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.