Thursday, November 25, 2010

I'm thankful I never had to wrestle Tom Brands

In accordance with holiday tradition here is a list of things for which I am thankful.

I am thankful that Dan Gable never got me in the double arm bars. At age 60, my shoulders ache enough as it is. I’m also thankful to Eric and Adam Heneghan for introducing me to Dan. It has provided me with one of my favorite stories.

I am thankful for all of the people who have supported this blog – Danielle Hobeika, Al Bevilacqua, Bill Lahman, Barry Davis, Chad Zaputil, Johnny Cobb, the Rush Family, Jeff McGinness, Joe and Dee Pollard, Ken Chertow, Mark Ironside, Mike Clayton, Mark Palmer and others I’m forgetting at the moment – have a all contributed in some way to several blog editions.

I am thankful for the people I have met the past couple of years who battle every day for the future of this great sport (again, I’m sure to forget some) – Mike Duroe, Dick Simmons, Sandy Stevens, Jason Bryant, Lee Roy Smith, Richard Small, Mike Moyer, Tammy Tedesco, Dr. Tim Drehmer, Kyle Klingman, Kent Sesker, that Gable guy again. I have been honored to contribute in some small way to your efforts.

I am thankful for the people who have supported Tickets for Kids – to Fred Jones at the Cedar Rapids Marriott who has made the largest donation to date - to KJ Pilcher of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, whose feature on the effort really got the ball rolling – to Eric Betterman from The Open Mat who gave us our website (stop by now and make a donation) and Sandy Stevens who wrote about us in WIN. Thank you to the many generous donors who have made and continue to make it possible (so far) for well over a thousand kids to attend a big time wrestling event. I am especially thankful to Rod Frost and Gail Rush who, in separate efforts, have raised almost $2,000 this season.

I am thankful for a special group of friends who listen to my tired stories and patiently allow me to ramble on about the glories of wrestling. You know who you are – Jamie, Jacki, Jayme, Angela, Steve (who is finally going to his first wrestling meet this year), Curt (brother of an NCAA champion), Shane and – of course, former Cedar Rapids Kennedy wrestler – Lenny.

In today’s world of the blended family, I am thankful for Barb and Mike. I was once married to Barb and she is the mother of my two lovely daughters and remains one of my best friends. And Mike – I can’t say thanks enough. You see, many years ago when our house burned to the ground, it was Mike who got the girls out.

I am thankful for those two lovely daughters. No father could be prouder than I. I am thankful for the grandchildren who will run through the house today and yell and play and maybe stop for a second to hug Grandpa.

Finally, I am thankful for Cindy. Somehow, I won the marriage lottery. She loves me in spite of my many bad habits and has supported all of my meager efforts to help wrestling. But, really, she only has herself to blame – in her effort to hook me she did buy our first season tickets 20-some years ago.

I’m not sure why God chose to bless me in so many ways, but I am truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vaterans Day 2010

My father is buried at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery – not because he was a great hero – but because when his country called, he went to war (or “conflict”, as it is officially known).

Dad enlisted in the army in 1947 at age 18 and was taught the cooper’s trade (wooden barrel making). On March 30, 1949 he got a 3-day pass and hitchhiked home from Fort Riley, Kansas to Muscatine, Iowa on the back of an Indian motorcycle. On April 1st he married my mom and on April 2nd he hitchhiked back to Fort Riley. Some time in1950 he got his honorable discharge with the rank of corporal. I was born in March and lived the first month or two of my life at Fort Riley.

On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and in 1951 Dad was called back to active duty, promoted to sergeant and sent to Korea as an army engineer. I can’t tell you anything about his war (excuse me, “conflict”) experiences, because in all of my life he was never willing to share them with me. Oh, yeah – I know how he got the tattoo in Tokyo on leave and a little bit about the P-51 Mustang that crashed at the airfield he was building – but nothing about his own experiences.

In the ‘70s Dad joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I suspect that he did that initially as another excuse to drink beer. Somewhere in the ‘80s he got passionate about veterans’ affairs – especially about how shabbily Viet Nam veterans were being treated, so he became an activist and eventually a grass roots lobbyist.

Late in 1997 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. When I was a kid he smoked three packs of Chesterfields a day and as a heating and air conditioning contractor had sucked up asbestos fibers for 30 years. It was not a surprising diagnosis.

He had retired to the Pacific Northwest where my brothers live and in 1998 I went to spend my last Father’s Day with him. The second day of my visit my brother, Jeff, and I took Dad to the VA hospital in Portland for a checkup. We sat there as the doctor reaffirmed that, yes, it was terminal and asked a few questions to determine if Dad was feeling suicidal. “Don’t worry, I ain’t killin’ myself.” We got some prescriptions and proceeded to the pharmacy.

The waiting area was packed because there was only one pharmacist on duty. We sat there among men and women who had served in World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. After an hour his name was called, we grabbed his medicine and walked out. Dad was livid – not so much because of his own wait but because of the overall situation. He said, “Those poor bastards shouldn’t have to wait like that. They deserve better.”

Before I left Portland I arranged for what became known as Dad’s “farewell tour”. I flew him home to Davenport and we visited all of his favorite dives and saw all of his old friends. We also went to the Rock Island Arsenal and made his burial arrangements. His last dinner before flying back to Oregon was at the Bettendorf VFW hall, laughing and reminiscing with all of his old comrades in arms.

The next spring my brothers flew back with his ashes and he was laid to rest at the Arsenal. The VFW came and fired the salute and handed Jeff an American flag.

Fast forward to 2009. Mark Rowell was my best man when Cindy and I got married. I have known his son, Mathew since he was tiny. In July, 2009 Mark and his wife, Tammy, were notified that Matt had been seriously wounded in Afghanistan. The initial diagnosis was that he might lose a leg. Blessedly, that did not come to pass.

American freedom is not a “happy accident”. Every generation men and women sacrifice, fight – and die – to preserve it. Please – on this “Armistice Day” (as Dad always called it), take a moment to honor those who have preserved our freedoms.

In honor of Sgt Arthur L Brown Jr. I miss you, Dad.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Russians are coming - volume 2

Two weeks from tonight (November 19, 2010) I’ll be in seat 1 of Row 12 in section GG in Carver Hawkeye Arena as the Hawkeyes kick of the 2010/2011 wrestling season. For the first time in four years Brent Metcalf will not be in the lineup for the home opener.

Brent will be wrestling that night 935 miles from his former teammates at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. He’ll be joining other American freestyle stars Angel Escobedo, Shawn Bunch, Trent and Travis Paulson, Jake Herbert, J D Bergman and Tervel Dlagnev in a dual meet against a team from Russia.

Last year I was lucky enough to attend a similar event in Mount Vernon, Iowa on the Cornell College campus. The gym was packed and the crowd was boisterous. It was heartening to see so many young wrestlers there. I sat just a few feet away from the North Cedar kids club and, boy, did they seem to be enjoying the action.

It may seem strange, but kids in Iowa have far more opportunities to wrestle and attend wrestling events than kids in New York City. Al Bevilacqua, Michael Novogratz and the rest of the folks at Beat the Streets are working to change that. They firmly believe that the surest path for the growth of wrestling is to make it an urban sport. It’s hard to argue with their logic.

Al wants to take as many Beat the Streets kids as possible to the USA vs Russia freestyle dual. Why shouldn’t they have the same opportunity as youngsters from Stanwood, Lisbon, Solon and Mount Vernon? To help Al meet his goal, we’ve made this meet a Tickets for Kids event.

Thanks to the kindness of Eric Betterman of Tickets for Kids now has a website and is capable of receiving online donations. Here is the link to the USA vs Russia page. If you have any questions email me at If you are a traditionalist like me and prefer to send a check, please make it to Tickets for Kids and mail it to:

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

There’s no time to waste so please act today.

Have a look here at some of the kids you’ll be helping.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is it good for wrestling?

“It’ll be good for wrestling.” How many times have you read that on the internet or in a wrestling magazine? Recently that comment has been most frequently linked to pre-season rankings that show Cornell University and Boise State topping the Division I polls.

Oklahoma State, Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Minnesota are the only schools in NCAA Division I history to win multiple titles since the championships were launched in 1928. Oklahoma State and Iowa account for 57 of those. Indiana, Cornell College, Michigan State, Penn State, Northern Iowa and Arizona State have each won a single team title.

Will wrestling benefit if another school joins this exclusive fraternity? Of course. For too long talented high school wrestlers have factored in their chances to be on a national championship team when selecting a college. This has contributed to the rich getting richer and the five top schools attracting many of the blue chip recruits. That’s changing. Coaches like Rob Koll at Cornell University, Greg Randall at Boise State, Tom Ryan at Ohio State and Cael Sanderson at Penn State are building teams that will legitimately contend for the Division I championship over the next several years.

How is this good for wrestling? I’m not sure, but I have some ideas. Getting more young kids on the mat and keeping them there is the future of the sport. Those kids will need role models, coaches and advancement opportunities.

State pride is a funny thing. I’m not sure how you explain it, but young athletes seem to feed off of the success of the home state schools. This leads to keeping your best in-state athletes “home”. A lack of success by the local university can have the opposite effect. The northeast United States – particularly New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – has been a hotbed for high school wrestling for many years. Several wrestlers from there have played a major role in national championships at Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma State.

Where do good youth, middle school and high school coaches come from? The best come from successful college programs. They may not have been star wrestlers themselves but if they come from a solid program with a winning atmosphere they often replicate that atmosphere in their own wrestling rooms. Broadening the reach of championship wrestling just might improve the quality of coaching at every level.

There are far more high school kids that would like to continue wrestling in college than there are college wrestling opportunities. Is there any way to know if spreading NCAA Division I wrestling championships to other regions will help increase intercollegiate wrestling opportunities that will trickle down to younger kids? I don’t know – but as the comedian used to say – “It couldn’t hurt”.

Online fans tend to focus on Division I – but in recent history Division II and Division III team championships have also been concentrated in the middle part of the country. North Dakota State, Central Oklahoma, Nebraska Kearney and Nebraska Omaha have won all of the Division II titles this century and Augsburg and Wartburg have split the DIII championships since 1995.

Instead of expanding geographically, college wrestling is becoming more of a regional sport. A return to prominence by former powers San Francisco State in DII and The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State) in DIII would be just as good for wrestling as Cornell University or Boise State winning the Division I championship.

The bottom line – any thing that heightens interest in the sport is “good for wrestling”.