Monday, January 18, 2010

You shoulda been there

You shoulda been there - Saturday night – Carver Hawkeye Arena Iowa vs. Oklahoma State.

You shoulda been there for the history. When the Cowboys come to town it’s a major event. There’s no question that these are the two greatest programs in college wrestling history. The fans of each school love to debate the significance of their respective accomplishments. Cowboy fans like to point out that Ed Gallagher practically invented college wrestling, while those in the black and gold avow that Dan Gable re-invented it with the “Iowa Style”. No matter which side you’re on there’s no denying that when OSU comes to Iowa City there’s more Olympic and World Championship hardware in the building than some countries have amassed in the modern era of freestyle wrestling.

You shoulda been there for the fashion. From John Smith’s usual sartorial splendor to a guy in a gorilla suit, singlet and headgear to Royce Alger’s boots and cowboy hat – it was all there.

You shoulda been there for the ice cream. We took out a second mortgage on our house and then stood in line for twenty minutes to buy the favorite confection in CHA.

You shoulda been there for the noise. No – not the incessant pre-recorded, overloud rock anthems that seem to now be inseparable from any athletic event – I mean the crowd noise. Say what you will about Hawkeye fans – love us or hate us – we can make a racket. It always thrills me to see a young wrestler rewarded for an outstanding performance by the roar that only ever seems to happen in Carver. Montell Marion got his first taste of an ecstatic Hawkeye crowd Saturday night.

You shoulda been there for the kids. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that I am obsessed with getting more kids on the mat. Saturday, the University of Iowa did one of those little things that helps grow the sport – they held a youth clinic before the meet. I know – lots of schools do that – and lots of schools give away tee-shirts to the attendees. It’s their last experience that may stand to inspire them as they journey through their wrestling careers. Many of them got to form a golden human tunnel through which the Hawkeyes entered. Just imagine that you’re ten years old, the lights go down, the fight song comes up and 11,000 fans jump to their feet and roar as Brent Metcalf runs by you. It’s something they’ll always remember.

You shoulda been there for the wrestling. Here comes that debate again. Fans of each school look disparagingly upon the wrestling “style” of the other. To Cowboy fans, Iowa wrestlers are “thugs” who just push and bully. The Hawkeye faithful believe that “track shoes” are a more appropriate footwear for the grapplers from Stillwater than are a pair of Asics Rulons. This argument has been going on for years and will continue to do so – probably for the rest of my life. No less of an authority than Ray Brinzer (one of only two wrestlers to compete for both schools) wrote about the “style” difference in WIN Magazine in 1996 and then posted it to his blog in 2005. Depending upon your viewpoint, Saturday you got to see either the worst or the best of the other’s philosophy. Each team won five matches, but Matt McDonough, Brent Metcalf and Jay Borschel scored enough bonus points to carry the day for the Hawks.

Yesterday, as I sat on my favorite perch at my favorite watering hole, I met another wrestling fan. He lives in Marion so he asked me at great length about the performances of the hometown “boys”, McDonough and Borschel. I described the matches for him, but closed with, “You shoulda been there.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Finding the next Gable - or Smith - or Borlaug

It’s time to come clean. I’ve lied in this blog for two and a half years. I’ve always claimed that I never wrestled and that isn’t entirely true. I did win an 8th grade intramural championship at Frank L. Smart Junior High School. In 1963 every boy in Davenport, IA (it was a sexist world) was introduced to wrestling in some way. There were instructional units in our PE classes where we were taught the basics of the single leg takedown, the sitout and the half nelson. At the end of the unit the teacher would organize an intramural tournament and we were encouraged to enter.

At about the same time that I reached the apex of my wrestling glory, 130 miles to the northwest, in Waterloo, a kid named Gable was launching his career. It’s a story of 2 choices. I opted for being a really bad basketball player and he chose to become one of America’s greatest wrestlers. A few years later, in Del City, OK, some brothers named Smith were exposed to wrestling and chose to pursue their dreams – with John going on to win two Olympic Gold medals and four World Championships.

Long before I, or Dan Gable or the Smiths were born a kid named Norman Borlaug stepped on the mat in Cresco, IA. After his wrestling career at the University of Minnesota, he, too, made a choice – to go an to graduate school and earn a masters degree and PHD in plant pathology. His lifetime of food production research saved millions of people around the world from starvation and in 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Borlaug said of his wrestling background, “Wrestling taught me some valuable lessons. I always figured I could hold my own against the best in the world. It made me tough (my emphasis). Many times I drew on that strength.”

So – what’s the one common thread running threw Dr. Borlaug, Dan Gable, John Smith and me? We were all exposed to wrestling at an early age. We may have all taken divergent paths – but we all had the opportunity to learn the values of wrestling. I’m not sure that enough of today’s youth gets that opportunity.

What’s the answer? I don’t know – but here’s what I’m trying. I must begin by saying that I love NCAA Division III wrestling. Those guys really “get after it”. I’ve attended a few NCAA Division III Championships and the Saturday morning session might be my favorite part of that event. Everyone wrestling then is already an All-American and is battling to determine his spot on the podium. I’ll see more throws, reversals to pins – in general more excitement – in that one session than I might see in a whole season of Hawkeye dual meets. I know that the skill levels are different – but boy do I love watching DIII wrestlers.

What if kids who are new to wrestling got to see all of that fun and action? Would a few of them step on the mat for the first time? Would some of them get motivated enough to stick with the sport when it gets tough? I don’t know – but I’m hoping to find out. I’m raising enough money ($10,000) to buy 1,000 tickets to the Saturday, March 6, 2010 morning session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, IA and giving them away to kids.

The tickets will go to a variety of kids. Many will be reserved for students at flood impacted elementary and middle schools in Cedar Rapids. Local youth organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs will also get some. Most will probably go to youth wrestling clubs. There is no geographical preference for the wrestling clubs – if you want to bring a group to Cedar Rapids, just let me know.
So far, support has been encouraging. Corporate pledges have reached over $4,000, including an extremely generous gift of $2,000 from the Cedar Rapids Marriott. When wrestling writer KJ Pilcher published an article about the project in the Cedar Rapids Gazette just before Christmas, I got another $600 in pledges in three days. Cornell College has allowed me to raise money on-site at wrestling events. To date a total of about $5,600 has come in.

Some folks have suggested that I should be happy with what has already been accomplished. That’s like suggesting that Gable should have been satisfied with two NCAA titles after the loss to Owings or telling John Smith that a couple of international championships are enough for any man. I won’t stop until we get 1,000 kids in that arena – and I may not stop then.

So, dear readers, I am asking you to help. Several of you already have and to those I offer my heartfelt thanks. But – there’s still work to be done. Will you who haven’t yet contributed join this elite group of fans?

If you want to make a pledge today email me at I’ll collect on your pledge in a couple of weeks when tickets actually go on sale. If you want to just write a check now, please 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.

Your donation may just be the one that puts the next Gable or Smith or Borlaug on the mat.

Thank you,


PS If you have a group of kids that would like tickets, please email me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The doers - part 2

A month ago I asked blog readers to nominate some of the “doers” in the sport of wrestling - the people who may not always get the recognition, but who work tirelessly for the growth and betterment of the sport.

Almost immediately I got an email from Jason Bryant, nominating Pat Tocci and Tammy Tedesco at the National Wrestling Coaches Association. “…(they) are the lifeblood of the organization.” After watching Tammy log dozens of miles as she covers the UNIDome during National Duals, I have to concur.

Jeff McCall, the coach at the University of Texas-Arlington, brought up Jim Giunta, the head of the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. We wrestling fans frequently forget the real purpose of intercollegiate athletics and get obsessed with the sport at only the NCAA Division I or international levels. This paragraph from the NCWA mission statement summarizes the objectives of Giunta and NCWA members.

“The NCWA was founded with the student athlete in mind. We are composed of non-paid volunteers committed to helping our young people accomplish their goals and dreams, and to reach for excellence in everything they do. Through athletic endeavor, club leadership responsibilities and community involvement, NCWA students will leave college life to meet a competitive world head on. They will have been equipped through their academic involvement and athletic success to take the competition to the mat, score and emerge a champion.”

This came in from former Cornell College wrestler, Tim Hicks.

“First I would like to mention my former HS coach at LaPorte City High School (Now Union HS of LaPorte City) Dick Ingvall. He was not only my wrestling coach but also my next door neighbor. He was always there to push me to the edge and encourage me despite a very rough road early in my career. My HS classmates and I were the beginning of hisa couple generations of some very successful years at LPC/Union which included a State Team and State Tourny championship. He built that program from the ground up through starting a junior/youth program.

Second I would like to nominate Bob Siddens. While I was never coached by Coach Siddens, he officiated several of my HS and College matches. Because of our familiarity he was always encouraging me (as well as my teammates and opponents) at every level. He would come to me and others after matches to give us tips and critiques for our continued improvement. He even came up to me after a match against Ohio St. my Senior year at Cornell and asked why I tried a specific move with around 30 to 45 seconds left in the match. I was leading 3-2 and the kid from OSU was riding me (with a leg ride), riding time was not a factor but I thought he was getting ready to call me for stalling and I needed to attempt to get out well my attempt gave up 2 back points and the match was lost 4-3. I learned a valuable lesson about situational wrestling from him at that time.

Barron Bremner and Steve Devries. I would have never continued my wrestling career without the influence of Barron Bremner. He was instrumental in luring me and several others potential wrestlers to Cornell College to compete for Coach Devries. I was all set on Wartburg and Football (with a slight chance to wrestle for Dick Walker) until Coach Ingvall encouraged me to meat and talk to Barron. Barron sold me on Cornell and his impact on wrestling is legendary.”

Coach Devries took a group of good to average wrestlers and developed us into a group of very upstanding individuals not only as wrestlers but as people. He touched several generations of kids at all levels from youth to college. A great motivator and coach he was always there to help us grow as individuals first then athletes. I still carry alot of the principles learned from him in every day life.”

Finally, from Jim Harshaw of Riot Sports Marketing, “John Kammauff of Charlottesville, VA has been instrumental in developing the sport in the wrestling desert of central Virginia. He gives and gives.”

Take a few minutes today and remember the “doers” in your life.