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.

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