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.

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