Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is it a dual or a duel?

It has come and gone again – the only college wrestling event on ESPN’s list of “101 things every sports fan must experience before they die” – the Iowa/Iowa State dual. If Saturday’s edition was your first one you picked a good night. No – it was nowhere near a record turnout, but the announced 11,800+ attendance is likely to be the largest dual meet crowd in the country this year.

As has seemed to become tradition, there was one match that brought that crowd to its feet with a roar. At 141 pounds, Iowa redshirt freshman, Mark Ballweg, “came out the back door” on a shot taken by past All-American, Chris Drouin, and scored the winning takedown with just seconds left in the match. I still get goose bumps whenever I see a young Hawkeye wrestler experience one of those Carver Hawkeye Arena salutes for the first time.

It was also a historic night to be there. At the intermission the creation of the “Dan Gable Traveling Trophy” was announced. Each year the winner of the Iowa/Iowa State dual will take the trophy home for display. It’s a fitting way to honor a man who has not only meant so much to both institutions, but to the sport of wrestling. As the announcement ceremony was ending, Tom Brands trotted out of the tunnel to matside and hugged Gable. It was funny in a way – yet very poignant. Here were two men who appeared not to be comfortable hugging another man, doing so in front of almost 12,000 people. Then Gable walked to his family and his grandkids surrounded him. I have to admit that I choked up a bit. Those fans who chose to go up for ice cream missed some great moments.

I love dual meets – especially rivalry meets. I’ve been attending the Coe/Cornell meet for several years now and will do so again later this season. I’ve not yet gone to the Wartburg/Augsburg event, but hope to in the near future. I also believe that dual meets are the way we bring new fans to the sport. It’s just a natural tendency in college sports for fans to align themselves more fervently when an established rivalry is involved. Take Coe vs. Cornell for example. It is the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi. That spills over to other sports. When my daughter was playing tennis at Cornell, Luther was the established Iowa conference women’s tennis powerhouse(until dethroned by the Rams), but it was the Coe/Cornell meet that drew the biggest crowd. The wrestling dual will pack the Eby Fieldhouse in February just as it did the Small Multi-Sport Center last season.

I’m not the only one who sees the value in dual meets. A few weeks ago Sandy Stevens introduced me to John Graham, the co-founder of the Virginia Duals. To say that John is passionate about the dual meet format is quite an understatement. He and other members of the Peninsula Wrestling Association founded the Virginia Duals back in 1981 as a fund raiser. The event introduced the dual meet advancement tournament format to college wrestling. The Virginia Duals offers two intercollegiate and three high school divisions. This season’s edition will be held January 7th and 8th at the Hampton (VA) Coliseum. Led by Penn State the National College Division will feature five NCAA Division I top 25 teams. Teams from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware are in the three high school divisions. As always it will be a great two days of wrestling. For more information visit their website.

The NWCA National Duals sprang from the Virginia Duals in 1989 and NWCA executive director, Mike Moyer, is also fervent in his support of the dual meet. The current National Duals format is the most unique in all of college wrestling. Top teams from all three NCAA divisions, the NAIA, the NJCAA and 8 women’s teams will all battle for the title of National Dual Champion for their respective divisions. At one time Minnesota might be wrestling Iowa State on Mat 5, while Grand View and Missouri Baptist square off on Mat 1. As you continue to scan the floor at the UNI Dome might see Coe and Delaware Valley battling on Mat 8 and the women from Oklahoma City University wrestling freestyle against the team from Jamestown College. The National Duals are a wrestling junkie’s dream. This season’s event will be held January 8th and 9th at the UNI Dome on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Fan support is especially critical for both events this year. Hampton is one of the finalists in a bid to win the 2012 wrestling and weight lifting Olympic Trials. A strong turnout for the Duals can only enhance their chances.

As has been hashed and re-hashed everywhere in the wrestling media, the University of Iowa has declined an invitation to the National Duals this year. Like it or not, the attendance of the Iowa fan base is frequently crucial to the financial success of any event. The Hawkeyes are not competing that weekend and some Hawk fans will still attend National Duals – but I suspect that number will be nowhere near the total black and gold butts that would be in the seats if the Hawkeyes were on the mat.

These events are both great opportunities for the wrestling community to demonstrate their support of the “world’s oldest and greatest sport”. We have chosen to support both of them with Tickets for Kids efforts. The National Duals effort is off to a good start. We have already received enough pledges and donations to send over 200 kids to a “day at the duals” including 25 that have been earmarked to introduce girls to wrestling.

We’ve not yet received our first Virginia Duals donation. Who out there wants to break the ice? We’ve got a lot of money to raise and a short time to do it – so forward this blog to everyone you can.

You can donate to buy tickets to either event by going to the Tickets for Kids website. Click on “Other Events” and then choose the one you wish to support. If you’re more comfortable sending a check, make it to “Tickets for Kids” and send it to

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936

Please make note of which event you are supporting on your check.

Sadly, I can’t be at both events at the same time, but I hope to see many of you in Cedar Falls.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'm thankful I never had to wrestle Tom Brands

In accordance with holiday tradition here is a list of things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful that Dan Gable never got me in the double arm bars. At age 60, my shoulders ache enough as it is. I’m also thankful to Eric and Adam Heneghan for introducing me to Dan. It has provided me with one of my favorite stories.

I am thankful for all of the people who have supported this blog – Danielle Hobeika, Al Bevilacqua, Bill Lahman, Barry Davis, Chad Zaputil, Johnny Cobb, the Rush Family, Jeff McGinness, Joe and Dee Pollard, Ken Chertow, Mark Ironside, Mike Clayton, Mark Palmer and others I’m forgetting at the moment – have a all contributed in some way to several blog editions.

I am thankful for the people I have met the past couple of years who battle every day for the future of this great sport (again, I’m sure to forget some) – Mike Duroe, Dick Simmons, Sandy Stevens, Jason Bryant, Lee Roy Smith, Richard Small, Mike Moyer, Tammy Tedesco, Dr. Tim Drehmer, Kyle Klingman, Kent Sesker, that Gable guy again. I have been honored to contribute in some small way to your efforts.

I am thankful for the people who have supported Tickets for Kids – to Fred Jones at the Cedar Rapids Marriott who has made the largest donation to date - to KJ Pilcher of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, whose feature on the effort really got the ball rolling – to Eric Betterman from The Open Mat who gave us our website (stop by now and make a donation) and Sandy Stevens who wrote about us in WIN. Thank you to the many generous donors who have made and continue to make it possible (so far) for well over a thousand kids to attend a big time wrestling event. I am especially thankful to Rod Frost and Gail Rush who, in separate efforts, have raised almost $2,000 this season.

I am thankful for a special group of friends who listen to my tired stories and patiently allow me to ramble on about the glories of wrestling. You know who you are – Jamie, Jacki, Jayme, Angela, Steve (who is finally going to his first wrestling meet this year), Curt (brother of an NCAA champion), Shane and – of course, former Cedar Rapids Kennedy wrestler – Lenny.

In today’s world of the blended family, I am thankful for Barb and Mike. I was once married to Barb and she is the mother of my two lovely daughters and remains one of my best friends. And Mike – I can’t say thanks enough. You see, many years ago when our house burned to the ground, it was Mike who got the girls out.

I am thankful for those two lovely daughters. No father could be prouder than I. I am thankful for the grandchildren who will run through the house today and yell and play and maybe stop for a second to hug Grandpa.

Finally, I am thankful for Cindy. Somehow, I won the marriage lottery. She loves me in spite of my many bad habits and has supported all of my meager efforts to help wrestling. But, really, she only has herself to blame – in her effort to hook me she did buy our first season tickets 20-some years ago.

I’m not sure why God chose to bless me in so many ways, but I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vaterans Day 2010

My father is buried at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery – not because he was a great hero – but because when his country called, he went to war (or “conflict”, as it is officially known).

Dad enlisted in the army in 1947 at age 18 and was taught the cooper’s trade (wooden barrel making). On March 30, 1949 he got a 3-day pass and hitchhiked home from Fort Riley, Kansas to Muscatine, Iowa on the back of an Indian motorcycle. On April 1st he married my mom and on April 2nd he hitchhiked back to Fort Riley. Some time in1950 he got his honorable discharge with the rank of corporal. I was born in March and lived the first month or two of my life at Fort Riley.

On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and in 1951 Dad was called back to active duty, promoted to sergeant and sent to Korea as an army engineer. I can’t tell you anything about his war (excuse me, “conflict”) experiences, because in all of my life he was never willing to share them with me. Oh, yeah – I know how he got the tattoo in Tokyo on leave and a little bit about the P-51 Mustang that crashed at the airfield he was building – but nothing about his own experiences.

In the ‘70s Dad joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I suspect that he did that initially as another excuse to drink beer. Somewhere in the ‘80s he got passionate about veterans’ affairs – especially about how shabbily Viet Nam veterans were being treated, so he became an activist and eventually a grass roots lobbyist.

Late in 1997 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. When I was a kid he smoked three packs of Chesterfields a day and as a heating and air conditioning contractor had sucked up asbestos fibers for 30 years. It was not a surprising diagnosis.

He had retired to the Pacific Northwest where my brothers live and in 1998 I went to spend my last Father’s Day with him. The second day of my visit my brother, Jeff, and I took Dad to the VA hospital in Portland for a checkup. We sat there as the doctor reaffirmed that, yes, it was terminal and asked a few questions to determine if Dad was feeling suicidal. “Don’t worry, I ain’t killin’ myself.” We got some prescriptions and proceeded to the pharmacy.

The waiting area was packed because there was only one pharmacist on duty. We sat there among men and women who had served in World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. After an hour his name was called, we grabbed his medicine and walked out. Dad was livid – not so much because of his own wait but because of the overall situation. He said, “Those poor bastards shouldn’t have to wait like that. They deserve better.”

Before I left Portland I arranged for what became known as Dad’s “farewell tour”. I flew him home to Davenport and we visited all of his favorite dives and saw all of his old friends. We also went to the Rock Island Arsenal and made his burial arrangements. His last dinner before flying back to Oregon was at the Bettendorf VFW hall, laughing and reminiscing with all of his old comrades in arms.

The next spring my brothers flew back with his ashes and he was laid to rest at the Arsenal. The VFW came and fired the salute and handed Jeff an American flag.

Fast forward to 2009. Mark Rowell was my best man when Cindy and I got married. I have known his son, Mathew since he was tiny. In July, 2009 Mark and his wife, Tammy, were notified that Matt had been seriously wounded in Afghanistan. The initial diagnosis was that he might lose a leg. Blessedly, that did not come to pass.

American freedom is not a “happy accident”. Every generation men and women sacrifice, fight – and die – to preserve it. Please – on this “Armistice Day” (as Dad always called it), take a moment to honor those who have preserved our freedoms.

In honor of Sgt Arthur L Brown Jr. I miss you, Dad.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Russians are coming - volume 2

Two weeks from tonight (November 19, 2010) I’ll be in seat 1 of Row 12 in section GG in Carver Hawkeye Arena as the Hawkeyes kick of the 2010/2011 wrestling season. For the first time in four years Brent Metcalf will not be in the lineup for the home opener.

Brent will be wrestling that night 935 miles from his former teammates at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. He’ll be joining other American freestyle stars Angel Escobedo, Shawn Bunch, Trent and Travis Paulson, Jake Herbert, J D Bergman and Tervel Dlagnev in a dual meet against a team from Russia.

Last year I was lucky enough to attend a similar event in Mount Vernon, Iowa on the Cornell College campus. The gym was packed and the crowd was boisterous. It was heartening to see so many young wrestlers there. I sat just a few feet away from the North Cedar kids club and, boy, did they seem to be enjoying the action.

It may seem strange, but kids in Iowa have far more opportunities to wrestle and attend wrestling events than kids in New York City. Al Bevilacqua, Michael Novogratz and the rest of the folks at Beat the Streets are working to change that. They firmly believe that the surest path for the growth of wrestling is to make it an urban sport. It’s hard to argue with their logic.

Al wants to take as many Beat the Streets kids as possible to the USA vs Russia freestyle dual. Why shouldn’t they have the same opportunity as youngsters from Stanwood, Lisbon, Solon and Mount Vernon? To help Al meet his goal, we’ve made this meet a Tickets for Kids event.

Thanks to the kindness of Eric Betterman of Tickets for Kids now has a website and is capable of receiving online donations. Here is the link to the USA vs Russia page. If you have any questions email me at If you are a traditionalist like me and prefer to send a check, please make it to Tickets for Kids and mail it to:

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936.

There’s no time to waste so please act today.

Have a look here at some of the kids you’ll be helping.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is it good for wrestling?

“It’ll be good for wrestling.” How many times have you read that on the internet or in a wrestling magazine? Recently that comment has been most frequently linked to pre-season rankings that show Cornell University and Boise State topping the Division I polls.

Oklahoma State, Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Minnesota are the only schools in NCAA Division I history to win multiple titles since the championships were launched in 1928. Oklahoma State and Iowa account for 57 of those. Indiana, Cornell College, Michigan State, Penn State, Northern Iowa and Arizona State have each won a single team title.

Will wrestling benefit if another school joins this exclusive fraternity? Of course. For too long talented high school wrestlers have factored in their chances to be on a national championship team when selecting a college. This has contributed to the rich getting richer and the five top schools attracting many of the blue chip recruits. That’s changing. Coaches like Rob Koll at Cornell University, Greg Randall at Boise State, Tom Ryan at Ohio State and Cael Sanderson at Penn State are building teams that will legitimately contend for the Division I championship over the next several years.

How is this good for wrestling? I’m not sure, but I have some ideas. Getting more young kids on the mat and keeping them there is the future of the sport. Those kids will need role models, coaches and advancement opportunities.

State pride is a funny thing. I’m not sure how you explain it, but young athletes seem to feed off of the success of the home state schools. This leads to keeping your best in-state athletes “home”. A lack of success by the local university can have the opposite effect. The northeast United States – particularly New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – has been a hotbed for high school wrestling for many years. Several wrestlers from there have played a major role in national championships at Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma State.

Where do good youth, middle school and high school coaches come from? The best come from successful college programs. They may not have been star wrestlers themselves but if they come from a solid program with a winning atmosphere they often replicate that atmosphere in their own wrestling rooms. Broadening the reach of championship wrestling just might improve the quality of coaching at every level.

There are far more high school kids that would like to continue wrestling in college than there are college wrestling opportunities. Is there any way to know if spreading NCAA Division I wrestling championships to other regions will help increase intercollegiate wrestling opportunities that will trickle down to younger kids? I don’t know – but as the comedian used to say – “It couldn’t hurt”.

Online fans tend to focus on Division I – but in recent history Division II and Division III team championships have also been concentrated in the middle part of the country. North Dakota State, Central Oklahoma, Nebraska Kearney and Nebraska Omaha have won all of the Division II titles this century and Augsburg and Wartburg have split the DIII championships since 1995.

Instead of expanding geographically, college wrestling is becoming more of a regional sport. A return to prominence by former powers San Francisco State in DII and The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State) in DIII would be just as good for wrestling as Cornell University or Boise State winning the Division I championship.

The bottom line – any thing that heightens interest in the sport is “good for wrestling”.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's your great idea?

My friend, Tim Crosby, is one of the smartest people I know. One of his favorite phrases is, “Everyone has good ideas. There are just very few who are willing to commit to them.”

I get pretty lucky sometimes and I’ve been on a hot streak recently. For a variety of reasons I have found myself in the presence of several of wrestling’s most powerful people. From Olympic gold medallists and world champions to “captains of industry” to writers to organizational leaders of the sport. I’m such a goober fan that I always wonder – “what the heck am I doing here?”

It started with a simple idea. “If we send as many kids as possible to the highest levels of competition, perhaps some of them will try or stay in the sport.” And, thus, Tickets for Kids was born. More importantly, I’m committed to making it work. Here’s what astonishes me – the number of people who are willing to help make it work.

Rod Frost wrestled at Gilbertville Don Bosco High School and Cornell College. He lives in Minnesota now and is a wrestling official. When he learned of the Tickets for Kids fan challenge he mounted a fund raising effort in support of the Golden Gophers. Not only did he raise a lot of money, he got J Robinson to lower the price of youth group tickets to $2 per piece.

Gail Rush might just be the ultimate “wrestling mom”. Her son, Clayton, is the reigning NCAA Division III 125 pound champion and Gail has supported the sport since Clayton was small. She, too, got busy when she learned about the fan challenge and as of today (10/25/10) Coe still tops the leader board.

The staff at Cornell College have been amazing. John Cochrane, Dick Simmons and Mike Duroe have been behind me since day one. Our inaugural effort, tickets for the 2010 NCAA Division III Championships, couldn’t have succeeded without them – or without Chuck Yrigoyen at the Iowa Conference and Anthony Holman at the NCAA.

Eric Betterman is co-founder, with Ray Brinzer, of the wrestling site The Open Mat and Eric is helping us with a Tickets for Kids website. We hope to have it up soon.

Contrary to what the last five paragraphs might indicate, this blog isn’t really about Tickets for Kids. It’s about committing to your ideas.

In 1981 John Graham was looking for a way to raise money for the Peninsula Wrestling Association. His idea – a dual meet tournament featuring a high school and a college division. The first edition had four high school teams and eight colleges competing. That was the start of the Virginia Duals – which also begat the National Duals. Twenty-four colleges in two divisions and 48 high schools will compete in the 2011 Virginia Duals on January 7th and 8th. John’s commitment to his idea created two of college wrestling’s premier events.

Steve Silver was a waiter at Red Lobster when he got the idea to start his own business. He began by selling used furniture at local flea markets. That has grown into the $150 million Steve Silver Furniture Company in the Dallas suburb of Forney.

Steve wrestled in high school and at the University of Alabama. When his son, Luke, expressed an interest in wrestling he realized that north Texas was not a hotbed for the sport so he started a youth wrestling club and eventually hired 1988 Olympic Gold medallist, Kenny Monday, to coach it. Steve’s support also helped build Bishop Lynch High School into one of the nation’s premier wrestling programs. Last year Steve was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as an Outstanding American.

The ideas don’t have to be big. The past couple of years the University of Iowa has offered “Family 4-Pack Night” for one dual. You get 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas at a bargain price. Last season Hawkeye fan, Julia Labua, used this as a tool to introduce new people to wrestling. She offered her co-workers the opportunity to go to the meet on her dime. Several took her up on it and it may now become an annual office event. Julia was committed to her idea.

I’m online too much and I probably spend more time talking about wrestling than I ought to. I frequently read and hear good ideas about how to build interest in wrestling both among potential participants and potential fans. I’m sure that many of you have great ideas. Are you committed enough to make them happen?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The year The Purple ruled the world

Doug and Marge Smith and I have become friends over the past two or three years. They are retired teachers from Rockford who were making monthly visits to Cedar Rapids to visit Marge’s 100 year-old mother. They always stayed at the Marriott and we met for drinks in the hotel bar once a month. Sadly, Marge’s mother passed away in June. They learned of my love for wrestling and started reading the blog. During one of their recent visits Doug suggested that I write a book called, The View From the End of the Bar.I have been frequenting the Cedar Rapids Marriott lounge for over 20 years – most of them perched on the stool at the end of the bar. In that time I have met many interesting people: test pilots, a US Senator, a secret service agent, a retired clown, the chief of scouting for the Phillies (who in a drunken stupor offered me a job), veterans, Corvair collectors… It’s quite a list and that’s why Doug thinks I should write that book.

Saturday night I reached an all time high when Arno Niemand sat down next to me. Just in case you don’t know, Arno is one of wrestling’s great benefactors. The founder of Bodybar Systems, he has sponsored the US Women’s National Wrestling Team since 2003.

Arno was in Cedar Rapids because he has completed his labor of love, The Dream Team of 1947. The book is the story of, perhaps, the greatest David tops Goliath performance in the history of intercollegiate sports – the double national championships of the Cornell College wrestling team. The occasion was the 60th reunion of the Cornell College Class of 1950 – the class of most of the wrestlers on that team.

I’ve told the highlights of the story before – how Coach Paul Scott assembled the most powerful team in America at the campus of one of the countries smallest schools and how they went on to win both the NCAA and AAU team championships. I’ve also told the second act of the story – about how the first two freshmen champions in NCAA history, Dick Hauser and Lowell Lange, were injured in a car accident and about Coach Scott’s subsequent decision not to enter “The Purple” in the 1948 NCAA tournament.

Arno gives us the details – and they are fascinating. He tells how Scott lured three kids from Waterloo West, Hauser, Lange and Leo Thomsen away from Iowa State Teacher’s College. It’s also a story of the role played by American history in this feat. I most enjoyed Niemand’s analysis of how the post-war rivalry between ISTC and Cornell changed the face of college wrestling. Thirty years before the Iowa State/Iowa wrestling rivalry heated up the “70 mile rivalry” was the most influential in wrestling. The book gripped me and I read it in a single sitting yesterday. I highly recommend it.

You all know that when two wrestling fans get together the conversation flows freely. Ironically, Arno Niemand is an alumnus of what we call in these parts, “the other Cornell”. You know – the one in Ithaca, New York that most experts are calling the pre-season favorite for the NCAA Division I team title. If they do win - remember The Purple from Mount Vernon, Iowa won it first.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are you smarter than Socrates?

Dear College Administrator, Athletic Director or Legislator,

Are you smarter than Socrates? Wrestling was part of his educational regimen and he once said, “I swear it upon Zeus that an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.” Socrates’ most influential disciple, Aristocles, was renamed Plato(n) by his wrestling coach Ariston of Argos.

Are you smarter than Ben Franklin, who published the following in 1749, “The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves and to their Country.

“That to keep them in Health, and to strengthen and render active their Bodies, they be frequently exercis’d in Running, Leaping, Wrestling and Swimming…?”

Are you smarter than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who were both champion wrestlers in the styles of their day?

Are you smarter than Theodore Roosevelt, who mandated that wrestling become part of the physical curriculum at the military academies?

Are you smarter than Nobel laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug – the man who fed millions – and who credited wrestling with teaching him the discipline and tenacity he needed to continue his research?

Are you smarter than novelist, John Irving when he said, “I think the discipline of wrestling has given me the discipline to write.”?

Are you smarter than former Congressman and current head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jim Leach, an Iowa state high school wrestling champion and former member of the Princeton wrestling team? “I’ve always thought that the most equalitarian place in the world is the wrestling mat.”

Are you smarter than Dan Laurent, a three-time NCAA Division III heavyweight wrestling champion who recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a 3.9 GPA in double majors of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology?

Are you smarter than the administrators at Wayland Baptist University, Baker University or Minot State University – all of whom have added wrestling to increase enrollment and opportunity at their institutions?

For centuries the greatest minds and leaders considered wrestling a valuable part of higher education. Then, about thirty years ago, American legislators and administrators at many of America’s colleges and universities decided that they were smarter than Socrates – or Franklin – or Lincoln , and started dropping wrestling from the curriculum. Did they do that because wrestling is no longer relevant and modern kids don’t want to wrestle? That can’t be the reason. According to the National Federation of High Schools, wrestling is the sixth most popular boys’ sport in terms of participation – and it continues to grow. Since the 2002/2003 school year the number of youngsters on high school wrestling teams has increased by 30,000.

Did they do it to equalize educational opportunities among all segments of society? Ostensibly – yes. Title IX was enacted in 1972 and says quite simply, “No person in the United States, on the basis of sex, shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” You certainly can’t argue with that. But then the courts and the lawmakers got involved and college administrators found it easier to eliminate opportunity than create it.

So what about opportunity? As Mr. Leach indicated, wrestling is the most democratic of all sports. In what other one have you watched an athlete walk up to face his opponent, remove his prosthetic legs and then win an NCAA Championship? Ten years ago I got to do that when Nick Ackerman of Simpson College took the Division III wrestling title. And what about opportunity for women? Girls’ participation in wrestling is exploding in the states that sanction girls only championships. Smart college administrators have noticed this trend and recently added women’s teams at Jamestown University in North Dakota and Waldorf College in Iowa.

If your school doesn’t have a wrestling team, what do you think George Washington, Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Irving would urge you to do?

Do you need help or more information? Contact the National Wrestling Coaches Association and they’ll get you started. You just might be as smart as Socrates.

Monday, September 27, 2010


My grandfather Craig was pretty cool. He could play almost any stringed instrument, but the banjo was his specialty. When I was little he would play and sing silly kids songs to me and I would sit rapt in front of him. He had been a championship roller skater and my mother said that on Friday nights when they would go skating everyone would clear the floor and watch him skate.

As he got older he developed some health issues and was put on a very strict diet. He took great joy in waiting until my grandmother was asleep and then getting up and sneaking forbidden foods. If I was staying overnight he would wake me so I could be his partner in crime.

And – man – could he tell stories. He was born in the South Dakota Badlands and worked as a ranch hand in his younger years. He loved telling about the time he was baling hay and had to kill two rattle snakes with his knife. He later moved to Detroit and worked in the Ford plant. Grandpa became a Tigers fan and liked to talk about what a mean SOB Ty Cobb was. Then came the depression and like millions of others he lost his job and hit the road looking for work. Somehow he ended up in Muscatine, Iowa, met my grandmother and – well – here I am.

When I was little I just couldn’t get enough time with him. It was all so fun – sitting up late at night watching Jack Paar and eating peanut butter stuffed celery or sitting on his lap in his rocking chair watching the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese (and then listening to him sing along when Dizzy would break into The Wabash Cannonball).

Then I became a know-it-all teenager and suddenly Grandpa Craig was a boring old man. He’d start one of those marvelous tales and I would think to myself, “please, not that one again.” He died when I was 18.

So now I’m 60 and a grandfather and my grandkids think I’m pretty cool – and I love to tell stories. I know, however, that someday soon I will become just another boring old man.

I spend way too much time on the internet reading other people’s thoughts about wrestling and there is a noticeable lack of respect among many young posters for those who have preceded them. I suspect that a lot of that is “know-it-allitis”. Three or four times a year someone will post a “Gable couldn’t beat (insert young phenom’s name here)” thread or make comments like, “With that stance (insert the name of a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame here) couldn’t beat anyone today.” It’s all part of the natural scheme of things.

I like to read wrestling books. Anything by Mike Chapman or Jay Hammond is well worth your time. Last winter I was fascinated by Jamie Moffatt’s, Wrestlers at the Trials”. Arno Niemand’s much anticipated book about the 1947 Cornell College national championship team is to be released soon and I will definitely read it. I’m sure I will like it – but it won’t be anywhere near as fun as listening to Bob Majors tell stories about the great Cornell College teams of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. You see – he was on those teams and – man – can he tell a story.

Karma is a funny thing. Last year I attended the USA vs Russia freestyle dual at Cornell and Bob and his wife came up and sat by me. We introduced ourselves to each other and began talking about wrestling and Cornell history. I soaked up every word. Since then we’ve had occasion to run into each other a couple of more times and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

It was my distinct honor to be chosen as a marshal for the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. The highlight of the experience was spending time with another of the marshals, Lloyd Corwin – a teammate of Bob Majors at Cornell. Lloyd was a two-time All-American in the ‘50s and beat future Olympic gold medallist, Doug Blubaugh, in the NCAA tournament. He’s a wonderfully charming man and I was riveted by his stories.

Paul King is a wrestling fan from Colorado. I met him a couple of years ago at the Iowa/Iowa State dual meet. Paul has a fascinating concept – a video library of great wrestlers sharing their stories. Think how marvelous that would be. In today’s world it could be housed online so that once we get beyond our “know-it-all” stage we could listen to the history of wrestling in America.

I hope someone makes it happen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who pays Tom Brands?

Who pays Tom Brands salary? No, that’s not a trick question. We all know that he is paid by the University of Iowa.

What is he paid to do? Nope – I’m still not trying to fool you. He is paid to teach young men, make them better wrestlers and win championships for the Hawkeyes. So far he’s been pretty successful at those tasks.

I’ve not seen his contract, but I’m reasonably certain that there is no clause in there that says anything like, “You must always do what’s best for the future of wrestling.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that his boss, Iowa athletic director, Gary Barta, mandates that Brands put his athletes’ best interests first.

Never one to care much about anyone else’s reactions, Coach Brands brought an avalanche of criticism down on himself last week when it was released that the Iowa Hawkeyes will not be competing in this season’s National Dual Championships. As was his wrestling style, he has faced the controversy head on.

You and I may not like his decision – AND I DON’T – but it is his prerogative to decline an invitation to the National Duals. But – make no mistake – this decision has the potential to seriously damage one of the sport’s top events AND this year’s host, the University of Northern Iowa.

The National Duals have evolved into the most unique format in all of wrestling. In one venue you can watch the best teams and athletes from all 3 NCAA divisions, the NAIA, the NJCAA and from women’s intercollegiate wrestling. Hardcore wrestling fans, like me, wander around the UNI Dome and enjoy a variety of competition that you just can’t experience anywhere else.

With all of that diversity, it’s still undeniable that the NCAA Division I teams are the star attractions and that no one brings more fans than the Hawkeyes. The NWCA reports that over 16,000 tickets have been sold for National Duals each of the last two years. It’s hard to know just how many of them are dressed in black and gold – but it’s a major chunk. Tom Brands’ decision throws a daunting challenge out there for Mike Moyer, Pat Tocci and Tammy Tedesco of the NWCA and Troy Dannen, the UNI athletic director.

The wrestling community is already stepping up to help meet the challenge. Last week fans from Coe, Cornell College, Luther and Iowa State all made Tickets for Kids pledges specifically for the National Duals. A Waterloo business man with wrestling ties is working to involve the Cedar Valley business community. Scott Casber from Takedown TV has already done several interviews (including me) about the issue. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is also getting involved.

You, too, can lend your support in a couple of different ways. You can help fill the UNI Dome with youngsters by donating to Tickets for Kids. Either email your pledge to me at or send your check to

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936.

If you want your contribution to be specific to the National Duals, please make note of that fact.

And, hey you Hawkeye fans – the Hawks are idle those two days (January 8 & 9,2011) after wrestling SIU-Edwardsville on Friday night. Come on up to Cedar Falls and root for your favorite Division III team.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Women, wrestling and me

Many of you know this. Nine months after we started dating my, now wife, gave us Iowa wrestling season tickets as a Christmas present. It took me a little while, but I finally came to my senses and asked her to marry me. Thankfully, she said, “yes”. This coming Saturday is our wedding anniversary.

When you hang around wrestling you hear a lot of macho guy stuff, but – some of the most interesting people I’ve met in wrestling are women.

The first 15 years that we had seats GG, 12, 1 & 2; Gretchen Goodwin sat next to my wife. When we got those seats she and her husband, Don, had already been ensconced in seats 3 & 4 for a while. Over the years we became friends and attended Big Tens in Wisconsin and Nationals in Ames together. Gretchen loved Royce Alger and swooned every time he entered the arena – as an athlete or as a coach. Sadly, a few years ago Don contracted a rare congenital liver disease and passed away after a long, painful battle. We’ve not seen Gretchen since then and I now have their old seats. I think of them every time I give those seats away.

Debbie Connell has been my good friend for 40 years and she’s been a Hawkeye wrestling season ticket holder since the Field House days. If you’ve ever attended a meet in Carver Hawkeye Arena, you’ve probably seen her. When the Hawks run out of the tunnel look in the middle of the first row just above the tunnel and the woman you see is either Deb or her sister Jody. Debbie worked with me at the Dairy Queen the Sunday morning when the state of Iowa was crushed by the Des Moines Register headline, “Gable Fails”.

When I started this blog I really had no clue about what I should write after the first couple of editions. Then, Danielle Hobeika agreed to an interview. Danielle is one of the most fascinating people around the sport. A Harvard psychology grad, Danielle wrestled in the room on the Crimson team and became a top level freestyle wrestler. She is the goddess of wrestling websites and one of the sport’s best photographers. You know that photo you love with Brent Metcalf and Bubba Jenkins “on their heads” – that’s Danielle’s. She’s still doing the photography and web development, but is now also an MMA fighter.

Sandy Stevens taught my wife as a substitute English teacher at Cedar Rapids Kennedy more than a couple of years ago. If you don’t know the name, you surely know the voice. She has been the voice of Fargo, DI Nationals, the California high school championships and the Olympics. I first met Sandy in person the night before she was announcing the Division III Championships in Cedar Rapids – her home town. I’ve met very, very few people as passionate about wrestling as Sandy.

Maggie Hendricks had been an online “friend” for at least three years when she introduced herself to me at National Duals last year. Maggie was a manager for the Missouri Tiger wrestling team and loves to write about wrestling, football and MMA. Her blog in memory of her grandfather, who taught the whole family to box, is still one of the best online pieces I’ve ever read. “Thumbs up, pointed to God” is a phrase I’ll remember the rest of my life.

One day before I met Maggie, I also met Tammy Tedesco from the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Among her many duties, Tammy is the tournament director for National Duals. This upcoming season she is planning to engage wrestling in the “Coaches Against Cancer” campaign. Please stay tuned for further details.

I met Dee Pollard in a bar in 2008. The mother of TCNJ assistant coach, Joe Pollard, she was sitting at the bar as I was hosting my first Division III Championships fan reception. We struck up a conversation and have become good friends and have met after every session of the past three NCAA DIII Championships. Every Saturday night after finals Joe has joined us. Last March the three of us made our plans to meet in La Crosse next spring. Yes – my wife and Dee’s husband know about this. After all – it’s all about the wrestling. (As an aside – one of my happiest moments as a marshal at the DIII Championships was handing one of Joe’s wrestlers his All-American trophy.)

I still haven’t yet met Julia Labua face-to-face. She’s all over the wrestling internet with at least 3 online identities and her posts are among the most intelligent you’ll ever see. Last winter she pulled off her own wrestling promotion coup when she emailed the entire staff at her place of employment, offering them free tickets, hot dogs and sodas for a Hawkeye dual meet. Eleven co-workers took her up on the offer and attended their first ever wrestling meet. When one of her friends asked about one of the finer points of wrestling Julia responded, in part, with a phrase that has become popular on the internet, “There will be answers. They may not be right answers, but there will be answers.”

There are many adjectives that would describe Gail Rush. “Dynamic” is at the top of my list. Since the flood of 2008 she has responded to several of my requests to help wrestlers and wrestling. In those years I’ve heard from several people that she and her husband, Rick, have done that for years. This past week her efforts led to the Coe College Kohawk wrestling fans taking the lead in the Tickets for Kids fan challenge.

But - it still comes back to my darling wife. I don’t know how it happened, but I won the marriage lottery. If I’d never met her there would probably be no season tickets, no blog and no Tickets for Kids. Thank you dear. I love you and may we grow old watching wrestling together. Happy anniversary.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's too comfortable on the sidelines

Long time blog readers know that it is named after where I have watched much of the wrestling I’ve seen over the past 20+ years – Section GG, Row 12, Seats 1 & 2 in Carver Hawkeye Arena. When I started the blog it was meant to reflect the opinions of a fan sitting on the sidelines. Other than middle school intramurals, I never wrestled. Neither my brothers nor my daughters, nor any other member of my family wrestled. I have no official ties to wrestling in any way. I AM JUST A FAN.

The past few years it’s been hard sitting on the sidelines and watching what is happening to this great sport we all love, so a couple of years ago I started to act. My thoughts at the time were, “It might be meaningless, but let’s see if one fan can have any impact at all.” I started small and bought a few tickets to the NWCA All Star Classic when it was in Oregon. I sent them off to Rick Stewart and asked him to find some kids out there to give them to.

Later that season I stretched a little and bought 20 – 30 tickets for every Hawkeye home dual meet and gave them away to kid’s wrestling clubs or middle school teams. My logic was fairly simple – kids need idols. If I could get youngsters just starting in the sport to see the best college wrestlers in America, perhaps they would see something that would cause them to hang with it.

Last year I launched Tickets for Kids. My goal was to raise enough money to send 1,000 kids to a morning session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships in Cedar Rapids. I didn’t make my goal, but, thanks to many of you, over 600 kids got to see some very exciting college wrestling. I’ve heard from coaches and kids since then and I think we, in some small part, accomplished what we’d hoped for.

I own and operate a small business and after last spring I wondered if I should continue with Tickets for Kids. I sent out surveys to some of the larger donors and asked them if they would continue to support the effort. Most said they would. But still, I couldn’t decide. It’s more work than I had imagined.

Then last Thursday, Eric Betterman, the co-founder of, threw out a challenge – “Let’s make it a goal to sell out every single (Division I) dual meet in the nation.” He pointed out that we didn’t actually need to attend if that was physically impossible – just buy them. I drew upon my experience and followed that with a challenge of my own, “Which fans of which school could raise enough money to buy enough tickets to send at least 20 kids to a dual meet at their favorite school first?” Then I called upon Hawkeye fans to bail my butt out after shooting off my mouth. They did. In three days I received enough pledges to send over 160 kids to Hawkeye dual meets. One Nebraska fan committed to sending 20 youngsters to a Cornhusker meet – and no one else responded. Apparently, they all prefer to sit on the sidelines as the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” is assaulted from multiple directions.

That flurry of activity answered the question – Tickets for Kids must continue.

Every survey respondent asked that we expand the scope – that we offer a greater variety of wrestling events for kids to attend. We’re doing that. Donations will be used to provide tickets for the NWCA National Duals, the Division III Championships in La Crosse, the NAIA Championships in Cedar Rapids and any college dual meet you select. If you have another event you wish to support email me.

I’m going to run two campaigns, the “Preseason Fan Challenge” and the “Championship Run”. The Preseason Fan Challenge starts today and runs to November 30. The basic premise is simple: which school’s fans will best support wrestling by sending kids to wrestling events. We’ll have five divisions and crown both divisional and an overall champion.

NCAA Division I
NCAA Division II
NCAA Division III

I still don’t have PayPal and can’t take credit card donations, but we’re working on it Please make your check to “Tickets for Kids” and send it to

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936

or email a pledge to me at and I’ll send you a reminder as we get closer to the season (which can’t get here soon enough).

Please include the name of the school you want your donation credited to and the event you want to support. If you want to support an endangered program like Cal State Fullerton, but you are a Minnesota fan – I’ll credit your donation to the Gophers, but send tickets to some California kids who can attend a Titan dual meet. Once the tickets have been distributed I will send each donor a copy of the ticket purchase receipt and the name of the club leader or coach whose kids got the tickets.

In the interest of fairness, the Hawkeye and Cornhusker fans will start even with everyone else.

If you like the concept and want to join in the challenge – but don’t want to do it through Tickets for Kids – you can. Buy enough tickets to send at least 20 kids to an event, send me a copy of the ticket purchase receipt and the name of the club leader or coach whose kids got the tickets and I’ll credit your school with the donation.

Reminder: NCAA rules will not allow you to give tickets to high school wrestlers so focus on the elementary and middle schoolers.
If you really want your school to win, you’re going to have to get off of the sidelines. Email your friends and alumni and the people that sit next to you at wrestling meets. Post a link to this blog on your favorite team’s sites. Rally your fans on facebook. Let’s send 10,000 kids from all over the country to college wrestling events.

Here’s the real challenge. I’m almost certain that Hawkeye fans will win this in a cake walk. Which one of you is going to get mad enough to prove me wrong?

Or – you can remain on the sidelines and do nothing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Still living the dream

Shawn Johnson, Michael Phelps and Shaun White are all millionaires. Mike Zadick, Dremiel Byers and Kristie Davis are not. All six have worked tirelessly to be the best America has to offer in their respective sports and all have won medals in world championship competition. There’s really only one difference – Johnson, Phelps and White excel at sports embraced by the American television viewing public. Zadick, Byers and Davis wrestle.

No American wrestling in the three international styles is doing so to get rich. They are driven by the competition – by the quest for excellence. To be able to continue their careers they become assistant collegiate coaches, run camps or take on other jobs. The best of the best receive small stipends from USA Wrestling. For many of our wrestlers the lure of potential big earnings in the Mixed Martial Arts octagon is too great and they forego world level freestyle and Greco Roman careers.

Last year USA Wrestling and a small group of wrestling’s biggest supporters – people like Michael Novogratz, Dave Barry, Art Martori and Al Bevilacqua – created the Living the Dream Fund. The concept behind the fund is simple – it’s only right that we financially reward these hard working athletes for success on the world and Olympic stage. Under the plan, world champions will receive a check for $50,000. Silver medallists earn $25,000 and bronze winners receive $15,000. The stakes are higher in the London Olympics in 2012, where a Gold Medal will be worth $250,000, a silver will bring $50,000 and a bronze $25,000. In the program’s first year freestylers Jake Herbert and Tervel Dlagnev, and Greco Roman wrestler, Dremiel Byers, all received checks from the Living the Dream Fund.

It’s wrestling supporting wrestling. We’re not waiting for help from the government or anyone else – you and I and our friends in the wrestling community are doing it. Olympic heroes like Gable, Smith, Sanderson and Baumgartner have donated to the fund. Coaches, wrestlers, wrestling business owners, wrestling media and – yes - you “nameless” denizens of the internet have given to the fund. We’ve made progress, but there is much more to do.

This Friday, August 20th you’ll have the chance to join an elite group – those who step up and act to support the “world’s oldest and greatest sport”. The leaders of the Living the Dream Fund will be holding an online telethon and benefit. You’ll be able to call in your pledges or bid on several auction items including 2 tickets to that big football game in Dallas next February whose name I can’t mention without fear of lawsuit (hint – it will have XLV after the name). Air fare and hotel room are included in that package. The telethon will run from 7:00 to 9:00 PM Mountain Time and will originate from the USOC in Colorado Springs. You can watch on either or

Special guest will be former University of Missouri All-American wrestler, Greg Warren. Greg is one of the funniest stand up comedians working today and several of his routines feature his days as a Tiger wrestler and being the son of a high school wrestling coach. If you’ve never seen Greg, be prepared to laugh.

If for some reason you have to miss the webcast, just go right now to the Living the Dream site and make your contribution.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wrestling as wampeter

My wife and I attended her high school reunion Friday night. Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School opened in 1967 and my wife graduated in 1969. For the last two reunion cycles the classes of ’69 and ’70 have held a joint function.

The first recognizable face I saw was that of one of America’s great bartenders, Lenny Park. Because of his hotel’s clientele, Lenny is literally known world wide. He has an amazing ability to remember the names and favorite drinks of customers from Australia, Germany and the U.K. Lenny was also on Kennedy’s first wrestling team.

If you’ve been to many reunions, you know the pattern – one group of lost friends circles up and one set of conversations breaks out. Then you move to another group and a whole new set of topics emerges. At the third such “huddle” Friday night one of my wife’s classmates said this (having never met me), “I went to the wrestling championships in Omaha with some friends (the McDonoughs) and do you know who the announcer was – Sandy Stevens!”

Almost everyone in the group had Sandy as a teacher in their days at Kennedy and were all very interested to hear about her. Sandy’s husband, Bear, was Kennedy’s first wrestling coach and Sandy got her start announcing at a Cougar meet.

I looked for, but never did find, Mary Lee Malmberg, who was also a member of the Class of ’69. Five years ago Mary Lee wowed the crowd with her karaoke performances.

One of my favorite literary inventions is Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of “karass” which he created as a plot device in Cat’s Cradle . A karass is a group of people who are, often unknowingly, working jointly toward a central cause – called a wampeter. I have lived the last 35 years believing in both concepts, and often wondering who else might be in my karass.

Every karass actually has two wampeters – one that is waning and one that is waxing. I suspect that Lenny, Sandy, my wife and Mary Lee are all in the same karass and that for 40 years I have also been a member and just didn’t know it. Our fading wampeter might be the establishment of a new school. What role I play in that is unknown – but that’s one beauty of the concept – not all mysteries are solvable.

I’m certain of the nature of our rising wampeter – it’s wrestling.

I have had more wrestling discussions with Lenny than with any other human. He has also financially supported several wrestling causes including Pledges for Pins and Tickets for Kids. Give the slightest hint of an interest in wrestling when you are sitting at his bar and Lenny will invariably steer the conversation in that direction.

If you’ve been around any level of wrestling at all, you probably recognize Sandy Stevens’ voice. She’s announced everything from Corn Cob Nationals to the Olympic Games. But that’s just scratching the surface of everything Sandy does for wrestling. In 1998 The National Wrestling Hall of Fame awarded Sandy the Order of Merit – and she has not slowed down yet.

Mary Lee Malmberg is one of the hardest working people most of the wrestling community has never heard of. Mary Lee is the Sports Tourism Director for the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau. Somewhere along the line she developed an affinity for wrestling events and has been bringing them to our community ever since. Cedar Rapids has hosted the Iowa state high school dual tournament for a number of years and since 2008 we’ve become THE home for college wrestling championships. Here’s what Mary Lee has done: NCAA Division III Championships, 2008-2010; NCAA Division II Championships 2008 and 2012 and NAIA Championships 2011 & 2012.

And then there’s my lovely wife. The first Christmas present she gave me when we started dating twenty-some years ago was a set of University of Iowa season wrestling tickets – Section GG, Row 12, Seats 1 & 2. We’ve been sitting there since then. How could you not marry someone who gives you wrestling tickets?

That gift – oh, the joy it has brought me. I had “liked” wrestling since seeing Gable wrestle at Iowa State and I had been to dual meets and watched wrestling on IPTV before then, but once we got those season tickets I was hooked for life. Thanks to those tickets I’ve met wonderful people – fans, coaches and athletes. It has become my distinct privilege to occasionally help the sport in small ways. The time I spend around wrestling is topped only by family time.

Friday night wasn’t just a high school reunion it was the convergence of our karass. Perhaps you, too, are a member and just don’t know it yet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Do gold medals really matter anymore?

John Smith won two NCAA titles at Oklahoma State and then went on to win 2 Olympic Gold Medals and four freestyle World Championships. Dan Gable also won two NCAA championships while wrestling for the Iowa State Cyclones. Gable’s post-graduate freestyle career includes a Pan American Games title, the 1971 World Championship, the championship at the 1972 Tbilisi tournament and the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal. Bruce Baumgartner, too, was an NCAA champion while wrestling at Indiana State. In his storied freestyle career he accumulated more Olympic and World hardware than some entire countries have won.

For decades America’s best college wrestlers successfully transitioned from intercollegiate competition to the international stage. Glen Brand, Bill Smith, Doug Blubaugh, Tom Brands and countless others advanced from NCAA championship trophies to Olympic gold. And then – as if to keep the chain unbroken – many of them went in to coaching and trained the next generations of international freestyle champions.

At least to this fan, the chain seems to be weakening.

I like to watch all forms of wrestling and freestyle is no exception. But FILA, the international governing body of amateur wrestling, has changed freestyle rules so drastically in the last ten years that modern freestyle bears far less resemblance to American folkstyle wrestling than in years past. Do these changes contribute to the seeming American decline? I think so.

It’s not just that we wrestle a different style in America, it’s also that our organizational structure is different. The United States is one of very few countries in the world (Canada might be another) where kids get most of their wrestling opportunities within our schools – and American schools are almost inextricably tied to folkstyle wrestling. Most of the world’s wrestling powers develop their athletes through a “club” type system. Some of them may be privately funded and others government run, but this formula allows them to more freely adapt to changes in freestyle.

Here in the US our kids spend thousands of hours working toward winning first a city middle school tournament, and then a high school state championship and finally an NCAA crown – all in our prevalent “national” style. The most dedicated of those will spend a couple of “offseason” months competing in freestyle and/or Greco Roman wrestling. Thanks to USA Wrestling and Jason Bryant I just finished watching more hours than I should have of the Cadet and Junior Freestyle Championships in Fargo. By and large it was very entertaining wrestling, but I’m willing to bet that there are at least a half dozen 17-year-old kids in each of the former Soviet republics that could easily handle most, if not all, of out Junior Champions in freestyle competition. The number one reason is simple – those kids devote their entire lives to freestyle wrestling.

The disparity doesn’t disappear at the elite level. Our best wrestlers will have prepared for years to win an NCAA championship – or two – or three - and then at age 22 or 23 switch to a style where their opponents have a 10 – 15 year head start on them.

There are those who say the answer is simple – convert American interscholastic and intercollegiate wrestling to freestlye. If our primary goal for wrestling is to win more international medals that might be the answer. But what if our goal is to expose more kids to the intrinsic value of wrestling? Does a change in styles help there? I’m not sure – but I suspect not. It’s not that I think young athletes would naturally prefer folkstyle to freestyle. That defies logic. The difficulty would come at the teaching/coaching level. I fear that we would have too may coaches who, brought up completely in folkstyle, would lose their enthusiasm for the sport – and without motivated teachers we would see a drop in participation.

There is no rule that says a young American wrestler must follow the traditional path to Olympic glory. The recent improvement in American Greco-Roman wrestling may be due, in part, to more young athlete’s foregoing a college career to focus on their GR training. Let’s also not forget that America’s only freestyle gold medallist in Beijing, Henry Cejudo, opted to go directly from his high school graduation to the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Now there’s a new factor in the equation – Mixed Martial Arts. An international freestyle career has never been a gateway to great wealth for American competitors. Traditionally, the top athletes have earned a small stipend from USA Wrestling and supplemented their incomes with college assistant coaching jobs. The latter again brings the style conflict into play as they sacrifice their own freestyle training time to teach better folkstyle techniques to younger athletes.

Increasingly, graduating wrestlers are lured away from the sport by the potential for big money in MMA, where the top stars can earn six figures per bout. Former Oklahoma State Cowboy stars Jake Rosholt and Johnny Hendricks were among the first to eschew international wrestling competition and move quickly into MMA fighting. 2010 graduates Lance Palmer of Ohio State and Missouri’s Mark Ellis both recently announced upcoming forays into mixed martial arts. Will this trend continue and how will it impact the future of American wrestling?

Many MMA fans believe that the growth in “ultimate fighting” will only help wrestling when young grapplers see the potential for future wealth battling in the octagon. I’m not sure that I believe that premise. Look at baseball where even journeyman players are millionaires. Yet, participation in Little League has dropped 13% since 1997.

Do we, as fans, really care what happens on the international stage? Unfortunately, I suspect that the answer is that fewer and fewer of us do. If you are among those who do, there is a way to help our top freestyle, Greco-Roman and women wrestlers. The Living the Dream Fund was created to provide cash rewards for medal winners at the World Championship and Olympic competition. An American gold medallist in Moscow in September will receive $50,000 from the fund, while a silver medal is worth $25,000 and a bronze will net $15,000. You can contribute online at the Living the Dream website. You'll be strengthening American wrestling.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wanted - tough people

They took one of the “toughest” actions in world history. In July 1776, 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. They were merchants, farmers, lawyers and doctors. One was a minister. Seventeen fought in the Revolutionary war and five were captured by the British. Eleven had their property destroyed and two gave their entire fortunes to fund the war. These were tough guys – and when they needed a military leader – they called upon a wrestler.

At age 18 George Washington won a county-wide championship in the “collar-and-elbow” style of wrestling that was popular at the time. At another time, Washington witnessed a wrestling-match. The champion of the day challenged him, in sport, to wrestle. Washington did not stop to take off his coat, but grasped the "strong man of Virginia.'' It was all over in a moment, for, said the wrestler, "In Washington's lionlike grasp I became powerless, and was hurled to the ground with a force that seemed to jar the very marrow in my bones.'' At age 47, while commander of the Continental Armies, Washington consecutively defeated seven challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.

Throughout history – from Milo of Croton, to Abraham Lincoln, to Dr. Norman Borlaug – when toughness was needed – a wrestler stepped up. Knowing that, it is hard to understand why American intercollegiate wrestling continues to be assaulted by outside forces. It is short-sighted thinking.

We need “tough” scientists who can solve the alarming number of environmental challenges facing the world. We need “tough” business people who can lead us to economic recovery. We need “tough” educators to stop the American slide into mediocrity. Yet – when I peruse college catalogs, I never see “Toughness 101” listed. It’s our college wrestling coaches who teach that course.

Since the time of Socrates, athletic competition – especially wrestling – has been considered an integral part of educating the whole person. There are things learned on the mat that just simply can’t be taught elsewhere. Thousands of today’s college wrestlers are going to go on to teach our kids, start new businesses, heal our sick and lead our communities. Don’t we want them to be fully prepared?

Our Founding Fathers were far from perfect. When Jefferson wrote, “all men are created equal” he actually meant “all white, male property owners are created equal”. It would take a wrestler to free African-Americans from the horrors of slavery 87 years later.

Hundreds of years of second-class status for women is another dark part of American history. Unfortunately, American wrestling still treats girls and women as an afterthought. The first World Championships in women’s freestyle wrestling were held in 1987. It became an Olympic sport in 2004 and 85 countries have Olympic qualifying competitions.

A year ago America’s only three women’s freestyle Olympic medallists, Patricia Miranda, Sara McMann and Randi Miller filed a grievance with USA Wrestling and The US Olympic Committee alleging that USAW violated the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act by not providing “equitable support and encouragement for participation by women”.

On January 29th of this year USA Wrestling and the three complainants issued a joint statement that the grievance had been successfully resolved. This seems to indicate that progress is being made at the upper levels of the sport. But what about elsewhere – with our kids programs, interscholastic and collegiate athletes? Are we providing enough opportunities? Are we encouraging young girls to try the sport?

In 46 states we still place a major roadblock in front of high school girls who want to wrestle – we make them wrestle almost exclusively against boys. How many other sports do this? When I discuss this dilemma with girl’s sports advocates or wrestling leaders, I get a Catch 22 argument – we need grass roots interest to expand girl’s high school wrestling, but we need more girl’s high school wrestling opportunities to grow grass roots interest. So – what’s the answer? Like so many things in this sport, someone has to step up and take a leadership role – at the local level, at the state level and nationally. Where are those people?

Slowly, intercollegiate wrestling opportunities for women are expanding. Another encouraging sign is that more women are becoming college head coaches. I frequently read online comments that suggest we should continue to expand women’s college wrestling as a tool to fight Title IX attrition. That argument misses the mark.

If we truly value what wrestling teaches – why deny those lessons to half of the population? If your daughter grows up to be an attorney why shouldn’t she be equipped with a toughness learned on the mat? If your sister becomes the CEO of a troubled corporation shouldn’t she know the resiliency taught by wrestling? When the woman researcher is trying to find the cure for your cancer wouldn’t you want her to have the perseverance Dr. Borlaug attributed to his wrestling experience?

We will always need “Toughness 101” in our colleges – but let’s be sure its available for everyone.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Three years and counting

I am astonished that you are reading this. This week marks the third anniversary of The View from Section GG and I still can’t believe that anyone reads it. I have no special knowledge or “inside information”. I can’t tell you how to execute a good ankle pick – but I know one when I see one. I just love this sport and the blog gives me a chance to write about it from a fan’s perspective. There seems to be a prevailing belief that only ex-wrestlers and their families can appreciate wrestling. Not so.

This adventure has so far led me down paths I never imagined were possible. The last 12 months have been both hectic and exciting. I started working on Tickets for Kids just about a year ago. The idea was pretty simple – the more kids that are exposed to the excitement of the higher levels of wrestling, the more of them will try or continue on in the sport. Through your generosity we were able to raise enough money to send 600 youngsters to the Saturday morning session of the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.

As in all such endeavors, you can’t do it alone. KJ Pilcher from the Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote an article about the project and donations got an immediate boost. Cornell College athletic director John Cochrane, assistant AD Dick Simmons and head coach Mike Duroe were extremely helpful. (Incidentally, Dick Simmons is one of the hardest working men in wrestling that you may not have heard of – serving the last three years as tournament director of the DIII Championships). Iowa Conference Commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen and Anthony Holman from the NCAA helped cut through the red tape. Fred Jones from the Cedar Rapids Marriott made our largest donation - $2,000. Dozens of fans from all over the country also contributed.

Oh – the people I’ve met in the last year – including two Olympic gold medallists. I sat behind Bill Smith and his family at the University of Northern Iowa homecoming football game. Earlier in the day he and the rest of the 1950 Iowa State Teachers College NCAA championship team had been inducted into the UNI Hall of Fame. I spent the entire first half of the game mentally rehearsing how I would introduce myself to him at half time. Somehow I managed to pull it off without sounding like the goober fan that I tend to be. I wasn’t quite so erudite when Kyle Klingman from the Dan Gable International Wrestling institute and Museum (now the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum) unexpectedly introduced me to Ed Banach. I think I said something witty like, “ooba gubba hum”.

Speaking of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – I finally actually met its executive director, Lee Roy Smith, at National Duals. Lee Roy has supported this blog from almost the beginning and I’m not sure that I would still be doing it if not for his early encouragement.

National Duals also gave me the chance to meet a couple of guys who are passionate about their teams and this wonderful sport. Steve Hayleck has been fighting in the trenches for Title IX reform for years. Steve is a former Maryland wrestler and tireless worker for the Terrapin wrestling program. He writes so seriously about Title IX that when I met him I was surprised by his quirky sense of humor. I’ll also never forget how graciously he allowed me to butcher his last name for two days.

Dr. Tim Drehmer came to Cedar Falls to support his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. While there he also did yeoman’s duty at the Adam Frey memorial table. I enjoyed meeting him and will always be thankful for his efforts.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Tim Dennis (father of NCAA finalist, Daniel) for his time helping with the Adam Frey table.

I got to spend some time with Lloyd Corwin one night in March. In one of life’s strange twists, I actually met Lloyd over 25 years ago in a business setting. He was a two-time Division I All-American for Cornell College in the ‘50s and only ever lost three college matches. His victories included one over future Olympic champion and Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame, Doug Blubaugh. Lloyd is a charming gentleman with an infectious laugh and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him.

I would be falsely modest if I didn’t admit that two of my proudest moments came this year at the NCAA Division III Championships. I was selected to be a marshal for the Parade of Champions on the evening of the finals. It was thrilling to be surrounded by the past, present and future of the sport.

The Thursday night before the championships, I was awarded The National Wrestling Coaches Association Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling” Award. To have my name associated with Gable’s in any way is incredibly humbling. I will treasure that moment forever.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last three years. We fans don’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch this sport be assaulted by outside influences. In fact – we owe it to the future of wrestling to get off of our butts and work for its salvation. There are countless opportunities to help – from getting more kids on the mat to fighting for your favorite college program to supporting our Olympic athletes. Pick one and join the battle. If a short, fat, balding 60 year-old fan in Cedar Rapids, Iowa can do it – so can you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Still battling

It’s raining this morning. It rained yesterday – and Saturday – and Thursday. Just like it did two years ago. There’s one major difference. In 2008, by the time it stopped raining the Cedar River had risen enough to do hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and displace thousands of our friends and neighbors.

If you hear the names Andrew or Ike or Katrina images of devastation come to mind. Floods don’t get the same response. If they weren’t effected directly, many people tend to forget. Some even actually start to resent flood victims over time. And when national “commentator”, Glen Beck, calls one of our flood recovery projects a “big waste of tax money” on television – I can’t contain my anger.

My young friend, Terrance, whose family lost everything in the flood (including all of his wrestling memorabilia) has been living at the Iowa Braille School the last year and a half. The rest of his family is still in temporary housing. Many business owners have given up or relocated. We’re still millions of dollars and many years away from a full recovery.

So what does this have to do with wrestling? Well – we’re still fighting to get off our backs – and wrestling has been helping.

Coe College wrestler, Clayton Rush – himself a flood victim – helped replace some of Terrance’s wrestling memorabilia. I guess that’s why it was extra special for me to watch Clayton win an NCAA Division III title.

Taylor School was nearly destroyed by the flood – in fact it was initially announced that the school would not reopen. The neighborhood rose up and fought to save its school and students returned last September. Through the generosity of dozens of members of the national wrestling community over 30 families from Taylor got to attend a session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Another 20 or more flood victim kids from other schools also got to go.

The Division III Championships were held in Cedar Rapids from 2007 – 2010 and many of us have come to love DIII fans. Their simple acts of attending the tournament and staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants and shopping at our stores have furthered the recovery. But above and beyond that I’ve heard of acts of generosity from fans while they were here.

“DIIIs” are moving to La Crosse next year and I wish them all the success in the world. Here in Cedar Rapids we’re looking forward to welcoming a new group of wrestling fans as we host the 2011 NAIA Championships next March. This is my first official invitation to all of you wrestling fans to come to our fair city, enjoy our hospitality and watch some exciting wrestling. I ask just one thing – when that hotel bartender serves you or a store clerk hands you your change – please remember that it’s possible that in 2008 she and her family lost everything.

Monday, May 31, 2010

He gave his life for the U.S.A.

My father-in-law is from the small town of Walker, IA. Saturday we went to the Walker Cemetery to visit Lee’s parents’ graves. Seth Crawford is buried about 100 yards away. His monument reads:

“1891 – 1918
Killed in action at Veslie River, France
He gave his life for the U.S.A.”

My great uncle was severely wounded in WWII and hated everything German the rest of his life. My father fought in Korea. I lost 2 high school classmates in Viet Nam. Last summer the son of my best man was badly wounded in Afghanistan.

My father taught me to respect the young men and women we send off to war. In his later years he became an advocate for veterans benefits and I remember going with him to the Portland (OR) veterans hospital as he was nearing the end of his life. He saw a couple of doctors, had some tests done and then got some prescriptions to fill. Dad, my brother, Jeff, and I went into the pharmacy. The waiting room was packed. There might have been upwards of 50 people in there and just one pharmacist on duty. We waited for over an hour. I was struck by the patience of these men – men who had fought in Europe, the South Pacific, Korea and Viet Nam.

After we picked up Dad’s prescription and got out the front door his anger finally erupted – not over his own wait – but that of the others, “That’s just horse****! Those poor bastards shouldn’t have to wait like that! They deserve better!”

It has become the tradition of this blog on Veterans Day to pay tribute to those who have walked off the mat and gone on to serve our country and on Memorial Day I honor those who have wrestled and have fallen in our service. Past Memorial Day editions have remembered posthumous Medal of Honor winner “Tommy” Noonan who was called by his friends “the best wrestler ever at Hunter College” and who was killed in Viet Nam, Naval Academy All-American and Silver Star winner, Doug Zembiec (The Lion of Fallujah), Patrick Lybert, a high school wrestler and Eagle Scout who was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan and Christopher Adeslperger whose family was given his Navy Cross for his actions in Iraq.

Last September President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Sgt. Jared Monti of Raynham, MA. Sgt. Monti had been a championship wrestler at Bridgewater-Raynham High School and was killed in the same engagement as Sgt. Lybert. Go here for a full description of the battle.

I wish I could stop adding names every year, but tragically, I can’t. Earlier this month Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Davis of Perry, IA was killed in action in Afghanistan. In an article in the Des Moines Register, his wrestling coach, Steve Hamilton, observed, “’The thing that was cool about him was that he had no quit in him.’” Even though he wasn’t the best wrestler on the team, “’he didn’t get discouraged; it didn’t break his will.’”, said Hamilton.

Again from the Register article:

“Hamilton, the wrestling coach, said he wasn’t surprised when Davis told him he wanted to join the Marines.”

“’I told him it was a good fit for him’ Hamilton said, because he was disciplined, took direction well and was a good leader. ‘I thought he’d do well in that arena.’

“’ It’s just unfortunate’”.

I don’t care about your politics – whether you’re a “Hawk” or a pacifist. When someone goes off to war in the name of freedom, we owe them our respect and our thanks. And for those families who lost a son or daughter or a brother or sister – we owe them our sympathy. It’s the very least we can do.

In honor of Sgt Arthur Brown Jr (shown in Korea).


Monday, May 24, 2010


The Cardinals and the Cubs. The Celtics and the Lakers. The Packers and the Bears. The Hawkeyes and the Cyclones. Rivalries. What would sports be without them?

One of my best friends and I are on opposite sides of the Cardinals/Cubs battle. During baseball season we have a rule that is designed to protect our friendship – “one shot a day”. Whenever we get together, each of us is allowed to insult the other’s team just once – and then we have to let it rest. Any transgression requires that the offending party buy an adult beverage for the wronged party.

When you use the word “rivalry” in college wrestling the Iowa vs. Iowa State dual meet comes to most minds first. Year in and year out that event will rank in the top three for dual meet attendance (depending upon if it is in Iowa City or Ames). Are all of those seats filled with hardcore wrestling fans? Of course not. Many of the attendees are there because this is a grudge meet.

College wrestling is under siege. Extreme budget cuts and Title IX are leading to the elimination of “minor” sports at a number of institutions. In some of the most recent cases, like University of California – Davis and California State – Bakersfield, wrestling was just one of the dropped sports. What criteria were used to decide which programs were cut? In the case of UC Davis wrestling, lack of fan support was one factor mentioned.

Life isn’t always fair. Softball is virtually exempt from the chopping block no matter if 11 or 11,000 fans show up for a game. I’ve been to women’s tennis meets where 20 people were watching. Don’t worry – that sport is safe.

There’s a classic old joke with the punchline, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” Sadly, that’s the situation many college wrestling teams find themselves in. Sometimes, intercollegiate competition opportunities depend upon “outrunning” the baseball team or the men’s tennis team. In other cases, as with Cal State Bakersfield, if you can come up with enough money to save all of the teams, you can save your own. Is it fair? Heck, no! Is it reality? You bet.

What can wrestling do to gain that needed support? Start by promoting a dual meet rivalry. Last season’s battle between Coe College and Cornell College is an example of how it could be done. Yes – the rivalry between the two schools already exists in all sports – and that’s a big help. The meet was given a boost when the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum and Body Bar Systems sponsored a breakfast celebrating the rivalry. Cornell, the host school, also made the meet “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” and donated proceeds from ticket sales to the American Cancer Society. Cornell coach, Mike Duroe (normally one of the sport’s snappiest dressers), and his team wore pink tee shirts as their warm-ups. During team introductions, the Cornell wrestler handed a matching pink tee to his Coe counterpart. The teams opted for a “halftime” intermission and their was entertainment – which was greatly enhanced when Coach Duroe’s daughter decided that she wanted to join in. The gym was packed and it was a great mix – students and fans from both schools, young wrestlers and prominent alumni were all there.

The Oklahoma State/Oklahoma “Bedlam” series, Augsburg and Wartburg, the Iowa/Minnesota “Border Brawl” and the Oregon/Oregon State “Civil War” (oh, sorry, I forgot) – are all mat rivalries that get fans out cheering for wrestling. We need far more examples of this.

Frankly, dual meets need to matter – and they don’t to many coaches and athletes. Rivalry duals are only a first step. We need a true dual meet national championship. The current issue of Win Magazine features an interview by Mike Finn of Mike Moyer, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. In the article, Moyer outlines both his reasoning behind his national dual championship proposal and two hypothetical scenarios for holding such a tournament.

The NWCA already holds its National Duals event which features teams from every division of college wrestling. It’s my favorite event of the year because of the variety. Sure I focus on the Hawkeyes when they’re on the mat, but I also get to watch top Division III teams and it’s one of the few times a year that I get to watch women compete. However, it’s not a true championship because the top teams don’t always show up. For example, Oklahoma State has declined their invitation the past couple of years. I’ll really miss this event if it gives way to several true dual championship tournaments, but I agree with Mike Moyer – college wrestling needs this change.

(Writer’s note – full disclosure laws require that I mention that WIN Magazine occasionally hires me to develop direct marketing campaigns for them.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

The legacy of the Cedar Valley

I suppose it started with Finn Eriksen 77 years ago. That’s the year that Eriksen led New Hampton to a share of the Iowa high school wrestling championship. Since that title in 1933 the Cedar Valley – Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Waverly, Gilbertville, New Hampton and a dozen other small Iowa towns - has influenced American wrestling at all levels.

Take Finn Eriksen for example. It wasn’t just that he started the most storied program in Iowa high school history – Waterloo West. Eriksen, a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, introduced practices that we now take for granted – like summer camps and coaching clinics.

Since those days in the 1930’s wrestling rooms in the Cedar Valley have produced future NCAA championship athletes and coaches, Olympic medallists, some of the sport’s preeminent officials and enough Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame that maybe they ought to have their own wing.

In 1943 Roy Jarrard took over for Eriksen at Waterloo West and led the the Wahawks to three consecutive Iowa high school team championships. Those three teams featured three athletes who won 7 individual state titles and had a runner-up finish. As college freshmen those three – Dick Hauser, Lowell Lange and Leo Thomsen – helped carry Cornell College to the 1947 NCAA and AAU team championships.

Iowa State Teachers College finished second to Cornell in 1947. In fact, Coach Dave McCuskey’s ISTC teams were national powers from 1946 to 1953, winning the NCAA team title in 1950. Olympic champion Bill Smith and silver medallist Gerry Leeman and three-time NCAA champions Bill Koll, Bill Nelson and Keith Young all wrestled in Cedar Falls for McCuskey.

Bob Siddens also wrestled on those teams. His career record as the wrestling coach at Waterloo West was 327-26. His wrestlers would go one to win multiple Big 8, Big 10 and NCAA titles. He coached two 2X NCAA champs who would help their universities win national team titles – Dale Anderson at Michigan State in 1967 and Dan Gable in 1969 and ’70.

It’s impossible to mention everyone – UNI graduate Jim Miller who has so far led Wartburg College to seven NCAA Division III team championships, NCAA champions like Joe Gibbons and Chuck Yagla from Waterloo Columbus and Daryl Weber from Gilbertville Don Bosco and Hall of Fame official Mike Allen from Waterloo East and UNI are just some. Even the sport’s most prolific writer (and founder of the Hodge Trophy) – Mike Chapman - hales from Waterloo.

Then there’s Gable. His career as athlete, coach and ambassador is unrivaled.

As of last Thursday there’s a new player in the Cedar Valley. Doug Schwab was announced as the new head wrestling coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Schwab, a native of Osage, IA and former NCAA champion has been an assistant at the University of Iowa for the past four seasons and has been instrumental in the Hawkeyes’ last three NCAA title runs. He takes over a program that had, perhaps, lost sight of its legacy.

Doug mentioned both that legacy and the Cedar Valley during his press conference. The three 2010 Iowa high school team champions are Cedar Valley schools, Waverly-Shell Rock in AAA, Denver-Tripoli in AA and Gilbertville Don Bosco in A and Schwab inherits a recruiting class that includes two young men from Don Bosco and one from Denver-Tripoli.

I’ve long been a Doug Schwab fan. Yes, he won an NCAA championship in 1999, but it was his performance in Saint Louis in 2000 that most of us remember. Upset in the quarterfinals by #8 seed Carl Perry, Doug piled up bonus points in the consolation bracket that were invaluable to the Hawkeyes in a very close team race. If you’ve watched wrestling for any length of time you’ve seen it more than once – the favorite gets knocked off and then is unable to compose himself and give his best in wrestlebacks. Not Doug Schwab – he sucked it up and went out and beat the living snot out of people to come back and finish third.

That’s the level of determination he will need to turn around a program that finished 40th at the NCAA tournament six weeks ago. I suspect that he won’t settle for respectability. In fact, in his press conference he said he wants to “win it all”. You’d be disappointed if he said anything else, but I think he means it.

Good luck, Doug, and may you add an exciting new chapter to the story of Cedar Valley wrestling.

Monday, May 3, 2010

California Dreamin'

“… and the sky is gray.” That is the last half of the opening line of the Mamas and Papas hit California Dreamin’. Every state in the union faces a budget crisis but they all pale in comparison to the situation in California. The proposed 2010-2011 budget calls for massive cuts including almost $900 million from school funding. Virtually every service in the state will be reduced in some way. Is it any wonder that intercollegiate wrestling in California is on life support?

Publicly funded institutions in the University of California and California State systems must find millions of dollars to pare from their respective budgets. Dropping wrestling and other minor sports seems to be the easy answer. Just two weeks ago UC Davis announced the elimination of wrestling and three other sports – a move that the university claims will lead to $5 million in savings over the next five years.

In the face of all of this potential financial disaster, how can we fans justify our insistence that these financially strapped institutions keep wrestling on their varsity sport rosters? Well – first, there’s a need. Perhaps I’m na├»ve, but I’ve always felt that tax-funded universities ought to serve their constituencies. California high schools rank second in the United States in total athletic participation, but are the runaway leaders in wrestling participation. Over 10% (27,500) of all high school wrestlers in America compete at California high schools. Illinois is in second place with 16,000+.

Do we truly believe that athletics can be a stepping stone to higher education? Do we really value the concept of educating the whole person? Are business and government leaders who have learned “Toughness 101” on the mat crucial to the future of California?

My answer is obviously, “Yes!” But, the reality is that California tax payers can’t save wrestling at their colleges. So who will? Once again it’s up to us – those who love the sport - to do what we can.

Cal State Fullerton just announced that they met the May 1st (May Day – how ironic) fund raising goal to save wrestling and women’s gymnastics for at least one more season. I’m guessing that they started working to fund the 2011-2012 season yesterday. If you want to help them off to a great start you can do so online at or by sending a check to

Titan Athletics
Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation
2600 E Nutwood Ave Ste 850
Fullerton CA 92831-5455.

Cal State Bakersfield faces a tougher challenge. The university gave supporters until May 21, 2010 to raise $1.4 million in order to stave off the elimination of wrestling and three other sports. To date they’ve raised about $407,000. Yep, they have just under three weeks to come up with almost a million bucks.

New England Patriots offensive lineman and former NCAA and World heavyweight champion (and CSUB alumnus), Stephen Neal, and NCAA Champion Jake Varner are among those leading the fund raising. They announced an event on May 15th at the Jam Events Center on Norris Rd in Bakersfield. A dinner will be served and several unique items and packages – including airfare, hotel expenses and two tickets for a Patriots game – will be offered at live and silent auctions. For more information, see Mark Palmer’s full article here.

You can also donate directly to Save Bakersfield Wrestling here.

Cal Poly is being proactive and will host a Mixed Martial Arts event called “Fight for Wrestling” on May 22nd at the Mott Gym to raise money for the program.

I know that some of you reading this will choose to donate to one or more of these schools – and I can almost guess who. There’s a very select segment of the wrestling community that inevitably answers the call. Thank you.

However – the sport needs more high profile support – especially in California. Movie stars like Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher like to talk about their wrestling backgrounds – but I don’t see them out in front trying to grow the sport. Perhaps they’re quietly active behind the scenes and if they are I thank them. But, come on, if the sport has really meant something to you – let the world

Monday, April 19, 2010

The battle for your wrestling dollar.

“Brother, can you spare a dime?” That iconic song from the Great Depression might just be the theme for American wrestling in the 21st century.

I’ve earned my living in the direct marketing business for about 30 years. For the last 20 I’ve owned my own consulting business. I’ve helped companies sell you magazines, pizza, jewelry and cell phones. I’ve also gotten you to donate to several worthwhile non-profit organizations.

Fund raising is a tough business. You have to battle for every dollar and – frankly - most wrestling organizations are pretty wimpy at it. Over the years I’ve contributed to individual Olympic wrestlers, national organizations and schools trying to save their programs. The associations I’ve built through this blog have also put me on a number of wrestling-related solicitation lists. Folks – you’ve got to work harder – get tougher.

Rule one is “keep asking”. It’s a fact that the top 15 – 20% of your past donors will donate 80% of the money to a new or follow-up campaign. Roughly 15% will come from the rest of the past donors and 5% or less will come from new donors. BUT – those past donors won’t give anything IF YOU DON’T ASK. Of the organizations that I’ve supported, only Cal State Fullerton and Save Oregon Wrestling have ever asked me directly for a second donation. Come on – ask me again. I know from years of research that if you get a second donation from me, I am twice as likely to donate a third time.

Speak directly to me, tell me a good story and then “make the ask”. People don’t give to causes or organizations. One person gives to another person. Last week I received an attempt to get me to attend a fund raiser for a local wrestling club. I cringed. There was no letter – just a reservation form. They gave me no reason to attend. It was a lot like going to the middle of the mat, getting into your stance and then hoping that your opponent falls to his back.

Use all of your weapons. How successful are wrestlers who can only execute an outside single to get a takedown? Take a guess why charities continue to tick you off by calling you at home. BECAUSE IT WORKS! Telephone calls have a higher return on investment than any other fund raising method. In general, wrestling relies far too much on the internet to raise money. Yes – it’s cheap and should be a part of your arsenal – but don’t use it exclusively.

What does the Republican National Committee have in common with the Democratic National Committee? The NRA with the World Wildlife Fund? And those four with US Olympic Committee? All use direct mail as a primary fund raising medium. Get your story down on paper and tell it to me just as if we’re sitting across from each other having coffee. Motivate me to give.

Be proactive. Yes - emergency needs will draw your best response, but, you must have a regular plan that meets your needs. Don’t wait until the elimination announcement comes before you try to raise the money to save the program. If you’re a coach, wrestler, alumnus or fan of a particular college team – just assume that your team is on the chopping block and start raising the money now. Start a campaign to endow a scholarship or the head coach’s salary. Buy the team a van or new mats. Show the administration that important people (donors) care about wrestling and you’ll reduce your chances of being dropped.

It isn’t all bad. Beat the Streets has come up with two disparate, but powerful, concepts to market their annual fund raising gala. First, they are holding it on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and honoring wrestlers who have served our country. Then they are holding the “Battle on the Intrepid” – a series of “undercard” matches featuring young Beat the Streets athletes and some of America’s top freestyle and Greco Roman wrestlers – followed by the “Main Event”.

Take a guess – what two athletes would most American fans want to see face each other? Bingo! Brent Metcalf and Darrion Caldwell will do battle as the highlight of the evening. It’s a stroke of genius by the organizers and a credit to these two young men that they are willing to participate. Here’s a link to make your reservation. If you can’t be there you can still make a donation at the site.