Monday, February 22, 2010

The road to Cedar Rapids - 2010

The qualifiers have all been determined and now the families, friends and fans of the 160 young men who will compete for a title at the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships are planning their travel to Cedar Rapids.

On the surface this year’s tournament looks to be a three-horse race among Augsburg, Wartburg and Coe, all of whom are sending a full ten-wrestler complement. The upset, however, is the beauty of Division III and I wouldn’t be surprised to see UW-La Crosse or Ithaca sneak into the top three.

The scheduling of the Division I qualifiers the same weekend as the Division III National Championships always hurts attendance a little at “DIIIs”. However, if you’re not ready for wrestling season to end and you’re not planning on attending Big 10s, Big XIIs or any of the others, I urge you to come to Cedar Rapids. These athletes deserve a big audience – and you’ll be surprised at how much fun you have.

If you’ve been here for the Championships before, here are a couple of updates. The box office at the US Cellular Center has been repaired from the flood damage and is open during regular hours – no more trips to the Ice Arena. The USCC escalator (also a flood victim) has been removed and replaced with stairs. If you need to use the elevators, give yourself a few extra minutes.

If this will be your first trip to our fair city, here are some tips for getting the most out of your visit. There are two “must see” stops for the hardcore wrestling fan. The Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum is just 1 hour to the north in Waterloo. Don’t let the name fool you – it’s not entirely about Dan Gable. There’s even a wing dedicated to the history of professional wrestling. I promise that you’ll enjoy it.

Leave yourself a little time to drive 20 minutes east to Mount Vernon and the campus of Cornell College (one of the host schools for the Championships). Step into the lobby of the Richard and Norma Small Multi-Sport Complex and you step into a piece of wrestling history. Wander around and look at the Cornell Hall of Fame photos and you’ll see people like Dale Thomas (you’ll love his pose), Lowell Lange, Lloyd Appleton, Paul Scott, Dick Barker and Dale Brand. Then go to the trophy case and there they are – the memorials to the greatest “David beats Goliath” performance in college wrestling history – the 1947 NCAA and AAU championship trophies.

Theatre Cedar Rapids, our local theater troop, is moving back into its downtown home right across the street from the US Cellular Center, with performances of The Producers. Flood waters filled the basement and covered the stage and the first seven rows of seats in 2008. The return is a triumph of our city’s spirit. One of our favorite local personalities (and once my daughter’s English and drama teacher), Scott Schulte, will be starring as Max Bialystock. Our area may have given you Ashton Kutcher, Elijah Wood and Ron Livingston – but we locals love Scott. Anyway – you can attend a performance either Thursday night at 7:30 or Sunday afternoon at 2:30.

Penguin’s Comedy Club is another of our treasures. Forced by the flood to a new location at the Clarion Hotel, Penguin’s will be featuring JR Brow the weekend of the Championships. You have easy access to the Clarion if you’re staying at any of the hotels on the southwest side (33rd Ave SW, etc) and there’s enough time to get to the late night Saturday show after finals.

I urge you to patronize our flood recovering businesses. Virtually anything you can walk to from the US Cellular Center was damaged by the tragedy of 2008. More have re-opened since the last time you were here. The Best Western Cooper’s Mill Hotel and Restaurant is back and is within walking distance of the wrestling action. It’s less than a ten minute drive to our Czech Village district and you’ll find unique shops, bars and restaurants, all waiting to welcome wrestling fans – and all fighting back from one of the most damaging natural disasters in American history.

I’ll once again be holding a reception in the lounge at the Cedar Rapids Marriott from 5:00 to 7:00. Food and beverages are free and all wrestling fans are welcome.

You can visit the following websites to help plan your trip.

Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau

Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum

Theatre Cedar Rapids

Penguin’s Comedy Club

Coe College

Cornell College

Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Monday, February 15, 2010

Recipe for a wrestling promotion


1 established wrestling organization
1 corporate sponsor
1 wrestling fan
2 college administrations
2 coaching staffs
1 theme
2 wrestling legends
miscellaneous additional “spices”


1. Established wrestling organization (Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum) selects theme(s) (Coe College vs. Cornell College dual meet and honoring Barron Bremner) for holding a wrestling promotional event.

2. Established wrestling organization contacts coaching staffs and administrations of the two colleges with the idea.

3. Schools respond in the affirmative.

4. Established wrestling organization contacts local fan to act as “organizer” for the event.

5. Established wrestling organization and fan meet and decide:

a. event promotion strategy.
b. “hook” – honoring Barron Bremner.
c. event expenses should be covered by sponsor, if possible.
d. event should be a fund-raiser for the two colleges’ wrestling programs.

6. Fan arranges venue and helps develop an invitation list.

7. Established wrestling organization finds corporate sponsor (Body Bar Systems) so that all ticket sale proceeds can be donated to the schools.

8. Established wrestling organization confirms the participation of 2 wrestling legends (Barron Bremner and Dan Gable).

9. Event is promoted with radio interviews, newspaper article, direct mail, emails and various online postings.

10. Event program is developed: speeches from the established wrestling organization, the fan, the two coaches, the guest of honor (Barron Bremner) and Dan Gable.

11. Mix in a liberal quantity of spices like members of the legendary 1947 Cornell NCAA and AAU champions; 2X Cornell All-American , Lloyd Corwin – who beat 1960 Olympic champion, Doug Blubaugh, in the quarter finals of the 1955 NCAA championships; former Coe wrestler, Mark Olinyk, who was one of Gable’s workout partners before the 1972 Olympics; super fans like Rich Foens and Bob Majors and civic leaders who care about the future of wrestling tourism in Cedar Rapids.

12. Stir it all together with lots of stories, memories and the conviction that wrestling truly is the world’s greatest sport. Serve it HOT.

In the past few weeks, two more NCAA Division I universities, Duquesne and Cal State-Bakersfield, announced the elimination of their wrestling programs. The National Wrestling Coaches Association will once again do the yeoman’s share of the work in trying to save these programs. The rest of the wrestling community will respond with letters, petitions and donations and maybe – just, maybe – one, or both of those programs can be saved.

WAKE UP! The time to save a program is before it is threatened. These are overwhelmingly difficult economic times for most colleges and universities. Just assume that your favorite or closest wrestling team is potentially on the chopping block. Don’t spend your time whining and moaning and waiting for someone – the NWCA, the NCAA, the coach, the alumni – anyone else but you, to fix the problem. ACT! If your ideas for growing – yes, GROWING, intercollegiate wrestling are good enough to post on an online forum, they’re good enough to present to an athletic director or a wrestling coach or the president of the alumni association.

The above recipe can be modified to fit almost any school or situation and it “nourishes” the sport in many ways. Showing college administrators that wrestling is important to a community and to alumni is first among those. It also lays the groundwork for fund raising. I know it isn’t fair when a wrestling team has to raise money to save itself and a softball team doesn’t. SO WHAT! Life hasn’t been fair since Eve talked Adam into eating that apple. Get busy and endow this sport.

Kyle Klingman and Kent Sesker from the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum are to be commended for conceiving the Coe/Cornell breakfast. Thank you, Arno Niemand, of Body Bar Systems for sponsoring it.
Kudos also go to Coe AD, John Chandler; Cornell AD John Cochrane and assistant AD Dick Simmons and coaches Duroe and Oostendorp for their participation. However, the true “man of the hour” – the guy everyone came to see – was Barron Bremner.

It made for one heck of a day to be a wrestling fan.

Monday, February 8, 2010

First times

Julia LaBua is a wrestling fan. A few weeks ago she sent this email to her co-workers.

“Subject: An offer you can (but shouldn't) refuse


You all know that I am a wrestling fan. Most of you probably wonder why. To try to answer that question, I am inviting you to attend the Jan. 31 meet against Michigan State as my guest (spouses, partners, and kids also welcome). This offer includes a ticket to the meet, a soda, and a hot dog (if you indulge in such foodstuffs), as well as answers to all your questions about what’s happening down there on the mat (n.b. They may not be the correct answers, but they will be answers).


When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31

Who: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Michigan State Spartans

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Why: Where else will you have the opportunity this year to root for a team of defending national champions?

RSVP: by January 20 to Julia”

The University of Iowa athletic department held a “Family 4-Pack” promotion that night and Julia took advantage to take potential new fans to their first wrestling dual meet.

Here are Julia’s comments on the results, “I just got home from Carver, and I thought I'd update all of you on how my "Hawkeye Indoctrination" plan went. It was a HUGE success, as far as I'm concerned. The final tally was 15 of my co-workers, spouses and kids. The 2-3 of us who know a bit about wrestling were able to explain enough to the others so that they more or less understood what they were seeing. I can tell you that explaining the concept of riding time to a middle-aged woman from Colombia (South America) is a challenge! But she was totally into it even though she didn't know anything about wrestling beforehand.

I was careful to point out key matchups ahead of time -- for example that Gomez was ranked #1 at 133, so that when Dennis pulled out the win in overtime they were all very excited and impressed. I also made sure nobody headed to the concession stand for their free hot dog during Metcalf's match.

Obviously the outcome of the dual was never in doubt, but several of them commented to me afterward that they didn't realize how exciting it could be on an individual-match basis even when the team scores a shutout. Oh, and Hilda, the 5-year-old daughter of one of my co-workers, was very concerned at the end about Erekson and his bloody head. She kept asking if he was OK, and if we thought his nose hurt. I wish I could have taken her down to the mat to meet him. Maybe next time.

The consensus afterward; ‘Wow, that was really fun! We should make this an annual office tradition.’ Just what I wanted to hear!”

I am a grandfather in a modern blended family. I took my son-in-law, Brian, and his kids Cassie (14) and Connor (8) to their first wrestling meet the same night that Julia took her co-workers. Brian is an MMA fan and I was a little afraid that, without the striking and choking, he might find wrestling boring. I shouldn’t have worried – he really got into it – especially the Dennis/Gomez match.

Connor liked the ice cream, pop corn and the juggler at intermission.

Cassie surprised me. She talked about the matches and asked questions all of the way home. Monday she bragged to her industrial technology teacher (who is an assistant wrestling coach at her school) that she had gone to her first wrestling match. I’m taking her to the Northwestern meet this Friday. We may just have another wrestling fan in the making.

I remember the first time I heard Ed Aliverti’s voice. I called in sick to work, went to Carver Hawkeye Arena and bought a ticket from a scalper for the opening session of the NCAA tournament. “Welcome wrestling fans to the world’s oldest and greatest sport!” It wasn’t just the words – it was the conviction with which he said them. You knew that what he said was true. And just when you might be getting a little bored because you didn’t have a favorite wrestler competing would come his famous, “Possible fall on mat 5!” Again – the timbre of his voice raised your excitement level and you were drawn back into the drama.

Ed lost a long battle with cancer last week and as his longtime partner, Sandy Stevens, said, “It’s a sad time for the wrestling family”. No one emerges from the womb as a wrestling fan. Many things have fed the growth of my love for the sport. Ed Aliverti was one of them. Thank you, Ed. We’ll miss you. Maybe he’s calling Abe Lincoln and Plato to the mat right now.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Small gyms, big man

I live within walking distance of Coe College and once or twice a year I go to Eby Fieldhouse and watch the Kohawks wrestle. For the past few years I’ve made it a point to attend their November invitational.

Twice in January I spent the day at Cornell College in the Richard and Norma Small Multi-sport Center raising money for Tickets for Kids. Cornell AD, John Cochrane, allowed me to set up my table where the greatest traffic would pass – on the way to the mats and right next to the men’s restroom entrance. I was also right in the middle of a wrestling shrine. Behind me, over my left shoulder was the Cornell College Athletic Hall of Fame photo of Lloyd Appleton, longtime wrestling coach at the US Military Academy and Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Directly to my left were the photos of two other members of the NWHOF, three-time NCAA champ, Lowell Lange, and the winningest dual meet coach in the history of NCAA wrestling, Dale Thomas. A little farther down hangs the picture of Lloyd Corwin, a two-time All-American who beat 1960 Olympic gold medallist, Doug Blubaugh, in the quarter-finals of the 1955 NCAA championships. Then, 12 feet in front of me and just to the right was the really cool stuff – the 1947 NCAA and AAU championship trophies.

Yes, both of these schools have contributed much to the sport of wrestling, but they are, first and foremost, institutions of higher learning – turning out graduates who teach our kids, run our businesses and lead our communities. Each year students arrive on these campuses to build the foundation for their futures. Some choose also to toil in hot wrestling rooms and compete in relative anonymity simply because they love the sport.

One man – one big man – spent his career changing lives at both Coe and Cornell. Barron Bremner was a heavyweight wrestler at the University of Iowa. He also played football on the 1957 Hawkeye Rose Bowl and National Championship team. He then coached wrestling for 16 years at Cornell and 7 at Coe, compiling a 196-39-3 dual meet record. He also served as athletic director and led the financial development departments of both schools. He’s in both schools’ athletic halls of fame and the NCAA Division III Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame. But, there is more to Barron Bremner than wins and losses.

Television analyst, Tim Johnson, wrestled for Bremner at Coe. “Barron is a man that I deeply love. He is one of the reasons I often add to the bottom of my emails the byline, ‘Never underestimate the power and influence of a coach’”. Tim makes it a point to get together with his former coach at least once a year when he’s in Iowa for a broadcast.

Former Cornell wrestler, Tim Hicks, said, “I would have never continued my wrestling career without the influence of Barron Bremner. He was instrumental in luring me and other potential wrestlers to Cornell…”

There is one story about Barron that, perhaps, says more about him than any other. In an interview with wrestling writer and historian, Mark Palmer; Simon Roberts, the first African-American NCAA wrestling champion – and a team mate of Bremner’s at Iowa - related this, "The only time I can remember any open discrimination was Stillwater [Oklahoma], at the nationals [in 1956]," according to Roberts. "The Iowa team went downtown for our post weigh-in meal. They seated the entire team, about a dozen of us, including me. But the waitress brought glasses of water for everyone but me. Barron Bremner [Iowa heavyweight] seemed to notice it right away, didn't say anything to me, but got up and went over to talk to the waitress. She motioned toward the kitchen, so Barron went through the doors into the kitchen. He was there a few minutes, came out, then the manager or owner motioned to the waitress. They talked a bit, then she brought a glass of water to me. That was the end of it. I was served my meal with the rest of the team without any incident. And we didn't discuss it either."

This Friday morning, February 5th, the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum and Body Bar Systems will host a breakfast at the Cedar Rapids, IA Marriott celebrating the wrestling heritage of Coe and Cornell. Barron Bremner will be the guest of honor. Doors will open at 8:15, breakfast will be served at 8:30 and a short program featuring Bremner, Coe coach, John Oostendorp and Cornell coach, Mike Duroe, will follow at 9:00. Dan Gable is one of several wrestling dignitaries scheduled to attend. Tickets are $15 each and all proceeds will go to the Cornell and Coe wrestling programs. You can make reservations by email at or by calling (319)233-0745.

That evening Coe and Cornell will square off at Cornell in their annual dual meet. It will also be “Breast Cancer Awareness Night”. Last year’s meet was a barn burner and I expect much the same this year.