Monday, October 25, 2010

What's your great idea?

My friend, Tim Crosby, is one of the smartest people I know. One of his favorite phrases is, “Everyone has good ideas. There are just very few who are willing to commit to them.”

I get pretty lucky sometimes and I’ve been on a hot streak recently. For a variety of reasons I have found myself in the presence of several of wrestling’s most powerful people. From Olympic gold medallists and world champions to “captains of industry” to writers to organizational leaders of the sport. I’m such a goober fan that I always wonder – “what the heck am I doing here?”

It started with a simple idea. “If we send as many kids as possible to the highest levels of competition, perhaps some of them will try or stay in the sport.” And, thus, Tickets for Kids was born. More importantly, I’m committed to making it work. Here’s what astonishes me – the number of people who are willing to help make it work.

Rod Frost wrestled at Gilbertville Don Bosco High School and Cornell College. He lives in Minnesota now and is a wrestling official. When he learned of the Tickets for Kids fan challenge he mounted a fund raising effort in support of the Golden Gophers. Not only did he raise a lot of money, he got J Robinson to lower the price of youth group tickets to $2 per piece.

Gail Rush might just be the ultimate “wrestling mom”. Her son, Clayton, is the reigning NCAA Division III 125 pound champion and Gail has supported the sport since Clayton was small. She, too, got busy when she learned about the fan challenge and as of today (10/25/10) Coe still tops the leader board.

The staff at Cornell College have been amazing. John Cochrane, Dick Simmons and Mike Duroe have been behind me since day one. Our inaugural effort, tickets for the 2010 NCAA Division III Championships, couldn’t have succeeded without them – or without Chuck Yrigoyen at the Iowa Conference and Anthony Holman at the NCAA.

Eric Betterman is co-founder, with Ray Brinzer, of the wrestling site The Open Mat and Eric is helping us with a Tickets for Kids website. We hope to have it up soon.

Contrary to what the last five paragraphs might indicate, this blog isn’t really about Tickets for Kids. It’s about committing to your ideas.

In 1981 John Graham was looking for a way to raise money for the Peninsula Wrestling Association. His idea – a dual meet tournament featuring a high school and a college division. The first edition had four high school teams and eight colleges competing. That was the start of the Virginia Duals – which also begat the National Duals. Twenty-four colleges in two divisions and 48 high schools will compete in the 2011 Virginia Duals on January 7th and 8th. John’s commitment to his idea created two of college wrestling’s premier events.

Steve Silver was a waiter at Red Lobster when he got the idea to start his own business. He began by selling used furniture at local flea markets. That has grown into the $150 million Steve Silver Furniture Company in the Dallas suburb of Forney.

Steve wrestled in high school and at the University of Alabama. When his son, Luke, expressed an interest in wrestling he realized that north Texas was not a hotbed for the sport so he started a youth wrestling club and eventually hired 1988 Olympic Gold medallist, Kenny Monday, to coach it. Steve’s support also helped build Bishop Lynch High School into one of the nation’s premier wrestling programs. Last year Steve was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as an Outstanding American.

The ideas don’t have to be big. The past couple of years the University of Iowa has offered “Family 4-Pack Night” for one dual. You get 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas at a bargain price. Last season Hawkeye fan, Julia Labua, used this as a tool to introduce new people to wrestling. She offered her co-workers the opportunity to go to the meet on her dime. Several took her up on it and it may now become an annual office event. Julia was committed to her idea.

I’m online too much and I probably spend more time talking about wrestling than I ought to. I frequently read and hear good ideas about how to build interest in wrestling both among potential participants and potential fans. I’m sure that many of you have great ideas. Are you committed enough to make them happen?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The year The Purple ruled the world

Doug and Marge Smith and I have become friends over the past two or three years. They are retired teachers from Rockford who were making monthly visits to Cedar Rapids to visit Marge’s 100 year-old mother. They always stayed at the Marriott and we met for drinks in the hotel bar once a month. Sadly, Marge’s mother passed away in June. They learned of my love for wrestling and started reading the blog. During one of their recent visits Doug suggested that I write a book called, The View From the End of the Bar.I have been frequenting the Cedar Rapids Marriott lounge for over 20 years – most of them perched on the stool at the end of the bar. In that time I have met many interesting people: test pilots, a US Senator, a secret service agent, a retired clown, the chief of scouting for the Phillies (who in a drunken stupor offered me a job), veterans, Corvair collectors… It’s quite a list and that’s why Doug thinks I should write that book.

Saturday night I reached an all time high when Arno Niemand sat down next to me. Just in case you don’t know, Arno is one of wrestling’s great benefactors. The founder of Bodybar Systems, he has sponsored the US Women’s National Wrestling Team since 2003.

Arno was in Cedar Rapids because he has completed his labor of love, The Dream Team of 1947. The book is the story of, perhaps, the greatest David tops Goliath performance in the history of intercollegiate sports – the double national championships of the Cornell College wrestling team. The occasion was the 60th reunion of the Cornell College Class of 1950 – the class of most of the wrestlers on that team.

I’ve told the highlights of the story before – how Coach Paul Scott assembled the most powerful team in America at the campus of one of the countries smallest schools and how they went on to win both the NCAA and AAU team championships. I’ve also told the second act of the story – about how the first two freshmen champions in NCAA history, Dick Hauser and Lowell Lange, were injured in a car accident and about Coach Scott’s subsequent decision not to enter “The Purple” in the 1948 NCAA tournament.

Arno gives us the details – and they are fascinating. He tells how Scott lured three kids from Waterloo West, Hauser, Lange and Leo Thomsen away from Iowa State Teacher’s College. It’s also a story of the role played by American history in this feat. I most enjoyed Niemand’s analysis of how the post-war rivalry between ISTC and Cornell changed the face of college wrestling. Thirty years before the Iowa State/Iowa wrestling rivalry heated up the “70 mile rivalry” was the most influential in wrestling. The book gripped me and I read it in a single sitting yesterday. I highly recommend it.

You all know that when two wrestling fans get together the conversation flows freely. Ironically, Arno Niemand is an alumnus of what we call in these parts, “the other Cornell”. You know – the one in Ithaca, New York that most experts are calling the pre-season favorite for the NCAA Division I team title. If they do win - remember The Purple from Mount Vernon, Iowa won it first.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Are you smarter than Socrates?

Dear College Administrator, Athletic Director or Legislator,

Are you smarter than Socrates? Wrestling was part of his educational regimen and he once said, “I swear it upon Zeus that an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.” Socrates’ most influential disciple, Aristocles, was renamed Plato(n) by his wrestling coach Ariston of Argos.

Are you smarter than Ben Franklin, who published the following in 1749, “The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves and to their Country.

“That to keep them in Health, and to strengthen and render active their Bodies, they be frequently exercis’d in Running, Leaping, Wrestling and Swimming…?”

Are you smarter than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who were both champion wrestlers in the styles of their day?

Are you smarter than Theodore Roosevelt, who mandated that wrestling become part of the physical curriculum at the military academies?

Are you smarter than Nobel laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug – the man who fed millions – and who credited wrestling with teaching him the discipline and tenacity he needed to continue his research?

Are you smarter than novelist, John Irving when he said, “I think the discipline of wrestling has given me the discipline to write.”?

Are you smarter than former Congressman and current head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jim Leach, an Iowa state high school wrestling champion and former member of the Princeton wrestling team? “I’ve always thought that the most equalitarian place in the world is the wrestling mat.”

Are you smarter than Dan Laurent, a three-time NCAA Division III heavyweight wrestling champion who recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a 3.9 GPA in double majors of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology?

Are you smarter than the administrators at Wayland Baptist University, Baker University or Minot State University – all of whom have added wrestling to increase enrollment and opportunity at their institutions?

For centuries the greatest minds and leaders considered wrestling a valuable part of higher education. Then, about thirty years ago, American legislators and administrators at many of America’s colleges and universities decided that they were smarter than Socrates – or Franklin – or Lincoln , and started dropping wrestling from the curriculum. Did they do that because wrestling is no longer relevant and modern kids don’t want to wrestle? That can’t be the reason. According to the National Federation of High Schools, wrestling is the sixth most popular boys’ sport in terms of participation – and it continues to grow. Since the 2002/2003 school year the number of youngsters on high school wrestling teams has increased by 30,000.

Did they do it to equalize educational opportunities among all segments of society? Ostensibly – yes. Title IX was enacted in 1972 and says quite simply, “No person in the United States, on the basis of sex, shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” You certainly can’t argue with that. But then the courts and the lawmakers got involved and college administrators found it easier to eliminate opportunity than create it.

So what about opportunity? As Mr. Leach indicated, wrestling is the most democratic of all sports. In what other one have you watched an athlete walk up to face his opponent, remove his prosthetic legs and then win an NCAA Championship? Ten years ago I got to do that when Nick Ackerman of Simpson College took the Division III wrestling title. And what about opportunity for women? Girls’ participation in wrestling is exploding in the states that sanction girls only championships. Smart college administrators have noticed this trend and recently added women’s teams at Jamestown University in North Dakota and Waldorf College in Iowa.

If your school doesn’t have a wrestling team, what do you think George Washington, Dr. Norman Borlaug and John Irving would urge you to do?

Do you need help or more information? Contact the National Wrestling Coaches Association and they’ll get you started. You just might be as smart as Socrates.