Monday, August 30, 2010

Women, wrestling and me

Many of you know this. Nine months after we started dating my, now wife, gave us Iowa wrestling season tickets as a Christmas present. It took me a little while, but I finally came to my senses and asked her to marry me. Thankfully, she said, “yes”. This coming Saturday is our wedding anniversary.

When you hang around wrestling you hear a lot of macho guy stuff, but – some of the most interesting people I’ve met in wrestling are women.

The first 15 years that we had seats GG, 12, 1 & 2; Gretchen Goodwin sat next to my wife. When we got those seats she and her husband, Don, had already been ensconced in seats 3 & 4 for a while. Over the years we became friends and attended Big Tens in Wisconsin and Nationals in Ames together. Gretchen loved Royce Alger and swooned every time he entered the arena – as an athlete or as a coach. Sadly, a few years ago Don contracted a rare congenital liver disease and passed away after a long, painful battle. We’ve not seen Gretchen since then and I now have their old seats. I think of them every time I give those seats away.

Debbie Connell has been my good friend for 40 years and she’s been a Hawkeye wrestling season ticket holder since the Field House days. If you’ve ever attended a meet in Carver Hawkeye Arena, you’ve probably seen her. When the Hawks run out of the tunnel look in the middle of the first row just above the tunnel and the woman you see is either Deb or her sister Jody. Debbie worked with me at the Dairy Queen the Sunday morning when the state of Iowa was crushed by the Des Moines Register headline, “Gable Fails”.

When I started this blog I really had no clue about what I should write after the first couple of editions. Then, Danielle Hobeika agreed to an interview. Danielle is one of the most fascinating people around the sport. A Harvard psychology grad, Danielle wrestled in the room on the Crimson team and became a top level freestyle wrestler. She is the goddess of wrestling websites and one of the sport’s best photographers. You know that photo you love with Brent Metcalf and Bubba Jenkins “on their heads” – that’s Danielle’s. She’s still doing the photography and web development, but is now also an MMA fighter.

Sandy Stevens taught my wife as a substitute English teacher at Cedar Rapids Kennedy more than a couple of years ago. If you don’t know the name, you surely know the voice. She has been the voice of Fargo, DI Nationals, the California high school championships and the Olympics. I first met Sandy in person the night before she was announcing the Division III Championships in Cedar Rapids – her home town. I’ve met very, very few people as passionate about wrestling as Sandy.

Maggie Hendricks had been an online “friend” for at least three years when she introduced herself to me at National Duals last year. Maggie was a manager for the Missouri Tiger wrestling team and loves to write about wrestling, football and MMA. Her blog in memory of her grandfather, who taught the whole family to box, is still one of the best online pieces I’ve ever read. “Thumbs up, pointed to God” is a phrase I’ll remember the rest of my life.

One day before I met Maggie, I also met Tammy Tedesco from the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Among her many duties, Tammy is the tournament director for National Duals. This upcoming season she is planning to engage wrestling in the “Coaches Against Cancer” campaign. Please stay tuned for further details.

I met Dee Pollard in a bar in 2008. The mother of TCNJ assistant coach, Joe Pollard, she was sitting at the bar as I was hosting my first Division III Championships fan reception. We struck up a conversation and have become good friends and have met after every session of the past three NCAA DIII Championships. Every Saturday night after finals Joe has joined us. Last March the three of us made our plans to meet in La Crosse next spring. Yes – my wife and Dee’s husband know about this. After all – it’s all about the wrestling. (As an aside – one of my happiest moments as a marshal at the DIII Championships was handing one of Joe’s wrestlers his All-American trophy.)

I still haven’t yet met Julia Labua face-to-face. She’s all over the wrestling internet with at least 3 online identities and her posts are among the most intelligent you’ll ever see. Last winter she pulled off her own wrestling promotion coup when she emailed the entire staff at her place of employment, offering them free tickets, hot dogs and sodas for a Hawkeye dual meet. Eleven co-workers took her up on the offer and attended their first ever wrestling meet. When one of her friends asked about one of the finer points of wrestling Julia responded, in part, with a phrase that has become popular on the internet, “There will be answers. They may not be right answers, but there will be answers.”

There are many adjectives that would describe Gail Rush. “Dynamic” is at the top of my list. Since the flood of 2008 she has responded to several of my requests to help wrestlers and wrestling. In those years I’ve heard from several people that she and her husband, Rick, have done that for years. This past week her efforts led to the Coe College Kohawk wrestling fans taking the lead in the Tickets for Kids fan challenge.

But - it still comes back to my darling wife. I don’t know how it happened, but I won the marriage lottery. If I’d never met her there would probably be no season tickets, no blog and no Tickets for Kids. Thank you dear. I love you and may we grow old watching wrestling together. Happy anniversary.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's too comfortable on the sidelines

Long time blog readers know that it is named after where I have watched much of the wrestling I’ve seen over the past 20+ years – Section GG, Row 12, Seats 1 & 2 in Carver Hawkeye Arena. When I started the blog it was meant to reflect the opinions of a fan sitting on the sidelines. Other than middle school intramurals, I never wrestled. Neither my brothers nor my daughters, nor any other member of my family wrestled. I have no official ties to wrestling in any way. I AM JUST A FAN.

The past few years it’s been hard sitting on the sidelines and watching what is happening to this great sport we all love, so a couple of years ago I started to act. My thoughts at the time were, “It might be meaningless, but let’s see if one fan can have any impact at all.” I started small and bought a few tickets to the NWCA All Star Classic when it was in Oregon. I sent them off to Rick Stewart and asked him to find some kids out there to give them to.

Later that season I stretched a little and bought 20 – 30 tickets for every Hawkeye home dual meet and gave them away to kid’s wrestling clubs or middle school teams. My logic was fairly simple – kids need idols. If I could get youngsters just starting in the sport to see the best college wrestlers in America, perhaps they would see something that would cause them to hang with it.

Last year I launched Tickets for Kids. My goal was to raise enough money to send 1,000 kids to a morning session of the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships in Cedar Rapids. I didn’t make my goal, but, thanks to many of you, over 600 kids got to see some very exciting college wrestling. I’ve heard from coaches and kids since then and I think we, in some small part, accomplished what we’d hoped for.

I own and operate a small business and after last spring I wondered if I should continue with Tickets for Kids. I sent out surveys to some of the larger donors and asked them if they would continue to support the effort. Most said they would. But still, I couldn’t decide. It’s more work than I had imagined.

Then last Thursday, Eric Betterman, the co-founder of, threw out a challenge – “Let’s make it a goal to sell out every single (Division I) dual meet in the nation.” He pointed out that we didn’t actually need to attend if that was physically impossible – just buy them. I drew upon my experience and followed that with a challenge of my own, “Which fans of which school could raise enough money to buy enough tickets to send at least 20 kids to a dual meet at their favorite school first?” Then I called upon Hawkeye fans to bail my butt out after shooting off my mouth. They did. In three days I received enough pledges to send over 160 kids to Hawkeye dual meets. One Nebraska fan committed to sending 20 youngsters to a Cornhusker meet – and no one else responded. Apparently, they all prefer to sit on the sidelines as the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” is assaulted from multiple directions.

That flurry of activity answered the question – Tickets for Kids must continue.

Every survey respondent asked that we expand the scope – that we offer a greater variety of wrestling events for kids to attend. We’re doing that. Donations will be used to provide tickets for the NWCA National Duals, the Division III Championships in La Crosse, the NAIA Championships in Cedar Rapids and any college dual meet you select. If you have another event you wish to support email me.

I’m going to run two campaigns, the “Preseason Fan Challenge” and the “Championship Run”. The Preseason Fan Challenge starts today and runs to November 30. The basic premise is simple: which school’s fans will best support wrestling by sending kids to wrestling events. We’ll have five divisions and crown both divisional and an overall champion.

NCAA Division I
NCAA Division II
NCAA Division III

I still don’t have PayPal and can’t take credit card donations, but we’re working on it Please make your check to “Tickets for Kids” and send it to

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936

or email a pledge to me at and I’ll send you a reminder as we get closer to the season (which can’t get here soon enough).

Please include the name of the school you want your donation credited to and the event you want to support. If you want to support an endangered program like Cal State Fullerton, but you are a Minnesota fan – I’ll credit your donation to the Gophers, but send tickets to some California kids who can attend a Titan dual meet. Once the tickets have been distributed I will send each donor a copy of the ticket purchase receipt and the name of the club leader or coach whose kids got the tickets.

In the interest of fairness, the Hawkeye and Cornhusker fans will start even with everyone else.

If you like the concept and want to join in the challenge – but don’t want to do it through Tickets for Kids – you can. Buy enough tickets to send at least 20 kids to an event, send me a copy of the ticket purchase receipt and the name of the club leader or coach whose kids got the tickets and I’ll credit your school with the donation.

Reminder: NCAA rules will not allow you to give tickets to high school wrestlers so focus on the elementary and middle schoolers.
If you really want your school to win, you’re going to have to get off of the sidelines. Email your friends and alumni and the people that sit next to you at wrestling meets. Post a link to this blog on your favorite team’s sites. Rally your fans on facebook. Let’s send 10,000 kids from all over the country to college wrestling events.

Here’s the real challenge. I’m almost certain that Hawkeye fans will win this in a cake walk. Which one of you is going to get mad enough to prove me wrong?

Or – you can remain on the sidelines and do nothing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Still living the dream

Shawn Johnson, Michael Phelps and Shaun White are all millionaires. Mike Zadick, Dremiel Byers and Kristie Davis are not. All six have worked tirelessly to be the best America has to offer in their respective sports and all have won medals in world championship competition. There’s really only one difference – Johnson, Phelps and White excel at sports embraced by the American television viewing public. Zadick, Byers and Davis wrestle.

No American wrestling in the three international styles is doing so to get rich. They are driven by the competition – by the quest for excellence. To be able to continue their careers they become assistant collegiate coaches, run camps or take on other jobs. The best of the best receive small stipends from USA Wrestling. For many of our wrestlers the lure of potential big earnings in the Mixed Martial Arts octagon is too great and they forego world level freestyle and Greco Roman careers.

Last year USA Wrestling and a small group of wrestling’s biggest supporters – people like Michael Novogratz, Dave Barry, Art Martori and Al Bevilacqua – created the Living the Dream Fund. The concept behind the fund is simple – it’s only right that we financially reward these hard working athletes for success on the world and Olympic stage. Under the plan, world champions will receive a check for $50,000. Silver medallists earn $25,000 and bronze winners receive $15,000. The stakes are higher in the London Olympics in 2012, where a Gold Medal will be worth $250,000, a silver will bring $50,000 and a bronze $25,000. In the program’s first year freestylers Jake Herbert and Tervel Dlagnev, and Greco Roman wrestler, Dremiel Byers, all received checks from the Living the Dream Fund.

It’s wrestling supporting wrestling. We’re not waiting for help from the government or anyone else – you and I and our friends in the wrestling community are doing it. Olympic heroes like Gable, Smith, Sanderson and Baumgartner have donated to the fund. Coaches, wrestlers, wrestling business owners, wrestling media and – yes - you “nameless” denizens of the internet have given to the fund. We’ve made progress, but there is much more to do.

This Friday, August 20th you’ll have the chance to join an elite group – those who step up and act to support the “world’s oldest and greatest sport”. The leaders of the Living the Dream Fund will be holding an online telethon and benefit. You’ll be able to call in your pledges or bid on several auction items including 2 tickets to that big football game in Dallas next February whose name I can’t mention without fear of lawsuit (hint – it will have XLV after the name). Air fare and hotel room are included in that package. The telethon will run from 7:00 to 9:00 PM Mountain Time and will originate from the USOC in Colorado Springs. You can watch on either or

Special guest will be former University of Missouri All-American wrestler, Greg Warren. Greg is one of the funniest stand up comedians working today and several of his routines feature his days as a Tiger wrestler and being the son of a high school wrestling coach. If you’ve never seen Greg, be prepared to laugh.

If for some reason you have to miss the webcast, just go right now to the Living the Dream site and make your contribution.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wrestling as wampeter

My wife and I attended her high school reunion Friday night. Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School opened in 1967 and my wife graduated in 1969. For the last two reunion cycles the classes of ’69 and ’70 have held a joint function.

The first recognizable face I saw was that of one of America’s great bartenders, Lenny Park. Because of his hotel’s clientele, Lenny is literally known world wide. He has an amazing ability to remember the names and favorite drinks of customers from Australia, Germany and the U.K. Lenny was also on Kennedy’s first wrestling team.

If you’ve been to many reunions, you know the pattern – one group of lost friends circles up and one set of conversations breaks out. Then you move to another group and a whole new set of topics emerges. At the third such “huddle” Friday night one of my wife’s classmates said this (having never met me), “I went to the wrestling championships in Omaha with some friends (the McDonoughs) and do you know who the announcer was – Sandy Stevens!”

Almost everyone in the group had Sandy as a teacher in their days at Kennedy and were all very interested to hear about her. Sandy’s husband, Bear, was Kennedy’s first wrestling coach and Sandy got her start announcing at a Cougar meet.

I looked for, but never did find, Mary Lee Malmberg, who was also a member of the Class of ’69. Five years ago Mary Lee wowed the crowd with her karaoke performances.

One of my favorite literary inventions is Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of “karass” which he created as a plot device in Cat’s Cradle . A karass is a group of people who are, often unknowingly, working jointly toward a central cause – called a wampeter. I have lived the last 35 years believing in both concepts, and often wondering who else might be in my karass.

Every karass actually has two wampeters – one that is waning and one that is waxing. I suspect that Lenny, Sandy, my wife and Mary Lee are all in the same karass and that for 40 years I have also been a member and just didn’t know it. Our fading wampeter might be the establishment of a new school. What role I play in that is unknown – but that’s one beauty of the concept – not all mysteries are solvable.

I’m certain of the nature of our rising wampeter – it’s wrestling.

I have had more wrestling discussions with Lenny than with any other human. He has also financially supported several wrestling causes including Pledges for Pins and Tickets for Kids. Give the slightest hint of an interest in wrestling when you are sitting at his bar and Lenny will invariably steer the conversation in that direction.

If you’ve been around any level of wrestling at all, you probably recognize Sandy Stevens’ voice. She’s announced everything from Corn Cob Nationals to the Olympic Games. But that’s just scratching the surface of everything Sandy does for wrestling. In 1998 The National Wrestling Hall of Fame awarded Sandy the Order of Merit – and she has not slowed down yet.

Mary Lee Malmberg is one of the hardest working people most of the wrestling community has never heard of. Mary Lee is the Sports Tourism Director for the Cedar Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau. Somewhere along the line she developed an affinity for wrestling events and has been bringing them to our community ever since. Cedar Rapids has hosted the Iowa state high school dual tournament for a number of years and since 2008 we’ve become THE home for college wrestling championships. Here’s what Mary Lee has done: NCAA Division III Championships, 2008-2010; NCAA Division II Championships 2008 and 2012 and NAIA Championships 2011 & 2012.

And then there’s my lovely wife. The first Christmas present she gave me when we started dating twenty-some years ago was a set of University of Iowa season wrestling tickets – Section GG, Row 12, Seats 1 & 2. We’ve been sitting there since then. How could you not marry someone who gives you wrestling tickets?

That gift – oh, the joy it has brought me. I had “liked” wrestling since seeing Gable wrestle at Iowa State and I had been to dual meets and watched wrestling on IPTV before then, but once we got those season tickets I was hooked for life. Thanks to those tickets I’ve met wonderful people – fans, coaches and athletes. It has become my distinct privilege to occasionally help the sport in small ways. The time I spend around wrestling is topped only by family time.

Friday night wasn’t just a high school reunion it was the convergence of our karass. Perhaps you, too, are a member and just don’t know it yet.