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?

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