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.

No comments: