Monday, March 22, 2010

Five years to glory

Gordy Flam used to be one of those faceless “friends” you make on the internet. Two years ago his nephew qualified for the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Gordy traveled south from Minnesota to support Matt and Gordy and I finally met. Matt, a St John’s wrestler, qualified again this year and Gordy and I ran into each other at the opening session of “DIII’s”. When Coe College’s Chris LeClere took the mat, Gordy said, “It’s fun actually seeing these guys from Four Days to Glory wrestle.”

In 2005 author Mark Kreidler followed high school seniors Dan LeClere and Jay Borschel in their quests to become four-time Iowa high school state wrestling champions. The resulting work, Four Days to Glory, is one of my favorite books about wrestling (read the New York Times review here). While Dan and Jay are the central focus, one beauty of the book is how well you get to know the families, friends and teammates of the two protagonists. Gordy told me of taking a trip with his daughter to a show choir contest held at Linn-Mar High School (where Borschel wrestled). During one of the breaks he had to sneak off to the gym to see what types of wrestling memorabilia might be on the walls. He was pleased to see that Jay was appropriately recognized.

Dan LeClere’s college career didn’t follow the path he first planned. Like Jay and a third Linn County, Iowa resident, Joe Slaton, he first went to Blacksburg, Virginia to wrestle for Iowa legend and former Hawkeye assistant coach, Tom Brands, at Virginia Tech. When Jim Zalesky was fired as Hawkeye head coach, and Brands hired to replace him, Dan (along with Borschel and Slaton) followed Tom “home”. They were joined by Brent Metcalf and TH Leet, who also elected to stay with coach Brands. The decision had its repercussions. The Virginia Tech athletic director would not release the five from their scholarships and all lost a year of intercollegiate eligibility.

Dan’s first official season in a black and gold singlet showed great promise. He was 22-11, won a Midlands championship and qualified for the NCAA tournament. The following season the combination of Alex Tsirtsis returning from a red-shirt year and a series of nagging injuries limited his competition to just eight matches. This season started with Dan in a three-way battle with Slaton and Montell Marion for the starting spot at 141 pounds. When the dust cleared, Marion was “the man” and he was an NCAA finalist Saturday night. Life for college wrestlers is rarely about a future as a competitor or coach and Dan, a multiple Big Ten All-Academic selection, seems to be well prepared for whatever is thrown his way in the next 60+ years.

Dan’s teammate at North Linn High School, Tyler Burkle, was the first of the “supporting players” in Four Days to Glory to climb to the top of an NCAA championship podium. In 2008 he became the first wrestler to win a national title for Division III Coe College. The two younger LeClere’s, Nick and Chris now also wrestle at Coe, where Nick was an All-American this season.

Matt McDonough was a freshman at Linn-Mar when Kreidler was following Dan and Jay. Matt didn’t go unnoticed by the author, “…(Linn-Mar coach, Doug) Striecher has hopes for other wrestlers as well. One is Matt McDonough, the freshman who is becoming a better wrestler by the day.” That progress continued over Matt’s four years in high school and he went on the win three Iowa state championships. McDonough was heavily recruited and for a long time there was much speculation that, even though his dad, Mike, wrestled for Gable, Wisconsin and Northwestern were the front runners as his college choices. Matt has said in interviews since that it wasn’t until the morning of National Letter of Intent signing day that he decided to go to Iowa and wrestle for Tom Brands.

At 22-8, Matt had a reasonably successful redshirt season at 133 pounds. As last season ended he looked at Iowa’s senior-laden lineup and saw that his only opportunity to crack that lineup in 2009-2010 was to drop down to 125 pounds. By all reports he lost the pounds carefully and intelligently and making weight never seemed to be an issue. Iowa fans spent much of the off-season speculating about what level of success to expect from McDonough. Any skepticism that there might have been was erased early and Matt exploded onto the college wrestling scene. Many observers – including me – consider him to be the most exciting Hawkeye freshman since Lincoln McIlravy or Jeff McGinness. Kreidler’s quote from the book was prophetic as he seemed to be “a better wrestler by the day.” All of that hard work was rewarded Saturday night when Matt defeated Iowa State’s Andrew Long to win the NCAA championship at 125 pounds.

Jay Borschel started reading posts about himself on internet message boards while still in high school. The doubters have always motivated him. His mother, Carol, is quoted by Kreidler as saying, “They don’t know how much that stuff fires him up.” The internet doubt just never seemed to go away. Online poster credibility is a funny thing and I’m not sure how it is won or lost. As Jay and the other transfers prepared for their sophomore seasons, one frequent contributor to the “Iowa boards”, someone considered by many fellow forum followers to be an “insider” and an “expert”, pronounced that, “Jay Borschel will NEVER start for the Hawkeyes.”

His sophomore season he erased most- but not all – of the doubt when he finished third in the NCAA championships. Last year, as a junior, hampered by injuries and mid-season surgery, Jay failed to place at the national tournament and once again the critics and nay-sayers started typing and posting. Perhaps they are now forevermore silenced.

Saturday night Jay Borschel joined perhaps the most elite fraternity in wrestling in the state of Iowa. He, along with Dan Le Clere, was already a member of a pretty exclusive group – the nineteen four-time high school champions. Saturday Jay became just the fourth of those nineteen to ever win a Division I NCAA title. Congratulations, Jay. I hope you go online and bask in all of the well-deserved glory.

Monday, March 15, 2010

NCAA memories

“With that fall by Jeff McGinness, IOWA takes the lead.” That call by Sandy Stevens drew laughter from our section at the 1995 NCAA Championships. You see – the pin came in a pigtail match and scored the very first points in the tournament. Jeff would go on to win the first of his two NCAA titles.

Once again this year business obligations will keep me here in Cedar Rapids while the Championships play out in Omaha. I’ll catch what I can on the radio, the internet and television – but it just isn’t the same as being there. I’ve followed Nationals from afar many times, but my best memories are from the times when I attended.

I asked several people if they would be willing to share their favorite memories of the NCAA tournament.

Longtime Iowa Hawkeye fan, Roger Pilcher remembers 2000. “There are so many memories over the years, but one always stands out for me – Saint Louis in 2000. On that horrible Friday we had three #1 seeds go down. Jody Stritmatter and Doug Schwab lost in the morning and TJ Williams lost in the evening. The crowd was, of course, delirious as IOWA was pursuing its sixth consecutive national title. My brother and I were pretty low as we left the arena that night. It was a good thing the wrestlers didn’t hang their heads as much as we did, though. As low as we were that night, we were at least that high again the next morning as all three wrestled back to third place finishes. Doug Schwab was an absolute beast, punishing everybody he wrestled in consolations. For that performance alone, he will always remain one of my all-time favorite Hawkeyes.”

“Saturday night we watched Eric Juergens win a national title, acknowledging the Hawkeye fans in attendance, and IOWA got that sixth consecutive title”

Three-time NCAA champion, Olympic silver medallist and head coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Davis, remembers his first title as a competitor,”… as they announced your name to take the stand it was a FEELING that has never been matched. Also, as I went up to the stands to see my parents the Iowa fans had boxes of donuts and M & M’s waiting for me because that was the year I took off and Coach Gable found me at Hy-Vee”

As a coach, Barry has most enjoyed, “…watching Jeff Walters and Donny Pritzlaff winning their NCAA titles - just the look on their faces and knowing how much it meant to them."

Cedar Rapids Gazette writer and editor, J.R. Ogden has been covering the NCAA Wrestling Championships since 1985. Three of those events stand out in his mind.

“1985 – This I remember more for personal reasons than for anything at the tournament. This was my first NCAA tournament and my first year covering wrestling and the University of Iowa. The Hawkeyes were in the middle of their 9-title stretch and I was driving into Oklahoma City – aka ‘enemy territory’. Listening to the radio I heard about big, bad Iowa coming to town, etc. I was actually worried my company car with Iowa plates might get vandalized.”

“1993 – This is one of the excellent tournaments Iowa State hosted. ISU always was one of the better places. Again this has to do with the Hawkeyes – Troy Steiner, weeks earlier, moving down a weight to make room for ‘super freshman’, Lincoln McIlravy. What I remember most is McIlravy’s championship bout, his come-from-behind victory and, especially, the third period. It is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen.”

“1997 – Gable’s last as head coach. This is memorable for a lot of reasons – Iowa’s string of victories from Thursday night through most of Friday, its amazing performance with six finalists and five champs, seeing Oklahoma State coach John Smith, whose Cowboys were favored, at a local establishment that Friday night, hiding in the corner and obviously shell-shocked by Iowa’s performance. But the thing I remember most and hopefully always will is what happened AFTER the meet. Dan Gable took a chair in the middle of the UNI-Dome – possibly on some sort of makeshift stage, but that I can’t remember – and signed autographs long after the tournament was over. I remember finishing all my stories for the next day’s paper, at least an hour after the event and maybe two, and Gable was still signing autographs and a line remained.”

Almost every Hawkeye fan I’ve ever met who was in Cedar Falls in 1997 has that as their favorite National Tournament – for many of the reasons J.R. mentioned. I have two more that I hope I never forget. Jim Zalesky hugging Gable and Gable pointing his crutch at Jesse Whitmer and yelling, “Strongest man in the world!” after Whitmer’s Cinderella championship.

Finally, there was Sandy Stevens’ introduction of Bob Siddens as he presented the team championship trophy to Gable. That time Sandy made me cry.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Saying goodbye

Adios you student cheering sessions from Augsburg, Luther, Dubuque and LAX.

Ciao you warm and friendly wrestling fans from Maine and Ohio and Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Sayonara you dedicated student athletes who compete simply for the love of the sport.

I’m going to miss you all.

Saturday night the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships ended a three-year run at the US Cellular Center here in Cedar Rapids and I’m sorry to see them go.

Wrestling has been a part of higher education for well over two millennia. Socrates once said, “A great runner is not the equal of an average wrestler”. His student, Plato, was a wrestler. Division III wrestlers epitomize everything that is good about intercollegiate sports. They toil in relative anonymity for hundreds of hours in sweaty wrestling and weight rooms – then shower and hit the books.

When they leave the mat for the last time, these young adults will go on to teach our children, run our businesses and lead our communities. They may even cure cancer. Maybe Dan Laurent will be the guy who does that. Dan never came to Cedar Rapids as the top seed at heavyweight. Yet all three times he came here, at the very end of the tournament, it was his hand that the referee raised in triumph. Dan carries a 3.5+ GPA with double majors in biochemistry and molecular biology.

A lot of great schools were represented here last weekend – schools that specialize in preparing engineers and scientists and educators. They have outstanding curricula – but there’s one class you won’t find in their course listings – “Toughness 101”. Fortunately they have wrestling coaching staffs to teach that – guys like Dave Icenhower of The College of New Jersey who passed the 500 victory mark this season. They’re the ones teaching their students to fight every minute. They’re the ones teaching our future leaders how to “battle off their backs” in the face of adversity. They’re the ones teaching that, even though you’re a member of a team – you’re ultimately responsible for your own success.

Who teaches those things at colleges and universities that don’t have wrestling teams? Don’t those schools understand that they have a hole in their curricula – that they’re not serving their constituencies to the best of their ability?

We need a mind shift in the wrestling community. We’re so worried about saving college wrestling that we don’t seize the opportunity to grow college wrestling. I’m not so na├»ve that I don’t understand the obstacles – the tough economy, Title IX and skeptical administrations. But isn’t that what wrestling is about – meeting challenges head-on and winning?

All of us need to stop waiting for someone else to do this for us. Does your alma mater have a wrestling team? How about that small college in your community? In my case the answer to both is, “no”. The athletic directors at both schools frequently hear from me about the need to add wrestling. One always firmly tells me “no way”, but the other always says, “maybe, someday, if…”. Do you want to guess what the “if” is? Money. We’ve got to get busy and endow this sport. Anyway – today I’ll email each of them (and the president of my alumni association) a link to this edition of the blog – along with the promise to help anyway I can. I challenge you to do the same.

You see – if the NCAA Division III Championships ever return to Cedar Rapids, I’d sure like to meet fans from Washington and Florida and Georgia – and hear what kind of cheering sections they have.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Action, action, action

“Action, Bub!” I heard Gail Rush yell that at her son, Clayton, early in his finals match at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships last night. I don’t know if Clayton heard her, but it sure seemed like he – and almost all of the other finalists - did. What a fun finals night! Augsburg had the team title locked up going into the Saturday night session so the matches became entirely about the individuals up on the big stage – and boy did they go for it.

Brennan Ward, the 184 pounder from Johnson and Wales, made it into the finals with the “big move” – a headlock throw and pin of Coe’s top-seeded, Tyler Burkle, and a last second cement mixer-type move to pin Gabe Youel from Elmhurst. Trailing in last night’s match with Concordia’s Phil Moenkedick he tried the big move again and put Moenkedick on his back. It wasn’t enough – Moenkedick scored a reversal and went on to win 7-4.

I had the opportunity to meet Byron Tate’s dad earlier in the season at Cornell College’s Matman Invitational Tournament. He’s a big man – but he gets just as nervous about his son’s wrestling as every parent. I can only imagine what he was experiencing last night as Byron – a sophomore at Wartburg – climbed the steps for his 197 pound championship bout with Ryan Malo of Williams. Both athletes pressed the action and ultimately Tate won 8-5.

Prior to last night, Luke Miller from Ohio Northern and Heidelberg’s Zach Mizer had battled five times in their college careers. When wrestlers know each other that well matches frequently become snooze fests. Not these two guys. Miller triumphed 7-6.

There are those who called last year’s 174 pound final boring. Maybe. There was much more scoring in the 2010 edition and Michael Schmitz from UW La Crosse defeated Dubuque’s Evan Brown 5-2.

Okay – so the action wasn’t hot and heavy at heavy. But there’s this - Dan Laurent has never come to the National Championships as the top seed, but last night he got his hand raised at the end of the championship bout for the third consecutive time. It was UW La Crosse’s third individual title of the tournament.

Minga Batsukh from St Johns came into the tournament as the top seed at 141 pounds and almost fell in the first round. Ryan Bridge of the Stevens Institute of Technology built an early 7-1 lead, but Batsukh came storming back to win that match 16-12. Last evening he put on another offensive show to top Ithaca’s Jeremy Stierly 10-4.

Most Division III wrestlers compete in relative obscurity. Sometimes that leads to a “surprise” performance at the national championships. This year there were two. Isaac Dukes from Case Western Reserve was the fifth seed at 149 pounds, but I’m willing to bet that few in the US Cellular Center were familiar with him. His march to the finals included an action-packed 18-11 victory over fourth-seeded Matt Mauseth from UW La Crosse in the quarter finals and a bizarre overtime pin of Ithaca’s number one, Blaine Woszczak in the semis. He took it to Augsburg’s Tony Valek in the finals and came away an 8-4 winner.

I overheard someone ask, “Where the heck is the Merchant Marine Academy?” after Cedar Falls, IA native Dan Twito knocked off Cornell’s Nicholas Loughlin in the quarter finals. There might be two answers – Kings Point, New York and “on the wrestling map”. Coach Dan Ilaria has a young team that finished 11th in this year’s tournament – led by their first-ever NCAA wrestling champion, Vincent Renault at 165 pounds. A flurry of late action led to Renault’s upset win over Augsburg’s Orlando Ponce 7-3. I had the good fortune to be near Vincent as he walked off the podium and he wins this year’s award for “widest grin.”

Complete strangers were turning to each other as they left the US Cellular Center and saying things like, “Wasn’t that 133 pound match something?!” I don’t know if he attended the finals, but Randy Lewis was in the crowd Friday and yesterday morning. Bebeto Yewah from UW La Crosse and Augsburg’s Paul Bjorkstrand put on an offensive exhibition that would have made Randy proud. It was already 6-5 at the end of the first period and Yewah went on to a 14-9 win.

Oh – and Clayton Rush – he forced the action to defeat Tyler Erdman of Elizabethtown to win the second individual championship in Coe’s history. It’s always good to listen to your mother.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What's that on your sleeve?

Wrestling fans wear their emotions on their sleeves. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know how they’re feeling. Last night’s NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships quarterfinal and All-American rounds – and afterwards – were no different.

Those kids from Luther – the student cheering session, that is- are shall we say – boisterous? They’re proud of their school and proud of their team. It goes even beyond the US Cellular Center. They were out en masse at the Crowne Plaza Thursday night when Luther coach Dave Mitchell was inducted into the Division III Wrestling Hall of Fame.

I’ve not noticed it in past years, so it may be a tradition, but the University of Dubuque fans celebrate every individual win with a victory lap around the arena. One fan carries a placard-sized photo of the victorious wrestler and another carries a hand-drawn poster with his name and some words of encouragement and the two of them jog around the concourse.

Have you ever heard the air rush out of a blown tire? That was the sound from the Coe delegation when Brennan Ward from Johnson and Wales hit a headlock and pinned the Kohawks’ top seeded Tyler Burkle at 184. Somber would be the word to describe them as they left the Cellular Center.

That sound you hear from the northwest corner is the Augsburg freight train. In years past Auggie fans have become known for the creativity of their cheers. This year is pretty basic – cheer loudly while your wrestler is in action and then jump up and roar when he gets his hand raised. No coach will ever say he has things well in hand, but coach Mark Matzek’s charges have so far done everything needed to win this championship.

But – speaking of trains – last night I stood next to a group of UW La Crosse fans at the Cedar Rapids Marriott and they sounded like “The Little Engine That Could” – playing out hypothetical scenarios and adding up points and figuring out just how they could get over the hill and pass Augsburg. So far coach Dave Malacek’s wrestlers have come through. Don’t worry – the fans will let you know how they’re doing.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A topsey turvey first morning

There are two things I’ve come to expect during the opening session of Division III Nationals – upsets and raucous crowds. This morning did not disappoint.

At the close of the morning session Coe College is in the lead on the basis of bonus points (3 falls and 2 majors) and two extra matches – consolation pigtails. Augsburg may be tied for second with Wartburg, but you’d have to consider them in the driver’s seat with all nine of their wrestlers advancing to the quarter finals. Right now their fans appear also to be leading the volume contest.

Two first seeds and two second seeds dropped into the consolations. Top-seeded Josh Terrell from University of Dubuque was pinned by Justin Barowski of Delaware Valley and number one ranked heavyweight, Mark Corsello of Elmhurst, was knocked into wrestlebacks by Jon Schmidt of UW Whitewater. Lloyd McKinney of UW La Crosse topped Wartburg’s number 2 seed, Mark Kist, in an exciting match that saw both wrestlers press the action. Cornell’s second-seeded Nicholas Loughlin fell to Iowa native Dan Twito of the Merchant Marine Academy.

I’ve also gotten accustomed to seeing friends at “DIIIs” – and occasionally having to root against them. Dee Pollard’s son, Joe, is an assistant coach at The College of New Jersey. Dee comes to Nationals every year to support her son’s team and we have become friends. This morning the Lions’ heavyweight, Ed Broderick, was matched up against Coe’s Mitch Sander. Sander won and I watched from afar as Dee suffered through the loss.

Gordon Flam was a faceless “friend” out there in the Ethernet until last year. He started reading my blog on myspace and we’ve swapped a lot of messages over the past few years. I met “Gordy” last year when he came to Cedar Rapids to cheer on his nephew, Matt Baarson of St John’s and came to my fan reception. Matt won this morning and will face Coe’s third-seeded Nick LeClere in tonight’s quarter finals. I’m afraid that I’ll be pulling for LeClere.

The first two head-to-head matchups among the three top team contenders will be tonight at 165 where Wartburg’s second-seeded, Carrington Banks takes on #7 Orlando Ponce of Augsburg and at 174 when Augsburg’s two seed, Zach Molitor, faces Coe’s Seth Rehn.

The Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors rolled out beautiful, sunny, mid-forties weather for the fans. The coaches and wrestlers did their parts to make this a beautiful day by giving us a lot of action and excitement.

On being a fan

I’m just a fan. However it came to happen – I love wrestling. The only wrestling I ever did was in junior high school intramurals. Then I went to watch Dan Gable wrestle in Ames and it started – my love affair with this sport.

Debbie Connell has been my friend for 40 years. I worked my way through Saint Ambrose College at a Dairy Queen in Davenport and Connell was one of my co-workers. If you’re ever in Carver Hawkeye Arena for a wrestling meet and the Hawkeyes come running out of the tunnel – look to the middle of the first row just above the tunnel and you’ll see Debbie and her sister Jodie. They’ve been season ticket holders longer than I have.

Debbie and I were reminiscing before the Iowa/Northwestern meet and she brought back a long forgotten moment. “Do you remember the time you and Mr. Simmons (one of our regular DQ customers) stood outside and talked about Gable after the ’72 Olympics? I can remember you guys talking for maybe half-an-hour.” Unlike today, when you have to get up at 2:00 AM to watch Olympic wrestling on the internet, we got to see Gable’s march to the gold on ABC. We got to hear Frank Gifford describe him as “the most dedicated athlete I’ve ever seen.”

Last night my name became officially linked with Dan Gable’s and I couldn’t be prouder – or more humbled. The National Wrestling Coaches Association presented me with the Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling” Award at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The plaque calls me “Ambassador for the Sport”. But folks, I’m just a fan. I started writing this blog in July, 2007 just because I wanted some place to talk about wrestling as fans do. The luckiest result has been that I have got to meet some wonderful people who work hard for this great sport.

Dick Simmons might be one of the hardest working people that the general wrestling public knows little about. The assistant athletic director at Cornell College, Dick has been the tournament director of the NCAA Division III Championships for the past three years. Whenever something needs to be done, he jumps in. At the 2008 DIII Championships, Dick was the guy who swept the mat before the finals. At the recent USA vs. Russia freestyle dual at Cornell, Dick saved the evening when the sound system failed during the playing of the Russian national anthem. While the crowd waited anxiously, he fixed the system and embarrassment was averted. When I needed help with Tickets for Kids, Dick was one of the first in line. Last night the NWCA honored Dick for his last three years’ of service to this event. He took his plaque, thanked the NWCA, shook hands with his Cornell associates and went back downstairs to finish preparations for the beginning of today’s wrestling.

When Mike Moyer calls you on the phone and says, “God told me to call you”, you know that there’s work to be done. I’ve received that call a couple of times. Last night I finally got to meet Mike, the executive director of the NWCA, in person. Life can be unfair. Whenever a college wrestling program gets dropped there are those who choose to malign Mike and his staff at. Unfortunately, they get little acknowledgment when new programs are added – and here’s the heartening truth – more wrestling teams have been added in recent years than have been lost. Thank you Mike, Pat (Tocci) and Tammy (Tedesco) for your tireless work.

If you’ve been around the sport for any time you know Jason Bryant and have read his articles and blogs and heard him talk on the radio or do match play-by-play on the internet. Jason is dauntless in his efforts to give wrestling better coverage and more exposure. He’s here in Cedar Rapids for the “DIIIs” and he and his broadcast partner, Kyle Klingman of the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum, will provide live streaming of the finals Saturday night. Then its off to Omaha where they will “live stream” the entire Division II tournament and then the opening round of the “Big Dance” – the NCAA Division I Championships – and somewhere in there Jason has a wedding to plan.

When I started the blog I often didn’t know from one week to the next what the subject might be (that’s probably still more true than I care to admit). Somewhere along the line I encountered Danielle Hobeika. Wrestler, photographer and web designer, Danielle seemed a fascinating subject and she graciously agreed to be my first interview. Whenever anyone in the wrestling world needs a website quickly - from Save Oregon Wrestling to Cal State Bakersfield to Adam Frey – Danielle gets the job done.

At the time of the interview with Danielle she was on the staff at Beat the Streets and suggested that I interview Al Bevilacqua and write about BTS. Al’s passion is to make wrestling an urban sport. There are millions of kids in our largest cities who have few – if any – opportunities to wrestle. Al would like to see everyone of them – regardless of gender – on the mat.

More than any other person, it was Al who motivated me to get off my butt and try to do something. He was my role model when I developed Tickets for Kids and has been wonderfully supportive. Hundreds of kids will get to watch college wrestling tomorrow morning because Al Bevilacqua convinced me that a fan just might be able to have some kind of impact on the future of the sport.

Then there’s Gable. I had been introduced to Dan briefly about 17 years ago – just another one of thousands of fans he has met over the years. Four weeks ago today I got to be on the same program with him as the museum that bears his name honored Barron Bremner. Everyone knows Gable, but I’m not sure that everyone appreciates how passionately he works for the growth of wrestling. There’s a look in his eye when he talks about the future of the sport that inspires you to do whatever you can.

I’m just a fan – but then maybe so are you. What are you doing for wrestling today?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Promises kept

“Round up the usual suspects.” Casablanca is one of my favorite movies and Claude Rains speaks that line both at the beginning and the end of the movie.

The Tickets for Kids project is winding down and I’m hoping that some youngsters are excited about attending this Saturday’s morning session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships here in Cedar Rapids. I have received enough donations to buy over 600 tickets and have sent out over 400 so far. I’m still working to find enough groups that want to come and watch some exciting wrestling action.

So many people have been amazingly kind.

Chuck Yrigoyen, the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, acted as the point man in getting NCAA approval. Cornell College athletic director, John Cochrane, assistant AD, Dick Simmons, and head coach, Mike Duroe have been incredibly supportive – as have Cornell alumni and fans. I’m guessing that some of the latter got tired of seeing me standing outside the men’s restroom asking them for money.

KJ Pilcher published an article about Tickets for Kids in the Cedar Rapids Gazette that revitalized the effort. Contributions had stalled, but when the article came out on Christmas Eve a rash of new donations came in. Thanks, KJ.

Corporate donors are key to the success of any fundraising effort and I’ve been blessed. The Cedar Rapids Marriott has been very generous, giving $2,000. If you’re staying at the Marriott this weekend for the DIII Championships, please look up the GM, Fred Jones, and thank him for supporting wrestling.

Terrostar, a web development company, and Medix Dental, a computer solutions provider to dental offices, made the very first pledges. Both are located in Davenport, IA and both are owned by Tom Terronez, a former high school wrestler.

Two printing companies in Hiawatha, IA – The Fisher Group and J & A Printing also got on board early. Each company believes strongly in supporting our community. Thank you, Jeff Donald at The Fisher Group and Scott Cadwallader at J & A.

The Ad Group, an advertising agency in Davenport, has been a client of mine for ten years. Over that time the principal owner, Mike Vondran, has become a good friend. Mike lost his 13-year-old son, Hunter, in a tragic accident a few years ago. The Ad Group donated in Hunter’s honor. Incidentally, Mike and his wife, Brenda, started the HAVlife Foundation in Hunter’s memory. So far they have given over $30,000 to middle school music and athletic programs.

Business Information Technologies in Edina, MN contributed. I’m glad that we have a youth wrestling club from Minnesota coming down as a way to say thanks to Rick Byers at BIT.

Then there are those “usual subjects” from the wrestling community. I have chosen to keep all of the private donors anonymous, but you know who they are. Go see who has supported Living the Dream, Wrestling 411, or any of the Save My College’s Wrestling Team sites and you’ll see the same names repeatedly. A lot of them sent me checks.

Special mention should be made of the posters on Hawkeye Insider. It may not be the most visited of Hawkeye wrestling fan sites, but its members are a close knit group. I got by far the most support from you folks at Hawkeye Insider than from any other site. Thank you.

To all of you – this was your effort. When those kids start filing in Saturday morning, it’s because of you. They can’t thank you so I will. Bless you all.