down to the heavyweight match. Randy Omvig beat the Iowa guy for the win.”

In 1975, Randy Omvig would win the NCAA Division II heavyweight championship and help the Panthers win the team title. On December 22, 2005 Randy Omvig and his wife, Ellen, experienced the ultimate parental tragedy. Their son, SPC Joshua Omvig, committed suicide after completing an eleven-month deployment in Iraq.

A few months later the Omvigs began the toughest battle of their lives – to prevent this from happening to anyone else. They began to study post-traumatic stress disorder and investigate the mental health care available to returning veterans. They created a website to share their story and got feedback from other troubled veterans and parents. They wrote letters, made phone calls and fought for better diagnosis and treatment options. Ultimately, the Omvigs approached US Representative Leonard Boswell, himself a Viet Nam veteran.

In July, 2006, Rep. Boswell introduced HR5771, “The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act”. In May of 2007 The VA Inspector General reported that every year an estimated 1,000 veterans in VHA care commit suicide and that there are as many as 5,000 annual suicides among all living veterans. On November 5, 2007 President Bush signed the bill into law. After the signing, Rep. Boswell said this about the Omvigs, “While suffering this personal tragedy, they went on to help other veterans and their families and have advocated for improving all mental health services at the VA.” At the ceremony US Senator Tom Harkin said, “Make no mistake, this bill would not have passed without the personal engagement of Ellen and Randy Omvig.”

My dad, a Korean war veteran, taught me that when we send young men and women off to war we owe them. We owe them our prayers for their safe return home. We owe them our thanks for their service. And for those who are physically and psychologically damaged – we owe them nothing but the best care. We also owe Randy and Ellen Omvig our thanks for taking up the fight to save our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives and the kids we watched grow up.

This week we honor our veterans. Remember – we owe them.

For more on the Omvigs, visit the following sites.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gable, Irving and Baldwin say, "California Needs Wrestling".

A Press release from the National Wrestling Coaches Association

“SANTA MONICA (Oct. 30, 2009) – Author John Irving and actor Billy Baldwin will join Olympic wrestling legend Dan Gable at a luncheon on Monday, Nov. 2, in support of the California Needs Wrestling initiative.

The three will speak to the need for supporters of the sport to mount an effort to sustain college wrestling programs in California, where the state budget crisis has left many collegiate programs in dire need of funding.

Irving, a University of Pittsburgh wrestler, and Baldwin, a Binghamton University Wrestler, who was instrumental in bringing wrestling back at Binghamton University after the sport was dropped, will speak to the role of the sport in helping to shape their lives.

Irving, whose novels include The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992. He is currently touring to promote his new book, Last Night in Twisted River.

Baldwin joined the crusade to restore wrestling at his alma mater after the university announced it was dropping the sport in 2003. With the help of Friends of Binghamton Wrestling and New York’s then-Gov. George Pataki, the program was restored the following year. Last March, Baldwin was on hand to applaud Binghamton’s first Division I All-American, Josh Patterson.

Gable has devoted his life to the sport as an athlete, coach and advocate. A 1972 Olympic freestyle wrestling champion, he went on to coach the University of Iowa to an unprecedented 15 NCAA team championships and is now Iowa’s assistant athletic director.

“Wrestling in California needs our help,” said Gable. “There are approximately 27,000 high school wrestlers in the state of California and only eight four-year college wrestling programs to support the exploding interest at the high school level. These programs are fighting to survive as California has already lost 85 college programs.”

The luncheon is being held to:

· Provide head college wrestling coaches in California with an opportunity to cultivate some of their most important alumni/donors and or key decision-making university administrators. This is particularly important in light of the current state budget crisis in the state of California.

· Help college administrators recognize the educational value of wrestling through the testimonials of highly successful wrestling aficionados.

· Promote the “NWCA All Star Classic, Presented by the Wrestling Alumni of the College of William and Mary,” scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m. at Cal State Fullerton. The event is a fundraiser for the Cal State Fullerton wrestling program.

The wrestling alumni from William and Mary have established the non-profit Society for the Preservation of Traditional Sport (SPOTS). Its mission is to help save wrestling and other traditional Olympic sport programs before such programs are cut.”

Also – from an article by Alden Mudge on about John Irving’s new book Last Night in Twisted River:

“John Irving did not actually attend his induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, some 15 years ago. But now he wishes he had. ‘I regret it.’… ‘There have always been these two parts of my life and they don’t overlap very easily. My wrestling friends are not very easily mixed with my writing friends. But it’s an honor that meant a great deal to me because the sport was such a huge part of my life,’ says Irving, who competed in wrestling in high school and college.”

Best wishes for a highly successful luncheon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm just a goober fan

Mark Onstott is my sister-in-law’s brother. An All-American swimmer at the University of Northern Iowa in 1975, he has gone on to become one of America’s top high school swimming coaches. Mark has led teams to six state championships, been named high school coach of the year in three states and the national coach of the year in 2005. Saturday Mark was inducted into the UNI Athletic Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, Mark introduced the people seated at his table. When he got to my wife and me he said, “And there are Jim Brown and his wife Cindy – they’re really here to see the 1950 wrestling team.” He then looked out at Bill Nelson’s table and said, “You guys are quite a draw.”

Some people occasionally refer to me as a “member of the wrestling media”. I’m not. Here’s why – I’m just too much of a big ole goober fan.

I’ve met Dan Gable once. In the early ‘90s I was doing some work with a small company in Iowa City called Giant Step Productions. The owners were brothers who had been wrestlers. One of them had been one of “those guys in the room” for Gable. They produced some early videos for Dan – and both knew I was a wrestling fan. Their studio was on the third floor of a typical “near campus” house and you had to walk up outside stairs to get to it. I had an appointment one afternoon and the older brother, Eric, met me at the bottom of the stairs and kept asking things like, “How long have you had season tickets?” and “Who are your favorite wrestlers?” It seemed odd because we frequently discussed those things more than we did business. When we got to the top of the stairs and entered the studio there was a guy with a grin on his face who said, “Hi – I’m Dan Gable.” My witty response – “I know.” I know that Gable is one of the most accessible “icons” in all of sports – but I was just too much of a goober fan to say anything but, “I know.”

Last year at National Duals I spent quite a bit of time watching the women’s teams wrestle. Sara McMann sat two rows in front of me one session. We’re “friends” on MySpace but I couldn’t introduce myself because I’m just this big goober fan. All I could think was, “Wow, that’s an Olympic silver medallist right in front of me.”

Saturday I rode in the elevator with 3X NCAA champ and Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Bill Nelson, and couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Goober fan.

Before the ceremonies began I surveyed the room. Our table was next to the Briggs family. Former Panther coach Don Briggs is also a member of the 2009 UNI Hall of Fame class. His brother Dick was there – you know Mark Ironside’s high school coach. (And by the way - Don Briggs may have given the most touching acceptance speech of all). And there’s Sandy Stevens, the “voice of wrestling” – and over there – that’s 7-time NCAA Division III Championship coach, Jim Miller. I know Sandy so I did later say, “Hi” and I did manage to introduce myself to Jim Miller, but I was close enough several times to speak to Don Briggs and congratulate him – but didn’t. Big, dumb, goober fan.

When the 1950 NCAA championship Iowa State Teachers College team was introduced I might have been one of the first people to stand. It was inspiring. These men – these men who fought in World War II – these men who became one of the most legendary teams in the history of the sport – these men whose influence on the sport continues to this day – well, I guess I cried a little. Sappy, emotional, goober fan.

Here’s the image I’m going to remember from their acceptance ceremony. Do the math – most of these guys went off to fight a war and THEN went to college. They’re in their eighties. Some use canes and one or two use a walker to get around. As Bill Nelson was accepting the honor on behalf of the team a couple of the gentlemen were offered chairs. They refused – as if to say, “I’m a wrestler – I’ll tough it out.” Awestruck goober fan.

All Hall of Fame inductees were later introduced at halftime of the Northern Iowa/Southern Illinois football game. As they returned to their seats, by the grace of God, Bill Smith stopped right next to me. Bill Smith – decorated WWII veteran, coaching legend and Olympic champion. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. “Mr. Smith, I’m just a wrestling fan but it is an honor to meet you.”

He smiled and said, “Wrestling fan… good man” – and he reached out and shook my hand. I may not wash it for a week – ‘cause I’m just a goober fan.

And lest I forget – congratulations, Mark – I’m proud to have known you this past 20 years.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You

At long last college wrestling has come to Texas. In a press conference this afternoon Wayland Baptist University announced the addition of intercollegiate varsity wrestling for both men and women. The text of the press release is below.

“Wayland Baptist University will add men's and women's wrestling as intercollegiate sports, Athletic Director Dr. Greg Feris officially announced at a press conference today.

"Intercollegiate wrestling is a win-win situation for the university. It will generate additional students while providing an additional competitive sport for the university community."

The WBU wrestling program will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) beginning with the 2010-11 school year. Thirty-seven NAIA schools currently sponsor wrestling for men, ten for women.

There are currently no intercollegiate wrestling programs in the state of Texas, despite recent statistics that show an excess of 245 high school boys' wrestling teams and 198 girls' teams in the state. In the Texas Panhandle area, there are approximately 375 boys and more than 125 girls participating in the sport. The boy's team from Randall High School and the girl's team from Caprock High have recently won state championships.

"The sport is growing and is very popular in many regions of the country," added Feris. "Wayland is fortunate to be located in an area where several communities have embraced the sport at the high school level. I think we are going to fill a void in the area for fans of the sport. In addition, we are excited to be able to offer these young student-athletes a new opportunity to continue to participate in a sport that they love while at the same time obtaining an outstanding education in a Christian environment."

Search for a new coach will begin right away. Feris says he hopes to have someone in place sometime after the first of the new year.

Among those present at the press conference were Mike Moyer, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association and former Olympic gold medalists Brandon Slay and Dan Gable. Slay, a graduate of Amarillo's Tascosa High School who is currently the resident freestyle coach for USA Wrestling at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney. Gable, who did not give up a single point on his way to the gold at the 1972 games in Munich, won two individual NCAA titles as a student-athlete at Iowa State University and 15 NCAA team titles as head coach at the University of Iowa.

The new WBU two teams will practice in the James P. and Nelda Laney Student Activities Center. Duel or tournament events will be held in Hutcherson Center. The addition of the wrestling programs brings Wayland's athletic offering to a total of 14.”

Long-time Texas high school wrestling coach and activist, Johnny Cobb, has this to say about the announcement, “The entire wrestling community in the state of Texas in rejoicing with the news of a NAIA college wrestling program. What a progressive University that can see the value and character building potential a college wrestling program has to offer it's young men and women. Adding not only a men's program but also adding a women's program shows the kind of foresight this University exemplifies. This is a red letter day for not only Texas wrestling but for college wrestling everywhere. Universities can use every excuse in the world, from the economy to title nine, for not adding or even dropping college wrestling, but when a forward thinking University like Wayland Baptist realizes the value wrestling can add to their school, it demonstrates that where there is a will there is a way.

We are still in hopes that West Texas A&M University will also be adding an NCAA D-2 program in the future. They have seriously taken it under consideration.”

Congratulations to Wayland Baptist University – and I’m with Johnny – the more, the better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wrestling and "The Four Ps"

You’re taught “The Four Ps” in Marketing 101: product, price, placement and promotion. Any effort to sell anything must address at least these four elements. There is a movement afoot to change the “placement” of college wrestling. The National Wrestling Coaches Association has proposed a plan that would move the NCAA Division I Championships to April 11 – 13 in 2013. The initial proposal also called for moving the Division II and Division III Championships back and making college wrestling a ”one semester” sport.

The proposal is driven by two concerns – the educational success of the student-athletes and more effective marketing of the sport. The arguments are that starting the season later in the year gives freshmen more time to acclimate to college life and that finishing later moves wrestling’s collegiate championship events away from directly competing against that other tournament whose name cannot be legally mentioned here without paying licensing fees to CBS or the NCAA.

For most fans this seems to be a no-brainer. But hold on – last week I received emails from several Division III coaches debating the proposal – and many of them are against moving the season. Those that are against have valid concerns – many small school wrestling teams share facilities, staff – even athletes – with other sports. For them – changing the season increases their operating budget and thus makes hanging on to their program even more tenuous.

In the current issue of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine publisher, Bryan Van Kley, has written an excellent editorial on the subject. He offers an alternative plan and solid logic behind it. Bryan makes the case better than I can, so I urge you to pick up a copy of WIN and read his column.

Many marketers will tell you that changing one “P” without addressing the other three will not have the effect you desire. To assume that moving the season alone will popularize college wrestling is to make the most basic of marketing mistakes.

What are our goals – to have more opportunities for the current fan base to watch wrestling on television? To attract new fans to the sport? To get more kids on the mat? Attaining any one of those will spur the growth of wrestling.


This isn’t really much of an issue. Tickets to a college wrestling meet or tournament are a bargain. However, across the board, we ought to make it easier for large groups of kids to see the best that the sport has to offer.


At its core wrestling is a great product – but it’s not perfect. And it may have lost some entertainment value over the past few years. Go to youtube and watch NCAA finals matches like Randy Lewis vs. Darryl Burley or Mark Schultz vs. Ed Banach or Lincoln McIlravy vs. Gerry Abas and compare those matches to last year’s 125 pound final. What’s needed for product improvement? There are lots of suggestions – a more universal definition of stalling, a pushout rule, eliminating the riding time point. All have merit – but maybe the answer is for more coaches and athletes to recognize the value that a more aggressive style has to the sport.


Advertising, publicity, sales and branding are all promotional elements. What is college wrestling’s “brand”? Is it – as Ed Aliverti so resoundingly proclaimed for so many years - “the world’s oldest and greatest sport”? Is it “the sport of presidents”? Is it “the sport of opportunity”? It could be any or all of those things. The brand should NOT be, as some fans like to suggest, “the minor leagues of mixed martial arts”. That’s like having Matthew McConaughey say, “Beef: you can use it in hash.”

Therein lies the real challenge – creating a unified brand for college wrestling. Wrestling is both blessed and cursed with several entities who are all trying to promote the sport, each with slightly divergent agendas. From the NWCA to USA Wrestling to the NCAA and even to Beat the Streets – everyone has a different approach. Is there a solution? Perhaps.

Could we organize “The Wrestling Promotion Council” with representatives from all governing bodies, the wrestling media, wrestling product companies – anyone that has a vested interest in the sport? Hold an organizational conference (Cedar Rapids is a very central location), develop a plan of action, raise some money and get started. Let’s not stop with changing the Division I season – let’s also get aggressive about using the other three “Ps”.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honoring greatness

They call themselves “Mac’s Boys”. National Wrestling Hall of Fame historian, Jay Hammond has said of them, “It could easily be argued that (they were) the best collegiate wrestling program in the country from 1946 – 1952.” Hammond points out that, “… they crowned 16 individual champions in those years. Oklahoma State had 12 champs, and no other school had more than five in that time frame.” Their numbers include three 3X individual NCAA champions, an Olympic Champion and a silver medallist and enough Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame that they could have their own wing.

In 1950 they did something that only nine other schools have done – they won the NCAA “big school” team championship. Who are these guys? They’re the wrestlers of Iowa State Teachers College – now the University of Northern Iowa. Led by their legendary coach, Dave McCuskey, and boasting champions like Bill Smith, Gerry Leeman, Bill Koll, Keith Young and Bill Nelson their influence on the sport carries forward to today.

On October 18th the 1950 ISTC NCAA Championship team will be inducted into the UNI Athletic Hall of Fame. Many team members are already in the UNI ‘hall” as individuals. Inducting the entire team is an extraordinary honor. Wrestling writer, Kyle Klingman, says, “This will be a great day for Northern Iowa and for the sport of wrestling.”

UNI Athletic director, Troy A Dannen, commented on the induction and its importance.

“Of the 17 programs at UNI, wrestling has the longest and most consistent history of competitive success, and the 1950 national championship team certainly stands as the best of the best among those teams. While there has been individual recognition given throughout the years to some members of that team, recognition of the achievement of the team as a whole is long overdue.

Wrestling is at the bedrock of the sports foundation of our state. Northern Iowa, as a Regent institution with 90 percent of our students native Iowans, must always reflect the values and culture of our state. As an athletic department, this validates the ongoing commitment to the sport of wrestling. But you can never move forward successfully without knowing where you have already been, and the future success of wrestling at UNI is tied to the great history of success symbolized by the members of this team.

Basically, we recognize this team not only to salute their achievement, but to understand the competitive honor and glory we obtain tomorrow is only possible because they were the standard bearers, and we can never forget how our program was built, and who built it.”

Mac must be awfully proud of “his boys”.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Filled with hope

Today is the last day of summer. The transition to autumn has traditionally been a time of hope – hope for a bountiful harvest – hope for the new school year – hope for a winning football team.

The World Championships begin today in Herning, Denmark. Danny Felix, Trent Paulson and Jake Varner will take the mat for the United States first. For me, this is the end of the season. Take heart – the new season is just weeks away. Many of the nation’s top high school wrestlers will compete in the Super 32 Challenge on October 24th at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC. USA Wrestling will hold Preseason Nationals the following week (October 31st) in Cedar Falls, IA at the UNI Dome.

I am filled with hope as we transition from one wrestling season to the next. Here are some things I hope to see in the next 12 months.

More kids on the mat.

Kids have innumerable ways to spend their time. Few options can teach them perseverance, mental toughness and self-reliance like wrestling. Family life is strengthened by any activity that gives an opportunity for parental support – but there just seems to be something extra there within wrestling families. If you don’t believe me just watch a wrestling mom at a tournament.

Success at Cal State Fullerton.

The Cal State Fullerton administration has mandated that the wrestling team become self-supporting. According to coach Dan Hicks they need to raise $200,000 in cash by May 1, 2010 and another $200,000 in pledges by August 1, 2010 to keep the program alive. The National Wrestling Coaches Association is helping by holding the annual college All-Star Classic in the Titan Gym. You can buy tickets to the All-Star Classic or donate to the team at the Save Fullerton Wrestling website.

More intercollegiate wrestling opportunities.

High school wrestling participation continues to grow. However, the opportunities to follow in the footsteps of people like Dr. Norman Borlaug, John Irving and Senator John Chafee – and have wrestling as a part of the college curriculum – are not keeping pace. I hope that there are forward-thinking athletic directors who are considering adding wrestling – both men’s and women’s teams.

Butts in seats.

Nothing demonstrates support like buying a ticket and cheering on your favorite team or wrestler. The upcoming college season may be as excitedly anticipated as any in recent memory. The debuts of heralded freshmen like Jordan Oliver and Tyler Graff, the potential for tight team races in several divisions and the move of Cael Sanderson from Ames to Penn State are all generating a lot of preseason buzz. I hope that interest translates into new attendance records. Come on you PSU fans – can you average 5,000 people a meet?

More support for the Living the Dream Medal Fund.

So far 320 of America’s most avid wrestling fans have donated to the Living the Dream Fund. Designed to keep our best athletes in the sport by offering financial incentives for success, the fund is the brainchild of people like Michael Novogratz and Dave Barry. By this time next year I hope to see 10,000 more names on the contributors list. Click here to add your name today.

Oh – I almost forgot – I’m hoping for a Metcalf/Caldwell rematch, too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Greatness on the curriculum

Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug died Saturday at age 95 from complications of cancer. Mark Palmer wrote about Dr. Borlaug’s wrestling background yesterday on He was inducted into the Outstanding Americans wing of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.

The father of the “Green Revolution”, Dr. Borlaug is credited with saving hundreds of millions of people from starvation. He is one of only five people to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. (The other four are Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel.) In 1999 he was named one of the “100 great minds of the Twentieth Century”.

In 1986 Dr. Borlaug founded the World Food Prize to “honor those who have made significant and measurable contributions to improving the world's food supply.”

Just ten days ago the Borlaug Learning Center opened in Nashua, Iowa to further research in crop and livestock production and agricultural engineering.

As Mark Palmer cites in his memorial, Dr. Borlaug credited wrestling with contributing to his success. "Wrestling taught me some valuable lessons," Borlaug told the University of Minnesota in 2005. "I always figured I could hold my own against the best in the world. It made me tough. Many times, I drew on that strength. It's an inappropriate crutch perhaps, but that's the way I'm made."

Jim Leach represented me in the Congress for thirty years. Last month he was confirmed as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. An Iowa state high school wrestling champion at Davenport High School in 1960 and a letterman on the Princeton wrestling team, Jim Leach is also enshrined in the Outstanding Americans wing of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum and in the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame. In his great book Wrestling Tough, author Mike Chapman cites observations about wrestling made by Leach.

“Wrestling is a pursuit that shares with all sports all elements of competition. What differentiates it is its history, its individual discipline and its ‘equalitarian’ efforts. It does not matter how big or small, rich or poor, black, brown or white a wrestler is or what state he comes from”

“Wrestling imbues one with instincts for fairness and a necessity of preparation that is hard work.”

“Matches pit individuals of similar size, although dissimilar proportions, strengths, skills, stamina and knowledge … knowledge not in the sense of smartness, but athletic wisdom which only experience provides. The talented, unschooled athlete can’t prevail over the dedicated partner.”

Intercollegiate wrestling is under attack. Title IX mandates have created an atmosphere of fear among many college administrators. Eliminating educational opportunities for one gender is far easier than creating opportunities for another so they follow the path of least resistance. The current economic challenges have schools all over the country investigating budget cuts. Administrators are looking for programs they deem expendable. For many – wrestling seems to fill that bill.

It’s obvious that Chairman Leach does not consider wrestling an “expendable” part of his life. Dr. Borlaug considered the lessons he learned on the mat as valuable as those he learned in the classroom. Perhaps we should stop thinking of wrestling as a sport and start thinking of it as part of the curriculum. We could call it “Greatness 101”.

For more on the amazing life of Dr. Norman Borlaug go to yesterday's LA Times Obituary or the World Food Prize website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The fifth season

US News and World Report recently named Cedar Rapids one of the ten best places to grow up in America. The article cites our low crime rate, good schools and affordable housing as primary factors.

I’d like to add one – wrestling. Cedar Rapids high schools are probably best known in the wresting community for producing 3X NCAA Division I champion and Olympic silver medallist, Barry Davis; 3X NCAA Division I champion Jim Zalesky; 2X NCAA Division I champion and Hodge Trophy winner, Mark Ironside and 3X NCAA Division II champion Gary Bentrim.

However, the sport has long been a part of the community fabric. Every day I encounter people with wrestling in their backgrounds – from my favorite bartender to the plant manager at the company where I buy most of my printing. If I need new heels on my shoes, I allow an hour to drop them off and an hour to pick them up because I know that Rich Foens, the owner of Smitty’s Shoe Repair, is going to come out from behind the counter and want to talk wrestling.

Several people were kind enough to share their reflections about growing up with wrestling in Cedar Rapids.

Bill Maroney describes himself as being very small when he started school at Wilson High in 1957.

“Coach Bo Cameron saw me in the hallway and talked me into coming out because he needed a 95lb wrestler. He said I could get a varsity letter and that was all it took to get me to try it. I actually loved it.”

When Wilson and Roosevelt High Schools were combined to form Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cameron became the head wrestling coach and lead the J-Hawks to a state championship in 1962.

As for Bill Maroney, “I fell in love with the sport, it was the highlight of my high school experience. It also helped me in my career (by teaching me) dedication and perseverance. I joined the Marine Corps after high school and stayed in 27 years, going from Private to Major. I have always felt that wrestling helped me throughout my career.”

He continues to love the sport and has been a University of Iowa wrestling season ticket holder for 30 years. He has attended the NCAA Championships for many years – missing only while serving in Vietnam.

Another Bill – Bill Lahman – is widely known as one of America’s most passionate college wrestling fans. Bill was first exposed to wrestling in 1957 as a 4th-grader at Cleveland School. “Bill Quinby was the PE teacher (and) in his first years as a teacher. Bill was very active in setting up all of the sports for us to try; football, basketball, wrestling, baseball and track. He set up a few weeks of practices and then had a tournament at the end for us all to have several matches.”

Bill played football and wrestled at Jefferson and was a member of a state runner-up wrestling team in 1965 (and also a starting tackle on perhaps the most famous football team in Iowa high school history – the 1965 state champions). Bill remembers what it was like wrestling for Jefferson in the mid-60s, “We enjoyed a full gym of around 2,200 for nearly every home meet…”


Bill Lahman (CR Jefferson) defeats (CR Washington) 5-0. The official is long-time Iowa City High coach Clyde Bean.

Bill went on to wrestle for the University of North Dakota and finished fourth in the North Central Conference in 1968.

Bill also shared this interesting photo of two future Division I head coaches just prior to their 1966 high school state championship match.


Sandy Stevens has been frequently quoted as saying that she fell in love with wrestling because, “I fell in love with a wrestler”. Sandy and her husband, Bob (Bear) both attended McKinley Junior High and Washington High School before going to the University of Northern Iowa, where Bear wrestled for Bill Koll.

Sandy taught at Waterloo East High School for two years while Bear began work on his Masters and then both returned to Cedar Rapids to teach at “Wash”. In 1967 Sandy became one of the first (if not the first) women to be certified as a wrestling official. When Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School opened, Bear became their first head wrestling coach. The story is now almost legendary – the night before his very first meet, Bear realized that he had not arranged for an announcer and pressed Sandy into service. Thus began a career that has made Sandy’s one of the most recognizable voices in the sport.

Sandy remembers those early days at Kennedy, “…being involved in the start of a school and a wrestling team was exciting, a privilege and a joy. The fact that Bear and I could SHARE the experience made it even better. But it was also at times frustrating. Many kids wanted to stay at their former schools, especially athletes, so early on, we struggled to find enough bodies to put in singlets and then to win. I remember that one time our smallest wrestler literally weighed in with his winter coat and boots on! But you couldn't ask for more loyalty, dedication, work, and heart than those young men had! And their parents were amazing.”

Robert C. (Bear) Stevens went on to a distinguished career as an educator, ultimately as Superintendent of the Glenbard Township (IL) Schools for many years. Sadly, Bear passed away in 2001. I know one of his wrestlers pretty well and the impact Bear had on those young men is tremendous.

Gregg Dinderman was a self-described, “very poor wrestler”, but there’s no denying his love for the sport. Gregg made this observation, “I do like the notion that wrestlers in CR come from all neighborhoods, all backgrounds and all ethnicities, but still share this strange little sport in common.”

Gregg currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is the illustration director for Sky and Telescope Magazine.

Barry Davis started wrestling in the 4th grade at the YMCA. “I was lucky to always have great coaches, starting at the Y”. He wanted to be an Olympic champion from very early in his career and credits his father with his work ethic. “My dad worked two jobs to put food on the table. I saw the hard work he did and I put that same effort into my wrestling.”

Coach Davis also believes that the Cedar Rapids work ethic is why the community loves wrestling. “They appreciate hard work. They know that things aren’t always easy and that some times you just have to grind things out. And they take pride in what they do and in representing themselves and their community… like Quaker Oats – they take pride in making great products that are sold all over the world.”

Coach Davis wrestled at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School with another Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Jim Zalesky, and remembers the beginnings of the Prairie/Jefferson rivalry, “People came (to the meets) from all over the city – not just from Prairie or Jefferson - to see great wrestling”.

Barry Davis won 3 Iowa high school state championships, 3 NCAA Division I championships, an Olympic silver medal and two silver medals at the World Championships and is currently the head wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin.

Mark Ironside started wrestling because his older brother Matt would come home from Wilson Middle School wrestling practice and try his moves out on Mark. “At the time I was a 5th grader at Van Buren Elementary. Once he started showing me a couple things I entered a kids tournament at Linn Mar High school where I got beat pretty bad every match but one. Then a few weeks later I went to a tournament at Kennedy High school called the Daybreak Optimist. There were only 4 people in my bracket, but I won the tournament. From there on I was hooked.”

Mark, a two-time Iowa high school state champion at Jefferson, a two-time NCAA champion and 1998 winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy, has some concerns about the future of wrestling in Cedar Rapids.

“I think the wrestling culture in CR used to be a lot tougher than it is now. This used to be a pretty tough blue collar factory city, but now, along with most of society, things have changed. I don’t believe that the kids are raised the same these days with all the technology that they have vs. what their parents had. Hence, the kids today do not need to work for what they get as much and parents are fine with the kids spending hours in front of the TV playing games or on hand held games instead of having them get outside and exercise. That is not a knock on CR as it is the general society as a whole. I think that CR is a fantastic town with lots of pride. Along with the “potential” to produce some fantastic scholastic programs and businesses throughout.”

Mark is currently owner and president of Ironside Apparel and Promotions Inc. and has a website devoted to Hawkeye wrestling apparel. He remains active in wrestling as an announcer for University of Iowa wrestling meets on KXIC-AM radio and a wrestling commentator on our local ESPN radio affiliate, 1600. Mark also puts on his own wrestling summer camp at Jefferson High School and helps coach a freestyle club at Coe College.

One might say that, as a junior at Coe College, Clayton Rush is finishing his “growing up” in Cedar Rapids. I asked Clayton for his observations about the “wrestling culture” in Cedar Rapids.

“I feel like the community here is more responsive to wrestling than it is in Aledo (Clayton’s home town). There are summer clubs that are held here at Coe. In Aledo, there is hardly any summer wrestling that goes on, maybe a few kids. Here in Cedar Rapids there are enough kids that want to do summer wrestling to make a club. That also goes to show the support of their parents and the rest of the community. Not only do they support it, but they encourage it as well.”

I recently watched a video segment of Dan Gable finishing up a clinic. In his closing talk he said, “America needs wrestling. America needs tough (people).” Well – Cedar Rapids needs wrestling. Cedar Rapids needs tough people. We’re still battling to recover from the flood of 2008 – one of the five most financially damaging natural disasters in American history. We are still hundreds of millions of dollars short of what’s needed for a full recovery.

Barry Davis feels that the things that wrestling teaches are helping Cedar Rapids fight back, “It’s an individual sport, but you can’t do it on your own. You need someone to drill with. You need coaches. You can see that with the flood, the teamwork, the pride in the community…”

Yes, Cedar Rapids is a great place to grow up – both of my daughters did and now my grandkids are. It can be an ever better place to raise kids once we finally put the flood behind us. You can help. The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation has a number of flood relief funds and offers portals to other organizations serving flood victims. Click over there right now and make a donation.

And what about wrestling? Well, the NCAA Division III Championships will once again be held here at the US Cellular Center. Set aside the first weekend in March, 2010 to come to our great city and watch some outstanding wrestling.

Monday, August 31, 2009

10 things to do in the next 81 days.

College football season in Iowa begins this week. That can only mean one thing – college wrestling practice will soon begin. Over the past month or so wrestling super-fan, Bill Lahman, has been periodically counting down the days until the season begins. For many, it will start 81 days from now with the Iowa Duals on November 20th.

Some folks are getting pretty restless for a taste of wrestling. Here are ten things you can do in the next 81 days to get ready for the college wrestling season.

1. Clean your wrestling memorabilia. No one likes a dusty Dan Gable autograph.

2. Read a wrestling book or two. I personally recommend A Season on the Mat, Four Days to Glory, Cowboy Up and anything by Mike Chapman, but especially Wrestling Tough.

3. Order season tickets. I ordered mine last week. Buying season tickets is one way every fan can help college wrestling – regardless of school.

4. Watch old match video. You can find lots of wrestling on youtube, flowrestling, The Wrestling Talk and Iowa Public Television.

This isn’t a college match but it certainly is one of my favorites. It features 2 of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport – John Smith and Sergei Beloglazov.

5. Rearrange the wrestling tee shirts in your closet.

6. Subscribe to one of the wrestling magazines. WIN, Amateur Wrestling News and Wrestling USA will add a depth to your appreciation that you can’t always get online.

7. Rent and watch Vision Quest.

8. Visit a wrestling museum. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater and the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Waterloo are probably the most prominent, but there are others.

9. Follow the US teams at the World Championships in Herning, Denmark September 21 – 27. Current team members Dustin Schlatter, Jake Varner and Tatiana Padilla will all resume college competition after their respective world championship events

10. Make a list of the 10 “greatest, most, worst… and post it on your favorite internet wrestling forum.

Just for fun, here’s one.

The 10 greatest wrestlers to come from Waterloo (IA) West High School

1. Dan Gable
2. Lowell Lange
3. Dale Anderson
4. Mike VanArsdale
5. Dick Hauser
6. John Bowlsby
7. Tom Huff
8. Akeem Carter
9. Doug Moses
10. Leo Thomsen

Monday, August 24, 2009

An interview with Jeff McGinness

I first saw Jeff McGinness wrestle on television. That’s an advantage to living in Iowa - all state high school finals matches are shown on split screen. I can’t remember if it was Jeff’s sophomore or junior year. I just remember – wow!

I recently contacted Jeff and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Jeff was one of the most dominant high school in Iowa history – a four-time undefeated state champion and a US Cadet and Junior National freestyle champion. Wrestling got into Jeff’s blood early.

“I would venture to say that I was exposed to wrestling, and specifically Iowa wrestling, from the moment I was born. My father has been the treasurer of the H.A.W.K. fan group nearly since its inception in 1975. Thus, I pretty much grew up going to wrestling meets, Big 10s, NCAAs, and frequented the Iowa room as a youngster. While I didn't really get started wrestling competitively until later in grade school, I think it was this exposure and opportunity that really drove my interest level.

As far as who influenced me the most growing up, I started out going to the Iowa evening camps held in the top floor of the old Field House with clinicians like Barry Davis, the Banachs, Zaleskys, and Kistler brothers to name a few. Upon getting to junior high I began working individually with Keith Mourlam who by far played the biggest role in my development technically. Beyond that, having supportive but not overbearing parents helped foster my growth not only on the mat, but off it as well.”

There have been 18 four-time state champions in Iowa high school wrestling history. So far only three – Joe Gibbons, Jeff and Eric Juergens have gone on to win at least one NCAA title. I asked Jeff just how big the leap is from high school to college.

“You often hear NFL or NBA commentators talking about the biggest difference from the college to the pro ranks being the "speed of the game." I think that statement applies equally to the leap from high school to college wrestling. Everyone is faster, stronger and more technically sound.”

This was borne out in one of Jeff’s very first college matches. I used to make the annual trek to Madison for the old Northern Open because it was always one of the first chances in the year to watch wrestling. It also afforded the opportunity to see the incoming freshmen who would be redshirting. Jeff’s freshman year he drew 1992 Greco-Roman Olympian, Dennis Hall, in an early round. In the first period Jeff and Hall locked up upper body holds and Hall threw Jeff to his back for a five point move. I don’t remember the final score, but Jeff mounted a furious comeback in the final two periods to almost pull out the win. I couldn’t resist asking about that match.

“That match sort of serves as an example as to the type of wrestler I was from time to time. If a wrestler was a known upper body specialist, like Dennis Hall, I would want to prove to myself that I could beat him at his game. If someone was known to be a good leg rider, I would take down to prove I could get out of anyone. Getting thrown to my back for 5 understandably caused me to rethink that strategy a bit.”

Jeff’s college career took off from there. He went on to become a three-time All American and two-time NCAA champ and an exciting wrestler to watch. He also wrestled on some of the most impressive teams in Hawkeye history. I was curious about which of his teammates he most liked to watch.

“Practice room match-up: Joe Williams vs. Lincoln McIlravy. Easily some of the best wrestling never to be seen by the public. Beyond that, there were a number of teammates who had amazing skills but because of injuries or other bad luck only wrestled briefly or never cracked the starting line-up. Casey Gillis, Corey Christensen, and Justin Stanley come to mind. All three were some of my toughest competitors in the room and had some great stuff. Gillis could throw from almost anywhere and I saw him put plenty of big names on their head in the room. Christensen was an amazing athlete and nearly impossible to finish on. Stanley was a very well rounded technical wrestler who could pick up and perfect a technique from having seen it once.”

Inevitably, I had to ask what it was like to wrestle for Gable.

“For me it was obviously a dream come true having grown up in Iowa City, in the room, and literally sitting on the bench as a kid. Beyond that general statement, I think what captures my experience the best is my belief that Coach Gable never coached two persons the same - including the numerous twins he had come through the program. His ability to read and motivate wrestlers from very different backgrounds and having distinct personalities was, in my mind, one of the biggest reasons for his success.”

Jeff’s Hawkeye career was not without its hiccups. I asked him about his favorite memories.

“I would say my entire senior year. Unlike my previous years, and after having taken a year off to redshirt following my train wreck junior year, I was back having fun wrestling by only having to worry about wrestling. While the season had some ups and downs, including a partially torn MCL, the ability to not to worry about cutting weight got me back to wrestling for myself and without concern of the outcome - the way I wrestled in high school.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Jeff enrolled in the University of Iowa Law School and received his JD in 2001.

“I moved back to Iowa about 2 years ago after having gotten sick of the long hours and long commute working for a large Chicago firm. I was recruited by and joined Simmons Perrine Moyer Bergman where I know specialize in general litigation.”

Jeff remains active in wrestling and still follows the Hawks closely.

“I continue to help out with camps and clinics from time to time. I was also placed on the H.A.W.K. fan board this last year to oversee the creation of the clubs first website. Even when I lived in Chicago I continued to follow the team and have only missed 1 NCAA tournament (Buffalo) for as far back as I can remember. My parents have always had season tickets and we typically go to every home meet.”

Does he have any thoughts on the upcoming season?

“It's hard to say exactly how the season is going to shape up this early in the year. I know the Iowa team has some pretty big holes to fill and has a number of people competing to step into, or back into, the lineup. One of my biggest expectations for the season will be to see whether Caldwell red shirts to pursue his football interests.”

Finally, I asked Jeff for his thoughts on what we, as fans, can do to keep the sport healthy.

“I think having knowledgeable and respectful fans is one of the biggest things we can do to help maintain and grow the sport. One of my biggest frustrations as someone who is proud of the sport is the many anonymous forum posters who hide behind a screen name while they make direct attacks on current wrestlers or spread rumors and innuendo. Myself and other former wrestlers used to post, under our own name, a great deal on sites like and attempt to give our own insight or personal opinions on topics. The negativity that now infests those boards I feel has driven a number of people away.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

If Tiger Woods were a wrestler

Y. E. Yang out shot Tiger Woods yesterday to win the PGA Championship. It is the first time in 15 tries that anyone has been able to overtake Woods when he has lead at the beginning of the final round of a “major” championship.

That wasn’t the only news in golf last week. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee recommended the inclusion of golf in the Olympics beginning in 2016. Tiger Woods is leading the charge.

Said Woods, “I think that golf is a truly global sport, and I think it should have been in the Olympics long ago. If it does get in, I think it would be great for golf and especially some of the other smaller countries that are now emerging in golf. I think it’s a great way for them to compete and play and get the exposure that some of these countries aren’t getting.”

The entire IOC council will vote on golf’s inclusion this coming October. Golfing legends like Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Arnold Palmer and Lorena Ochoa are joining Woods in lobbying for acceptance. I suspect that companies like Callaway, Titleist and Ping are waiting in line to become Olympic sponsors. American broadcast rights for the 2016 games have not yet been awarded, but I’d guess that the competing networks are salivating over the possibility of four days of air time for Tiger – one of the biggest ratings boosters in all of sports. Millionaire athletes, major corporations and TV networks – does anyone else think that that’s too much influence to ignore?

Wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports. Milo of Croton, who won six Olympic championships between 540 B.C. and 520 B.C., may have been the world’s first superstar athlete. Wrestling continues as an Olympic event today and has had a women’s division since 2004.

It’s almost certain that the first golfers to tee it up for the United States in the Olympic Games will be millionaires. It’s also almost certain that the next American wrestlers to step on the mat in the Olympics will not be.

With a couple of exceptions, American wrestlers toil in relative obscurity. Unless they wrestle at one of the top ten college programs they are accustomed to competing in almost empty arenas and gyms. And they don’t seem to care. Few wrestle for the “glory” of it – and I doubt if any of them expect to be financially rewarded for all of those grueling hours spent “in the room”.

But – shouldn’t they at least expect to make a living while they pursue their Olympic dreams? And more importantly – shouldn’t they be rewarded for excellence? Some of our greatest past Olympians think so. USA Wrestling recently announced the creation of the Living the Dream Medal Fund. Money from the fund will be used to reward those athletes that take on the best in the world and excel. In the upcoming and all future World Championships, American gold medallists will receive $50,000, a silver medal is worth $25,000 and a bronze gets $15,000. Beginning with the 2012 London games, Olympic champions will get $250,000, silver medallists $50,000 and bronze medallists $25,000. Former Olympic champions John Smith, Dan Gable, Bruce Baumgartner and Brandon Slay and former World Champion Zeke Jones are among the first to contribute to the fund. These great champions of the past obviously care about the champions of the future.

As of July 28th, 170 of America’s most ardent wrestling supporters had joined those greats by donating to the fund. Many of the names on the donor list are familiar – they’re people who contribute to wrestling at every level. You may not recognize all of the donors – but you can be sure of one thing – they love wrestling.

Is your name on the list? If not – why not? Don’t you want to see young freestylers like Jake Varner and Dustin Schlatter stay in the sport for a long time? Heavyweight, Dremiel Byers, has represented the US in Greco-Roman competitions around the world for ten years – winning a World Championship in 2002 and a bronze medal in 2007? Doesn’t he deserve your support? And what about the real pioneers – the women? How can you not want to reward an athlete like Deanna Rix who had to learn the sport by wrestling boys – and twice placed in the Michigan boys high school tournament?

Don’t put this off any longer. If you truly love wrestling, go right now to the Living the Dream website and add your name to an elite list.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fat guy walking

I’m fat. Not a little out of shape – fat. I’ve struggled with my weight for the last 25 years. Up until I was 35 I farmed, ran and played tennis and softball – all things that allow you to eat what you want and maintain normal weight. Then I went through a major life change and one of the ultimate results was that I started to gain weight – a lot of it. During the past quarter-century I have lost over 50 pounds three times. The last time was 11 years ago and I lost 65 pounds. I was so successful that Weight Watchers hired me to be one of their very few male “leaders”. I worked for them for four years and for the most part kept the weight off. After I left them I gained 80 pounds. I’m now in the middle of a doctor-recommended effort to lose at least 70 of that (30 down so far).

Believe me, I understand weight loss.

I recently re-read Mark Kreidler’s book, Four Days to Glory. It is the story of now-Hawkeye seniors, Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere, and their quest to become 4-time Iowa high school state champions. When I read a book more than once, I typically take away impressions that I may have missed during the first reading. The Hawkeye fan in me read it the first time, but it was the wrestling fan that read it the second time.

The first time through I was impressed by the dedication of these two young men, their coaches and their parents. The ultimate irony of Tom Brands replacing Jim Zalesky as Iowa head coach and the subsequent transfer of Jay and Dan from Virginia Tech to Iowa colored my interpretation of every page.

During the more recent reading I was struck by how well Kreidler captured and portrayed two prevalent aspects of wrestling. The first is the inbred nature of it – that is – kids wrestle because their dad or an uncle or a brother wrestled. You draw the conclusion that wrestling thrives in Iowa (and probably elsewhere) only when there is a history of the sport.

“The parents know the score. But they were also raised with wrestling if they’re from Iowa, or at least raised with the recognition that wrestling matters and will be accepted, glory and gore alike.”

Kreidler’s documentation of the struggles of weight management are the most poignant observations I’ve ever seen made by a non-wrestler (like me).

“There is, of course, no such thing as a satiated wrestler. To live with hunger, to go to bed with a gnawing feeling in the stomach, is to live the life. It is the season of an athlete who spends most of his waking hours, and some of those when he’s supposed to be asleep, contemplating calories expended and calories consumed, and the long-term cost of eating that French fry, and what is the smallest amount of liquid he can take in and still partially replenish a dehydrated body, and so on. It demands of high school students a kind of self-imposed discipline that is excessive and wildly unreasonable, yet routinely met. It requires the wrestlers to deny their bodies the basis for a more natural growth pattern. They’re actually stunting themselves, and they do it on purpose and in the sort of vague half-knowledge and general industry reassurance that, sooner or later, they’ll be able to get it all back. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.”

Cutting weight – tactic for success, badge of honor or bad for the sport?

Weight cutting has long been a part of the American wrestling culture. Conventional wisdom has been that the wrestler whose natural, “walking around”, weight is greater than that of his opponent has a competitive advantage. He’s just naturally bigger and stronger even though they are equal at the time of weigh-in. This led in the past to the frequent use of unhealthy weight loss practices such as extreme dehydration. In late 1997 three college wrestlers died while trying to lose weight rapidly. All three were engaged in practices that were commonly accepted at the time – strenuous exercise in an overheated environment while wearing a rubberized suit.

The NCAA and the National Wrestling Coaches Association moved quickly to respond to these tragedies. The NCAA banned the use of saunas and rubberized suits. The National Wrestling Coaches Association began work on what has become the Optimal Performance Calculator – a comprehensive guide to healthy weight management for athletes. Over 7,000 coaches, 8,000 athletic trainers and 240,000 wrestlers participate in the program. Weight loss among wrestlers is healthier than it has ever been.

Yet the culture, or at least the perception of the culture, still exists. Re-read Mark Kreidler’s observations above. I recently read a thread on one of the online wrestling forums called, “The craziest thing you ever did to cut weight”. It became a brag fest of claims involving diuretics, laxatives, self-induced vomiting and extreme dehydration. There were almost three dozen posts before the site administrator deleted the thread. I was not shocked by the claims (I’ve heard them all before), but I was taken aback by the obvious pride expressed by the posters. Internet posting is by and large an anonymous activity so there is no way of knowing if these things were done before or after the rule changes. It doesn’t really matter because the perception still exists.

If our favorite sport is going to experience serious growth it’s going to have to do so outside of the existing wrestling “family” – in cities and towns where the parents don’t fit the mold that Kreidler describes. We’re going to need parental support. We’re going to need moms. How are we going to gain that support if we allow the perception to continue that wrestling is unhealthy? The NWCA is working at it. Coaches are working at it. Tom Brands frequently talks about a “commitment to a healthy lifestyle” and almost never about “cutting weight”. We all – fans, athletes, coaches - need to make a conscious effort to project a positive image for the world’s greatest sport. Why? To get more kids on the mat.

Now I’m going to go get on the elliptical trainer. I still have 40 pounds to go.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A tree of greatness

Dave McCuskey coached an NCAA Division I wrestling championship team, 2 Olympic champions and a silver medallist (11 Olympians total), the first African-American NCAA individual champion and at least 7 members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. That resume alone is enough to make him a Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame himself.

Last week the Sporting News published a list that they called their “50 greatest coaches of all time”. The online wrestling community arose immediately to question the omission of Dan Gable from the list. Jason Bryant took it a step further and wrote an excellent blog that also pointed out that the great Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State) coach, Edward Gallagher was also missing. As I read the uproar over the original list and the reaction to Jason’s comments, I was surprised by an apparent lack of recognition for Gallagher by much of the online readership. I suppose that relates to a general lack of appreciation of history among the young.

Wrestling super fan, Bill Lahman, has spent the last four years’ tracking the influence on wrestling of the University of Iowa and Dan Gable. Here’s a link to Bill’s list on It’s a labor of love for Bill and an impressive piece of research.

I suspect that if you asked most wrestling fans to identify Dave McCuskey (without a Google search) you’d get a lot of blank stares. Some might know that he led Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) to the NCAA crown in 1950. A few others may be aware of his later tenure at the helm of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Almost none could outline the “tree of greatness” that is rooted with Dave McCuskey.

Finn Eriksen, a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, was on McCuskey’s very first ISTC team. Graduating in 1932, Eriksen went on to found the famed Waterloo (IA) West High School program. More importantly, he is credited with improving high school and youth wrestling throughout the country.

Bill Smith, one of the Olympic champions coached by McCuskey, is one of the few men to coach high school championship teams in two states. In 1956 the eventual state champions from Illinois and Iowa met in a dual meet and Smith’s Rock Island (IL) Rocks dominated the Iowa state champs from Davenport. He coached at the intercollegiate level at the University of Nebraska and as an interim replacement at San Jose State. At the senior level, his San Francisco Olympic Club teams won three national Freestyle team titles and four in Greco-Roman. In 1968 he was the Canadian Olympic coach. Returning to the high school ranks, his Concord Clayton Valley team won the 1976 California state championship. Today’s coaches and competitors are still influenced by Smith through his technique videos and DVDs.

Keith Young was a three-time NCAA champ for McCuskey. After college he would go on to a long career as a high school coach. Like Bill Smith, he would win championships in two different states – one at Blue Earth, MN and two at Cedar Falls High School.

Another “three-timer”, Bill Nelson taught wrestling for over 30 years, 20 as the head coach at the University of Arizona.

Hall of Fame member Gerry Leeman was an NCAA champion on McCuskey’s 1946 ISTC team that finished 2nd to Oklahoma State. In 1948 he won an Olympic silver medal. In 1953 he took over the reigns at Lehigh University. In his 18 years there six of his wrestlers won ten NCAA individual championships – with Hall of Fame member, Mike Caruso, winning three of those. His 1961-62 team was undefeated in dual meets and finished fourth at the NCAA tournament.

In a career that was wrapped around his combat service in World War II, Bill Koll was undefeated and won three NCAA titles for McCuskey. After graduation, he embarked on a long college coaching career. Koll coached at the University of Chicago while earning his Masters degree from Northwestern. He then spent two years at Cornell College (makes for a great trivia question, doesn’t it?) leading the Purple to an NCAA 9th place finish in 1951. In 1953 Dave McCuskey moved on to the University of Iowa and Bill Koll returned to Cedar Falls to take over the helm at ISTC. In his eleven seasons there he lead the Panthers to four NCAA Division I Top Ten finishes. He was then instrumental in founding the “College Division” (now the NCAA Division II) and would host the first 2 DII tournaments and finish in the Top Ten twice at the Division II level.

While at ISTC, Koll coached future college coaches, Bill Dotson and the man who would replace him as Panther head coach, Chuck Patten. Dotson coached many years at the University of New Mexico and Patten led the Panthers to two NCAA Division II team championships. The “Patten arm” of the McCuskey/Koll success tree branched out into college coaches, Mike McCready, who coached three NCAA Division III individual champions at Upper Iowa University and Jim Miller, who has lead Wartburg College to seven NCAA Division III team championships. Patten’s influence on the sport also extends through successful high school coaches Marv Reiland (three Iowa state team titles at Eagle Grove High School) and Dick Briggs, high school coach of two-time NCAA champion and 1998 Hodge Trophy winner, Mark Ironside. Respected NCAA referees Mike Allen and Keith Poolman also wrestled for Chuck Patten.

Bill Koll’s influence moved east when he took the head coaching job at Penn State in 1965. His Nittany Lion teams finished in the Top Ten at the NCAA tournament six times and posted a 38-match unbeaten dual meet streak from 1969-1973. While at Penn State two of his wrestlers, Andy Matter (2) and John Fritz (1) won three NCAA championships. Koll also coached future Penn State coaches Rich Lorenzo and John Fritz and his legacy runs through NCAA champions like Jeff Prescott, John Hughes, Kerry McCoy, Sanshiro Abe and Jeremy Hunter – all of whom coach wrestling at some level (McCoy as the head coach at Stanford University).

Bob Siddens may not have been Dave McCuskey’s best wrestler, but his influence may have been the greatest. His Waterloo West Wahawks won eleven state championships. One of his wrestlers, Dale Anderson, went to win two NCAA individual championships and help Michigan State University win the 1967 team title. Siddens also coached Dan Mashek, the winningest coach in Iowa high school wrestling history. Mashek coached 1996 Iowa Hawkeye national champion Daryl Weber who is now a successful high school coach at one of the nation’s strongest programs – Christiansburg, VA. Former University of Northern Iowa, University of Iowa and current Stanford University athletic director, Bob Bowlsby also wrestled for Siddens.

And then there’s Gable. “Daniel” Gable wrestled for coach Siddens from 1963 to 1966. As most wrestling fans know, Gable went undefeated in high school and won three state championships. In a Des Moines Register interview prior to Siddens’ induction into the Register’s athletic Hall of Fame Gable said, “He shaped my career. He could always push my right button at the right time, and he helped me, not just as an athlete. As my high school guidance counselor, he knew what to say at the right time.” In what may have been one of the greatest “passing of the torch” moments in all of sports history, in 1997 Bob Siddens handed Dan Gable his 15th, and last, NCAA team championship trophy while Jim Zalesky and Tom Brands looked on. Fittingly, it took place where the tree is rooted – on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. It’s too bad Dave McCuskey wasn’t there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How I'd start a college wresting program

Eighteen years ago I started my own company. I took ten years’ experience working for others, found an underserved niche and took the plunge. In those 18 years I have developed and managed direct marketing campaigns that launched department stores, pizzerias, groceries and banks.

As an outsider looking in – how would I start a new college wrestling program?

Step 1 – Call the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

Mike Moyer and his staff have developed invaluable materials to help anyone that wants intercollegiate wrestling to grow. They work behind the scenes with organizations that are trying to expand the sport at all levels. Their website is a wealth of ammunition for those that want to take up the battle for wrestling. Almost all of the data in this blog is taken directly from

Step 2 – Build a constituency.

Few college administrators are looking to add a wrestling team (either men’s or women’s). Someone has to start the ball rolling. High school coaches can be great catalysts for action. Recently retired after 20 years of coaching at Amarillo (TX) Tascosa High School, Johnny Cobb heads up a group working to establish wrestling at West Texas A & M. One of Johnny’s partners in his effort is another prime example of someone who can spearhead a startup – Olympic champion, Brandon Slay. Which prominent athletes, business people, politicians, etc. can you enlist to join you?

Parents of wrestlers can provide a major impetus. Alan Leet, father of Iowa Hawkeye wrestler, T. H. Leet, is one of the leaders of a coalition that was instrumental in bringing Georgia’s only intercollegiate varsity wrestling team to Darton College. Theirs is an excellent model for how to attack the challenge: start with a grass roots group that loves wrestling, enlist the aid of the NWCA and then get Dan Gable to help with your fund raising.

Step 3 – Make your case.

Wrestling ranks sixth nationally in high school athletic participation. Of the ten sports that rank highest in high school participation, wrestling ranks last in opportunities to participate at the intercollegiate level. Only 2.3% of high school wrestlers can go on to compete in college.

There are two areas of the country that are distinctly underserved. The Western and Rocky Mountain States have one-fifth of America’s high school wrestlers and less than 30 college teams. The situation in the Deep South is even worse, with no college varsity teams in states like Texas, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.

The numbers make sense – especially for a tuition-driven school. A wrestling team would attract 25 – 30 new students (a women’s team an additional 15 – 20). Beloit College recently laid off 40 employees because 35 fewer students enrolled than expected. Startup costs could be as low $20,000 (the cost of 2 mats for a school that already has a weight room and space for the mats), but would more realistically be in the $75,000 - $100,000 range. Annual operating costs (including coaches salaries) will range from $125,000 (according to Baker University) to $250,000. Average 4-year private college tuition is $25,000. Let’s assume that scholarships and other financial aid discount that by 50%. Wrestling not only pays for itself – it has the opportunity to generate positive revenue for any school that is smart enough to add it.

Don’t forget the long term implications. Every additional enrollee is a potential future alumni donor.

Step 4 – Prime the pump.

Yes, the numbers make sense, but every college administrator will be more open to investing in wrestling if you bring financial commitment to the table. Aim high. Get creative. Believe in the value of wrestling. If you had to – could you convince John Jones, the president of Acme Widget Company to write you a $10,000 check – especially if he had no wrestling background?

Here’s the most important factor – someone has to want to. Someone has to take the first step. Is it you?