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.

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