Monday, May 17, 2010

The legacy of the Cedar Valley

I suppose it started with Finn Eriksen 77 years ago. That’s the year that Eriksen led New Hampton to a share of the Iowa high school wrestling championship. Since that title in 1933 the Cedar Valley – Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Waverly, Gilbertville, New Hampton and a dozen other small Iowa towns - has influenced American wrestling at all levels.

Take Finn Eriksen for example. It wasn’t just that he started the most storied program in Iowa high school history – Waterloo West. Eriksen, a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, introduced practices that we now take for granted – like summer camps and coaching clinics.

Since those days in the 1930’s wrestling rooms in the Cedar Valley have produced future NCAA championship athletes and coaches, Olympic medallists, some of the sport’s preeminent officials and enough Distinguished Members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame that maybe they ought to have their own wing.

In 1943 Roy Jarrard took over for Eriksen at Waterloo West and led the the Wahawks to three consecutive Iowa high school team championships. Those three teams featured three athletes who won 7 individual state titles and had a runner-up finish. As college freshmen those three – Dick Hauser, Lowell Lange and Leo Thomsen – helped carry Cornell College to the 1947 NCAA and AAU team championships.

Iowa State Teachers College finished second to Cornell in 1947. In fact, Coach Dave McCuskey’s ISTC teams were national powers from 1946 to 1953, winning the NCAA team title in 1950. Olympic champion Bill Smith and silver medallist Gerry Leeman and three-time NCAA champions Bill Koll, Bill Nelson and Keith Young all wrestled in Cedar Falls for McCuskey.

Bob Siddens also wrestled on those teams. His career record as the wrestling coach at Waterloo West was 327-26. His wrestlers would go one to win multiple Big 8, Big 10 and NCAA titles. He coached two 2X NCAA champs who would help their universities win national team titles – Dale Anderson at Michigan State in 1967 and Dan Gable in 1969 and ’70.

It’s impossible to mention everyone – UNI graduate Jim Miller who has so far led Wartburg College to seven NCAA Division III team championships, NCAA champions like Joe Gibbons and Chuck Yagla from Waterloo Columbus and Daryl Weber from Gilbertville Don Bosco and Hall of Fame official Mike Allen from Waterloo East and UNI are just some. Even the sport’s most prolific writer (and founder of the Hodge Trophy) – Mike Chapman - hales from Waterloo.

Then there’s Gable. His career as athlete, coach and ambassador is unrivaled.

As of last Thursday there’s a new player in the Cedar Valley. Doug Schwab was announced as the new head wrestling coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Schwab, a native of Osage, IA and former NCAA champion has been an assistant at the University of Iowa for the past four seasons and has been instrumental in the Hawkeyes’ last three NCAA title runs. He takes over a program that had, perhaps, lost sight of its legacy.

Doug mentioned both that legacy and the Cedar Valley during his press conference. The three 2010 Iowa high school team champions are Cedar Valley schools, Waverly-Shell Rock in AAA, Denver-Tripoli in AA and Gilbertville Don Bosco in A and Schwab inherits a recruiting class that includes two young men from Don Bosco and one from Denver-Tripoli.

I’ve long been a Doug Schwab fan. Yes, he won an NCAA championship in 1999, but it was his performance in Saint Louis in 2000 that most of us remember. Upset in the quarterfinals by #8 seed Carl Perry, Doug piled up bonus points in the consolation bracket that were invaluable to the Hawkeyes in a very close team race. If you’ve watched wrestling for any length of time you’ve seen it more than once – the favorite gets knocked off and then is unable to compose himself and give his best in wrestlebacks. Not Doug Schwab – he sucked it up and went out and beat the living snot out of people to come back and finish third.

That’s the level of determination he will need to turn around a program that finished 40th at the NCAA tournament six weeks ago. I suspect that he won’t settle for respectability. In fact, in his press conference he said he wants to “win it all”. You’d be disappointed if he said anything else, but I think he means it.

Good luck, Doug, and may you add an exciting new chapter to the story of Cedar Valley wrestling.


Riot Sports Marketing said...

Impressive list of legends for Cedar Valley! I'm PA proud and from Pittsburgh- a long list of legends comes from this area as well.

Jim Brown said...


I think that if someone really studied it we'd find that there are a half dozen pockets in the country that have built American wrestling as we know it.

Would you like to contribute a "guest blog" about the Pittsburgh area?

Jim Brown