Monday, July 6, 2009

Second anniversary

For most of us, blogging is a self-indulgent endeavor. Yes, I know – there are professional journalists, scientists, business leaders and educators who write blogs with tangible value. Most of the rest of us, however, just believe that we have something to say and are arrogant enough to think that someone might care enough to read it.

Today marks the second anniversary of The View from Section GG. The title reflects the fact that I have watched a lot of wrestling from section GG (row 12, seat 1) in Carver Hawkeye Arena. It started as a myspace blog because I wanted a way to discuss “the world’s oldest and greatest sport” from a fan’s viewpoint. With the exception of winning an 8th grade intramural championship at Frank L Smart Junior High in Davenport, IA – I never wrestled. The first posting was called, “Blame it on Gable” and explained the beginnings of my love for the sport. Twenty-three people read it.

I tell this story all of the time. In the winter of 1970 a friend of mine who wrestled at Augustana College asked me to ride with him to Ames to watch Dan Gable wrestle. He just wanted someone to talk to and share the driving. I am just a little younger than Gable and had spent all of my youth as a sports fan in Iowa, so I was well aware of his accomplishments. Unless you lived here at the time, it’s hard for most people to grasp the full extent to which the state embraced his success. But – before that night I had never seen him wrestle.

I don’t remember the opponent – either the school or the individual. I don’t remember any of the other matches – except that the Cyclones won. I clearly remember Gable pushing this guy across the mat like he was pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire (my friend explained on the drive home that those were called “double arm bars”), then turning him and pinning him. Something struck a chord with me that night and over the years my love for wrestling has continued to grow.

During the season, roughly a thousand people a week read the blog. That number will spike to about 1,500 if the content is in any way related to the Hawkeyes. The busiest week ever was when Iowa Public Television allowed me to post the video of the Dave Osenbaugh upset of Lou Banach. There were 3,500 views that week – most of them probably Cyclone fans watching that match over and over.

It has been a rewarding two years. I’ve “met” some amazing people along the way – people with an unbelievable passion for wrestling.

Photographer, web developer, wrestler and now MMA fighter, Danielle Hobeika, graciously gave me my first interview. Then she did something for which I will ever be grateful – she introduced me to Al Bevilacqua.

Al is zealous about one thing – get as many American kids on the mat as possible. He’s very clear on the best way to accomplish that – make wrestling an urban sport. He walks the walk – Al and Michael Novogratz and the others at Beat the Streets have been phenomenal in bringing youth, middle school and high school wrestling to every borough in New York City. They (and others) are now reaching out to other areas of the country. A Beat the Streets offshoot in Detroit (led by Mark Churella) recently helped launch that city’s first middle school team. Others will follow.

I got to meet Karissa Avallone and her dad, Tony. Karissa is one of the thousands of girls in this country forced to fight prejudice and stereotype – and wrestle on the boys team – just to have the opportunity to compete in the sport she loves. By the way – she’s good.

Natural disaster – and blogging about it – introduced me to a dynamo of a wrestling mom, promoter, supporter and WIN Magazine “fan of the year” – Gail Rush. Gail and her son, 2X Coe College All-American, Clayton, responded to my friend Terrance’s flood loss with great kindness. They also contributed to the first of The Road to Cedar Rapids blogs, promoting the Division III Championships. On the night that I actually met Gail face to face in the Eby Fieldhouse at Coe, she had arranged to bring the entire middle school wrestling team from Aledo, IL to watch the dual meet between Coe and Cornell College.

Speaking of Cornell – the blog introduced me to Mike Duroe, the Rams’ head coach. Mike has coached at every possible level and has a treasure of experiences. Sitting in his office and talking with him about wrestling is just about as much fun as a wrestling fan can have.

The blog led to Mike Moyer of the National Wrestling Coaches calling me on the phone. Be prepared when Mike calls because he’s going to ask you to join in the fight to save college wrestling – and you won’t be able to say no.

Jason Bryant was one of my first regular readers. He and Kyle Klingman are now working diligently to improve wrestling coverage with Wrestling 411. Currently a webcast, it is their goal to also get the show on television as a weekly highlight broadcast. They are fighting an uphill battle – but they are fighting.

Lee Roy Smith, the executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, has been wonderfully supportive. Lee Roy and his staff strive to make the Hall of Fame so much more than a repository of wrestling memorabilia. In the past couple of years they have created outreach and educational programs stressing the relevance of wrestling in American history and culture. He was also kind enough to share personal memories for a blog about mothers and wrestling.

Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling honored me be inviting me to contribute to the College Wrestling Network. Gary – I’m just a fan (and occasionally I’m a little too “black and gold”), but thank you.

Thanks, also, to those folks who give me feedback – Sandy Stevens, Ken Chertow, Mark Palmer, Gregg Dinderman and Scott Casber. Maybe you shouldn’t encourage me so much.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I continue to indulge myself.

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