Monday, February 23, 2009

TV or Not TV

Saturday night I watched several future college wrestlers on television. Once again, all finals matches of the Iowa High School Wrestling Tournament were broadcast live. Future Golden Gopher Bart Reiter joined his brother Mack as a 4-time state champ – making them the only two brothers to win four titles in Iowa. Cyclone recruit, Trent Weatherman won a title as did Hawkeye signee, Dylan Carew and Des Moines Roosevelt’s, John Nicholson, who will be joining his brother at Old Dominion University. Many of the athletes I watched will go on to be the mainstays of future Iowa Conference programs for years to come.

The finals were broadcast by The Iowa High School Sports Network, a cooperative venture of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and Iowa-based Krogman and Associates. Since 2006 IHSSN has broadcast all sanctioned Iowa high school finals from football to bowling. But before there was IHSSN there was Iowa Public Television.

For many years we watched lead announcer Doug Brown and a few different color commentators, along with “floor reporters” Dean Borg and Dick Trotter. In real life Borg was the director of public information for University of Iowa Hospitals and host of IPTV’s Iowa Press. Trotter was the wrestling coach (and my daughter’s math teacher) at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids. While Saturday’s team of Mark Allen, Jim Gibbons and Mark Ironside did an excellent job, I miss the “good ol’ days”.

On Thursday, just after IPTV had finished its 33rd season of airing college wrestling with a live broadcast of Tuesday’s Iowa Conference finals, an article in The Des Moines Register reported that budget cuts may force IPTV to drop College Wrestling from its broadcast schedule. All state agencies in Iowa have been mandated to cut 6.5% from their budgets. For IPTV this amounts to $567,995. According to a quote in the Register article from Daniel Miller, IPTV’s executive director, a season of five to seven meets costs $40,000.

Last year I wrote a blog about IPTV called, “Banach is in Trouble”. With over 3,500 views, it is by far the most popular I’ve ever posted. Was this because there are that many wrestling fans that care about IPTV and College Wrestling? Sadly – I don’t think so. I suspect that most of the views were because College Wrestling producer, Pat Rowen, allowed me to post one of the most famous of all of the matches ever shown on television – Iowa State heavyweight Dave Osenbaugh’s upset pin of Hawkeye great, Lou Banach.

In one week, 3,500 wrestling fans viewed a prime example of the outstanding contributions made to the sport by IPTV. In the past 33 years viewers have seen future World and Olympic greats like John Smith, Cael Sanderson, Kenny Monday and Tom Brands compete in their college years.

Here’s my question – is the wrestling community willing to let this happen? If you live in Oklahoma or Pennsylvania or Ohio – why should you care? Because you care about wrestling. Because IPTV has supported and promoted college wrestling in a way very few other entities have. Because the loss of a pioneer in broadcasting wrestling might stand as a roadblock to the future expansion of wrestling on television. Because you want to win – you want to beat the odds.

Get off your butt and support College Wrestling on Iowa Public Television. You can go right now to the IPTV website and become a Friend of Iowa Public Television. Be sure to click on “College Wrestling” when they ask for your favorite programming. If you’re more of a check writer than an online donor, write one and mail it to

Friends of Iowa Public Television
PO Box 6400
Johnston, IA 50131

If you’re a business owner, why not be a corporate underwriter for College Wrestling?

Do it now – let’s show the world what wrestling fans are made of.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Heavyweights in the Classroom - The Road to Cedar Rapids (Part 5)

During the 2008 NCAA Division III heavyweight wrestling finals, announcer, Sandy Stevens pointed out that the two combatants each had 3.85 GPAs. Champion Dan Laurent from UW-La Crosse is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and Wartburg’s runner up, Brian Borchers majored in mathematics. Both were academic All-Americans. Borchers won an NCAA post graduate scholarship and is now working toward his PhD in math at the University of Iowa.

Laurent was named biochemistry student of the year and is working to return to Cedar Rapids to defend his heavyweight title March 6th and 7th. Dan and his coach, Dave Malecek, were kind enough to take a few minutes to share some thoughts on the life of a Division III student athlete.

I asked Dan, who was a two-time Division I Wisconsin state qualifier (placing third in 2005) from Mishicot High School, why he wanted to continue wrestling in college.

“After my high school career, I didn’t feel like I was finished with sports. I felt like my wrestling skills were still improving and I wanted to know just how good I could become. To me, the only logical choice was to continue competing as I furthered my education.”

To Coach Malecek this is the beauty of Division III athletics.

“I truly believe that at the DIII level, the athlete is competing because they love the sport and they love to compete and compete at a very high level. With no scholarships, they are there for the right reason which is the quality of education they are getting. That is the main reason that I love coaching at this level is that you get the athletes that are very focused on education and then the icing on the cake is that they get to compete and be on a team.”

What’s a typical day like for a student athlete who is excelling both in the classroom and on the mat? Here’s Dan’s description.

“Well, this can vary a lot depending on my class and practice schedule for any given day. As a heavyweight, my day typically revolves around eating. I wake up, cook breakfast, and hurry to class. Some days I don’t have time to come home for lunch so I pack some food. I go to lectures and labs all day, then wrestling practice at 4 p.m. I return home after, cook some supper and start studying. Usually I’ll eat again before I go to bed and start all over again. Other days we will have practice at 6:30 a.m. which really makes for a long day. I’ll admit, every once in a while if I don’t have too much homework, I’ll just chill and watch TV most of the night. Everyone needs a break sometimes.”

How has wrestling contributed to Dan’s education?

“Wrestling, besides serving as a necessary diversion from classes, has also helped me to focus more zealously on my academic goals. There are times when schoolwork becomes overwhelming and wrestling provides a time to ‘relax’ and relieve some stress. However, there are other times when wrestling makes it more difficult to perform as a student, mainly due to time constraints. I’ve found that with less time to study, it helps me to utilize the time I do have more effectively. Overall, wrestling has helped me stay goal-oriented and kept me out of the trouble that a lot of college students find themselves in as a result of too much free time.”

What does Coach Malecek think of Dan’s accomplishments?

“I have been very fortunate to have a young man like Dan on our team. He leads by example not only in the wrestling room, but in the classroom also. I have never met someone so serious about academics and so organized and I have been around many student athletes in the past 15 (years) and Dan is by far the most dedicated one.”

After watching just one period at last year’s Division III Championships, I knew I was going to like Glenn Geesman, the heavyweight from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His aggressive, attacking style of wrestling appealed to the Hawkeye fan in me. It turns out this was no coincidence. MIT’s coach Tom Layte patterns his coaching after Iowa coach Tom Brands.

Glenn was leading in his first round match against second-seed, Kyle Bilquist, of Delaware Valley when he tried a high-risk move and got reversed to his back. After that loss he dominated his way through the consolations including an 8-1 win over Bilquist in their rematch and a 39 second fall over number one seed Trevor Hiffa from Oneonta State in the third-place match.

Unlike Dan Laurent, Glenn Geesman did not intend to wrestle when he went to MIT. According to Coach Layte, “I always encourage my wrestlers to talk to their classmates and friends to find anybody with a wrestling background. This happened with Glenn. He came in and talked to me his freshman year, but wouldn’t come out for the team.”

Glenn joined the team his sophomore year and struggled a bit. He started to focus more on wrestling last year and then had the solid run at last year’s national tournament. Coach Layte admires Glenn’s work ethic and praises his ability to learn quickly. “He’s come a long way.” What is equally impressive to coach Layte is the environment in which Glenn has made this improvement. “The academic workload at MIT is like no other place in the country. We only practice two hours a day because of all the time our athletes have to spend in class, labs and the library.”

The role of sports in education is often questioned and criticized. In these challenging economic times, far too many institutions are considering the elimination of athletic teams as a cost saving measure. Wrestling has been a component of higher education for 2500 years and the lessons it teaches are needed now more than ever. To quote UW-La Crosse coach Malecek, “I feel the main value taught is discipline. With trying to be a student athlete you cannot cut corners and you have to be disciplined with not only your training, but your studies. I also feel that mental toughness comes into play as a big part of the whole college experience. … It also teaches you how to overcome adversity.”

I hope both Dan and Glenn qualify for this year’s Division III Championships on March 6th and 7th in Cedar Rapids. I’ll be there to watch them. Please join me. Let’s give these young student athletes the acknowledgement they deserve.

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference NCAA Championship Site

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hometown heroes

The Iowa wrestling program features “Hometown Heroes” at every home meet. It’s a simple concept – they mention wrestlers from the same or neighboring communities in Eastern Iowa and thank the fans from those communities that support their “hometown heroes” and Iowa wrestling.

According to an Andy Hamilton article in Saturday’s Iowa City Press-Citizen dozens of people drove 50 miles from Davison, MI Friday night to watch their hometown hero – Brent Metcalf – wrestle. There were autographs and photo sessions. Brent did not let them down – winning by fall.

They weren’t the only fans driving Friday night to see a local favorite compete. The entire middle school wrestling team from Aledo, IL traveled over 100 miles to Cedar Rapids to see Division III #2-ranked 125 pounder, Clayton Rush, wrestle for Coe College against arch rivals, the Cornell Rams. They got to see Clayton score 6 points for the Kohawks, but not in the manner they hoped. Cornell forfeited at 125.


The 1979 Gilbertville Don Bosco team will be honored at this year’s Iowa high school wrestling championships on the 30th anniversary of becoming the only team in Iowa history to qualify an entire team for the state individual tournament. The Dons are famous not just for their long history of success (producing Iowa NCAA champ, Daryl Weber and multiple time All-American from the University of Minnesota, Mack Reiter), but for the support they receive from Gilbertville and the other small towns that feed the school. Undoubtedly hundreds of Don Bosco fans will attend this year’s event – both to honor the 1979 team and to cheer on the qualifiers from this year’s top-ranked 1A squad.

All across America there are rural and suburban communities that are famous for their wrestling traditions – Lakewood, OH; Waterloo, IA; Brandon, FL; Davison, MI and right now – Monroeville, OH. Towns, neighborhoods and schools rally around their wrestlers, past and present. This is how the sport continues to thrive in those areas.

This is great for the, roughly, 40% of American middle and high school students who have the opportunity to wrestle interscholastically. For the 60% who don’t – primarily in our largest cities – something more is needed. Beat the Streets has succeeded in bringing middle and high school wrestling to many of the schools in all of the boroughs of New York City. Yes – this has largely been done through the hard work of Al Bevilacqua and Michael Novogratz and with public school system support. However, I wonder if their isn’t a neighborhood unity feeling that contributes as well.

Let’s look at Detroit. They have no varsity high school wrestling – and they are facing financial challenges that are among the greatest in the country. Is there a city in America whose youth have a greater need to learn the lessons of wrestling? Couldn’t we find one local Boys and Girls Club or other neighborhood-based youth organization that would start a kids wrestling program? And couldn’t that organization have the kind of leadership that would work to get the closest 2 or 3 middle schools to develop teams and compete with each other? And couldn’t those neighborhoods rise up and demand varsity high school wrestling? And couldn’t someone from those neighborhoods convince someone like Mitch Albom to contribute to the growth of wrestling in Detroit? If we work at it couldn’t we get high school wrestling participation up to 500,000 kids – one urban neighborhood at a time? And if we did that – how could our colleges and universities ever consider eliminating their wrestling teams?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Raising college wrestling fans

Iowa home wrestling meets have been even more enjoyable this year. Watching Dan Gable’s grandkids run around the floor of Carver Hawkeye Arena in singlets and headgear has added a cuteness factor that hasn’t always been there in the past.

The University of Iowa offered a family ticket package last Friday night for the Hawkeye dual with Bucknell. Perhaps fearing that attendance might be off a little, the University ran a “Family Four Pack” promotion – 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas for $40. The influx of smaller kids was noticeable – especially when you saw the line waiting to get Herkey’s autograph.

I don’t know why we don’t do more of this. Many colleges make an extra effort to get more of their own students to attend meets, but it seems like some don’t go after families the way they should. Children get too little exposure to wrestling. They have almost no opportunity to see it on television and high school gyms are generally not “kid friendly”. College arenas should be the perfect venue for a kid’s first look at the “world’s oldest and greatest” sport.

Encouraging family attendance lays a solid foundation for the future of the sport in a couple of ways. First, potential competitors get to see real role models – athletes who work hard on the mat and in the classroom. When they see someone like Brent Metcalf or Jake Herbert or Darrion Caldwell compete they have the opportunity to see how exciting the sport can be.

“Starting them young” may also help build our future support base. The same family has sat two rows in front of me at Carver for 20 years. I have literally watched the kids grow up. They’re still filling those seats.

Four high school wrestlers have sat behind me for the last couple of meets. They’re pretty typical teenagers and sometimes you wish they wouldn’t say some of the things that they do, but, they thoroughly enjoy the meets. Perhaps a side benefit of starting the college season later would be that high school athletes would have more opportunities to see the next level in action.

The challenge for building youth attendance doesn’t have to lie exclusively with the colleges and universities. Fans can play a role. It doesn’t cost that much to buy tickets for youth groups, kids’ wrestling clubs or high school teams – and you can always find someone to take them. It’s one way all of us can help build the sport.

By the way – this young lady will attend her first Hawkeye meet next season.

Piper and I