Monday, June 28, 2010

Three years and counting

I am astonished that you are reading this. This week marks the third anniversary of The View from Section GG and I still can’t believe that anyone reads it. I have no special knowledge or “inside information”. I can’t tell you how to execute a good ankle pick – but I know one when I see one. I just love this sport and the blog gives me a chance to write about it from a fan’s perspective. There seems to be a prevailing belief that only ex-wrestlers and their families can appreciate wrestling. Not so.

This adventure has so far led me down paths I never imagined were possible. The last 12 months have been both hectic and exciting. I started working on Tickets for Kids just about a year ago. The idea was pretty simple – the more kids that are exposed to the excitement of the higher levels of wrestling, the more of them will try or continue on in the sport. Through your generosity we were able to raise enough money to send 600 youngsters to the Saturday morning session of the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships.

As in all such endeavors, you can’t do it alone. KJ Pilcher from the Cedar Rapids Gazette wrote an article about the project and donations got an immediate boost. Cornell College athletic director John Cochrane, assistant AD Dick Simmons and head coach Mike Duroe were extremely helpful. (Incidentally, Dick Simmons is one of the hardest working men in wrestling that you may not have heard of – serving the last three years as tournament director of the DIII Championships). Iowa Conference Commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen and Anthony Holman from the NCAA helped cut through the red tape. Fred Jones from the Cedar Rapids Marriott made our largest donation - $2,000. Dozens of fans from all over the country also contributed.

Oh – the people I’ve met in the last year – including two Olympic gold medallists. I sat behind Bill Smith and his family at the University of Northern Iowa homecoming football game. Earlier in the day he and the rest of the 1950 Iowa State Teachers College NCAA championship team had been inducted into the UNI Hall of Fame. I spent the entire first half of the game mentally rehearsing how I would introduce myself to him at half time. Somehow I managed to pull it off without sounding like the goober fan that I tend to be. I wasn’t quite so erudite when Kyle Klingman from the Dan Gable International Wrestling institute and Museum (now the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum) unexpectedly introduced me to Ed Banach. I think I said something witty like, “ooba gubba hum”.

Speaking of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame – I finally actually met its executive director, Lee Roy Smith, at National Duals. Lee Roy has supported this blog from almost the beginning and I’m not sure that I would still be doing it if not for his early encouragement.

National Duals also gave me the chance to meet a couple of guys who are passionate about their teams and this wonderful sport. Steve Hayleck has been fighting in the trenches for Title IX reform for years. Steve is a former Maryland wrestler and tireless worker for the Terrapin wrestling program. He writes so seriously about Title IX that when I met him I was surprised by his quirky sense of humor. I’ll also never forget how graciously he allowed me to butcher his last name for two days.

Dr. Tim Drehmer came to Cedar Falls to support his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. While there he also did yeoman’s duty at the Adam Frey memorial table. I enjoyed meeting him and will always be thankful for his efforts.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Tim Dennis (father of NCAA finalist, Daniel) for his time helping with the Adam Frey table.

I got to spend some time with Lloyd Corwin one night in March. In one of life’s strange twists, I actually met Lloyd over 25 years ago in a business setting. He was a two-time Division I All-American for Cornell College in the ‘50s and only ever lost three college matches. His victories included one over future Olympic champion and Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame, Doug Blubaugh. Lloyd is a charming gentleman with an infectious laugh and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him.

I would be falsely modest if I didn’t admit that two of my proudest moments came this year at the NCAA Division III Championships. I was selected to be a marshal for the Parade of Champions on the evening of the finals. It was thrilling to be surrounded by the past, present and future of the sport.

The Thursday night before the championships, I was awarded The National Wrestling Coaches Association Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling” Award. To have my name associated with Gable’s in any way is incredibly humbling. I will treasure that moment forever.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last three years. We fans don’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch this sport be assaulted by outside influences. In fact – we owe it to the future of wrestling to get off of our butts and work for its salvation. There are countless opportunities to help – from getting more kids on the mat to fighting for your favorite college program to supporting our Olympic athletes. Pick one and join the battle. If a short, fat, balding 60 year-old fan in Cedar Rapids, Iowa can do it – so can you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Still battling

It’s raining this morning. It rained yesterday – and Saturday – and Thursday. Just like it did two years ago. There’s one major difference. In 2008, by the time it stopped raining the Cedar River had risen enough to do hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and displace thousands of our friends and neighbors.

If you hear the names Andrew or Ike or Katrina images of devastation come to mind. Floods don’t get the same response. If they weren’t effected directly, many people tend to forget. Some even actually start to resent flood victims over time. And when national “commentator”, Glen Beck, calls one of our flood recovery projects a “big waste of tax money” on television – I can’t contain my anger.

My young friend, Terrance, whose family lost everything in the flood (including all of his wrestling memorabilia) has been living at the Iowa Braille School the last year and a half. The rest of his family is still in temporary housing. Many business owners have given up or relocated. We’re still millions of dollars and many years away from a full recovery.

So what does this have to do with wrestling? Well – we’re still fighting to get off our backs – and wrestling has been helping.

Coe College wrestler, Clayton Rush – himself a flood victim – helped replace some of Terrance’s wrestling memorabilia. I guess that’s why it was extra special for me to watch Clayton win an NCAA Division III title.

Taylor School was nearly destroyed by the flood – in fact it was initially announced that the school would not reopen. The neighborhood rose up and fought to save its school and students returned last September. Through the generosity of dozens of members of the national wrestling community over 30 families from Taylor got to attend a session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Another 20 or more flood victim kids from other schools also got to go.

The Division III Championships were held in Cedar Rapids from 2007 – 2010 and many of us have come to love DIII fans. Their simple acts of attending the tournament and staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants and shopping at our stores have furthered the recovery. But above and beyond that I’ve heard of acts of generosity from fans while they were here.

“DIIIs” are moving to La Crosse next year and I wish them all the success in the world. Here in Cedar Rapids we’re looking forward to welcoming a new group of wrestling fans as we host the 2011 NAIA Championships next March. This is my first official invitation to all of you wrestling fans to come to our fair city, enjoy our hospitality and watch some exciting wrestling. I ask just one thing – when that hotel bartender serves you or a store clerk hands you your change – please remember that it’s possible that in 2008 she and her family lost everything.