Monday, December 28, 2009

A warrior's battle

I got a phone call Saturday from Bill Lahman and you could hear the sorrow in his voice.

For those of you who hang out on the internet wrestling forums, Bill is the infamous willyman57. To say that he can be abrasive when posting is to say that Bill Gates made a little money in the software business.

There’s another side to Bill that doesn’t always travel well through the ether. He’s a caring man who is passionate about wrestling – and wrestlers. He and I developed an affinity because we live in the same city and because we were both present at what we old timers consider the most famous athletic event in Iowa high school history – the 1965 football game between Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Davenport Central. I was in the stands rooting for the Central Blue Devils and Bill was down on the field helping the J-Hawks to a 20-18 victory.

Bill’s Saturday call had nothing to do with that game. It was about Adam Frey and the impending end to Adam’s battle with cancer. Telephone conversations are only slightly better than computer messages when it comes to gauging the emotions behind the words, but based on the way Bill’s voice kept cracking, I suspect that there were tears in his eyes.

“Jim, we’ve got to honor this young man – the wrestling community, the NCAA, everyone. Couldn’t teams sew a memorial patch on their singlets? I don’t know, but we have to do something. Have you read the last few entries on his website? Did you read the letter to Adam’s mother from his former teammate at Blair? By God, that says it all.”

Less than two hours after Bill called word came that Adam was gone.

For those who don’t know about Adam – here’s the short version. He was an outstanding wrestler who was a junior nationals freestyle champion. One of Cornell University’s top recruits, he qualified for the NCAA Division I Championships as a freshman. On March 25, 2008 he was in a car accident. Swerving to avoid an oncoming car in his lane, he crashed into a tree. His injuries were not life threatening – but, during a routine scan for internal injuries, three tumors were discovered – one in his lung, one in his liver and one in between his kidneys.

Rumors of his diagnosis immediately hit the wrestling websites and forums. Adam’s friend – and the wrestling world’s go-to web development goddess – Danielle Hobeika, confirmed the diagnosis and had a website created and up for Adam in just a couple of days. It was through this website and his blogs that thousands of us got to know Adam and his family. We learned of his quirky sense of humor, his individualism, but most of all we got a lesson in courage. Bill Lahman was one of the very first to send Adam well wishes.

Adam touched those of us who never met him in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine. Those who did know him – well – Jason Bryant says it this way.

So - how do we honor Adam Frey? How do we keep his memory alive with the respect he deserves. The wrestling community is already rallying. There are early indications that something might be done at the Midlands Championships. This note came yesterday from Pat Tocci of the National Wrestling Coaches Association:

“We are thinking of something that would promote his foundation at the National Duals. It might be something as simple as a table on the concourse (where) people can make a donation and have a book (available) to write wishes for the family. We want to do something that will be sustainable over the course of time.”

As for Bill - he already has a group of people creating a sticker that can be worn on headgear or affixed to equipment bags or laptops – anywhere that will remind us of Adam’s courage.

Ultimately, it’s within us all that his memory must live and it’s obvious that there are many who will never forget Adam Frey.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Santa 2009

Dear Santa,

I’m late with my list again – sorry.

First, thanks for giving us some of the things I asked for last year. I requested more wrestling opportunities in America’s largest cities and you sent Mike Rodriguez who, with the help of Mark Churella and others, launched Beat the Streets Detroit.

You packed your sleigh with new programs like Baker University and Lake Erie College. You brought intercollegiate wrestling opportunities to untapped areas when new teams were announced at Shorter College in Georgia, Wayland Baptist University in Texas and Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas. Someone at Norwich University must have moved from the “naughty” column to the “nice” column because you reinstated their program less than a year after they dropped it.

Thanks, also, for putting more wrestling coverage under my tree. Just yesterday I got to follow Wartburg’s Desert Duals through a live blog – and boy am I thankful! It’s pretty likely that there will be a shakeup in some individual Division III rankings after the action in Las Vegas.

I’ve kept a couple of items from last year on this year’s list. We still need more opportunities for girls to wrestle. The success of girls’ interscholastic wrestling in Texas, Hawaii, Washington and California and the growth of women’s intercollegiate programs prove that girls want to wrestle. They just don’t want to have to wrestle boys. Please, Santa, send us someone enlightened enough and with enough energy to lead the grassroots effort required to expand girls’ wrestling.

I’m still looking for a “shinier” version of freestyle wrestling, too. I’m afraid that even John Smith would look boring under the current rules.

I’m pretty greedy, so I’ve added a few things to this year’s list. Could we get more press conferences with Tom Brands? I know that a lot of fans love to hate Hawkeye wrestling, but Coach Brands just might be the most interesting interview in all of sports. “Poop his pants” has now been added to his long list of “quotable quotes”.

Can we get more kids on the mat? Dan Gable’s latest catchphrase is, “America needs wrestling”. I watched a video where he was wrapping up a clinic session and he explained a little about what he meant, “We need (toughness). If the power goes out and you need heat you need to be able to use a chainsaw. If the chainsaw breaks you need to be able to use an axe.” Wrestling teaches toughness and resiliency in ways that nothing else does. We need “tough” scientists like Norman Borlaug – and “tough” writers like John Irving – and “tough” leaders like Teddy Roosevelt. Where will they come from? You can be sure that some are going to walk off the mat and into greatness.

Finally, I want more wrestling events in Cedar Rapids. This is a great town, filled with wonderful people – many of whom are still struggling with the devastation of the 2008 flood. By some estimates we are still hundreds of millions of dollars and several years away from a full recovery. Last year, wrestling tourism – the Iowa High School Dual Championships and the NCAA Division III Championships – contributed roughly a million and a half dollars to the local economy. What better way to fight off our backs than wrestling. How about the World Team Trials – or another USA vs. Russia event, but let’s make it even bigger and better. Maybe we could add a kids tournament. Is it too much to ask for people to equate Cedar Rapids with wrestling? I don’t think so.

Until next year, Santa.

Jim Brown

Cedar Rapids, IA

Wrestling fan

Monday, December 14, 2009

Real drama in Carver Hawkeye Arena

Two events of the past three weeks have brought to mind the single most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen at Carver Hawkeye Arena – the resuscitation of Joel Schatzman.

On February 6, 2000 the Iowa Hawkeyes were leading Northwestern 41-3. The Wildcats’ only victory was an upset by fourth-ranked Scott Schatzman over Iowa’s returning NCAA champion and top-ranked Doug Schwab. I don’t really remember much about the match except that perhaps Schatzman won by controlling Schwab from the top.

Several minutes later some of us noticed stirring behind the Northwestern bench. It started to get quiet in the arena and we could hear a women screaming for help. Then Scott Schatzman started running, hurdled a chair and ran up a few rows into the stands. His father had collapsed from an apparent heart attack. Public address announcer, Phil Haddy, put out a call for help from any medical personnel that might be in attendance. Registered EMT and “avid Hawkeye wrestling fan”, Kevin Greenley, was among the first to arrive. In an interview for the Summer 2000 issue of EMS Update, Greenley said, “The others in the stands (who came to the patient’s assistance) and I, quickly discovered he had no pulse and determined that he needed a defibrillator. We performed CPR to provide circulation until the defibrillator arrived.” Fortunately for Mr. Schatzman an automated external defibrillator had been placed in Carver Hawkeye less than a year before.

Most of us stood as the drama unfolded. It was amazingly quiet. We spoke to each other in hushed tones. An ambulance arrived and the paramedics joined the treatment team. Wrestling no longer mattered. After the ambulance pulled away, Phil Haddy got back on the mic and announced that the meet was over. Joel Schatzman recovered at the University Hospitals and Clinics and a month later attended the Big Ten Championships.

Fast forward to November 20,2009. The Hawkeye meet with North Carolina-Pembroke was just about to start when I got a phone call from my wife. My 85-year-old father-in-law had fallen and at that moment was in a helicopter flying to the University of Iowa Hospital. She was en route and asked me to meet her. University Hospital is roughly a ten minute walk from Carver Hawkeye for a middle-aged, overweight man so I arrived just minutes after the helicopter landed.

As you get older you start to spend way more time in hospital waiting rooms than you would like. My wife, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and I huddled outside of the emergency room awaiting a diagnosis. When it came it confirmed what had been determined by the staff at St Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids – Lee had fractured three vertebrae in his neck and had been transferred up to the intensive care unit. While waiting for permission to go see him Nora, my mother-in-law, said, “I’m sorry to take you away from your wrestling” – and actually meant it. She just hates to bother anyone. I turned to my wife, Cindy, and asked, “Remember the night Scott Schatzman’s dad had his heart attack?”

When we were allowed to go back to see him we met an amazing team. Lee was under the care of an emergency room resident, a trauma specialist, two spine specialists (one of whom bore a strong resemblance to Doogie Howser), an ICU resident and assorted nurses and technicians. That first night Lee was unable to move his right arm or leg and had very little movement on his left side. He was in University Hospital intensive care for ten days before being transferred to the physical rehabilitation unit at St Luke’s in Cedar Rapids. He is making astounding progress and the prognosis is good.

When long-time Northwestern coach, Tim Cysewski announced last week that he was stepping down, I once again thought of Joel Schatzman.

Blogging is self-indulgent by its very nature and today I’m indulging myself. Thank you University Hospitals and Clinics. You were wonderful. If any of you readers are acquainted with any of the staff there – tell them that there’s a doofus wrestling fan in Cedar Rapids who thinks the world of them. I’m pretty sure that popular Hawkeye forum poster, USAFHawk, is on staff there. If you know him – ask him to spread the word among his colleagues.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The doers

Dan Gable was wounded, but showed up and did his job. Dan fell and broke a bone in his leg on Thanksgiving, but he was in Ames last night with broadcast partner Tim Johnson to cover the Iowa vs. Iowa State dual. It was the opening telecast of Iowa Public Television’s 34th season of bringing wrestling to fans in Iowa, southern Minnesota, eastern Nebraska, western Illinois and northern Missouri.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, IPTV used the event as a fund raiser – and, true to form - Dan got out his checkbook. He does a fabulous job of “working his audience”. A couple of weeks ago when a touring team of Russian wrestlers was in the area for one of the “Russia vs. USA” Gable invited them to his house. In last night’s appeal he said that those young Russian wrestlers knew about Iowa and where Iowa is on the map. Then he pulled out the “exclusivity” motivator, “They probably don’t know about anyplace else in America, but they know about Iowa and wrestling.”

It’s a sign of what Dan Gable has become – American wrestling’s top advocate. In the past few weeks he has been in California to support the NWCA All-Star Classic and Cal-State Fullerton wrestling; then he was in Mount Vernon, Iowa signing autographs and contributing to the webcast of Russia vs. the USA and last night he was at Hilton Coliseum – crutches and all. He gives speeches, helps with clinics, raises money for new programs – anything that will grow the sport. It goes even beyond that. On Friday, November 20th several wheel-chair bound persons attended the Iowa City Duals. Gable spent time with every one of them – talking, signing autographs and laughing.

It’s no secret that I’m a Gable fan. It was a trip to Ames to see him wrestle that first drew me to the sport. I’d like to think that he has inspired me in some part to achieve whatever small successes I have. He and my father have been the shining examples of a principle in which I’ve come to believe – “Don’t talk – act”.

Wrestling is blessed with lots of “doers” - Michael Novogratz and Al Bevilacqua at Beat the Streets, J Robinson, Mike Moyer at the NWCA, Jason Bryant, Kyle Klingman, Lee Roy Smith and dozens of others from volunteer table workers to the parents who run youth wrestling clubs. Many contribute without any recognition.

Here’s my challenge – tell me about your favorite unsung wrestling “doer”. Who is that person you know who has worked countless hours to get more kids on the mat or more fans in the seats? You can send an email to me at, leave a blog comment or respond to a forum thread. After Christmas I’ll include your top nominations in a blog. Here’s your chance to thank that person you’ve always wanted to thank or tell someone’s good story.

And, Dan – thanks.