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.

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