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.

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