Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is it a dual or a duel?

It has come and gone again – the only college wrestling event on ESPN’s list of “101 things every sports fan must experience before they die” – the Iowa/Iowa State dual. If Saturday’s edition was your first one you picked a good night. No – it was nowhere near a record turnout, but the announced 11,800+ attendance is likely to be the largest dual meet crowd in the country this year.

As has seemed to become tradition, there was one match that brought that crowd to its feet with a roar. At 141 pounds, Iowa redshirt freshman, Mark Ballweg, “came out the back door” on a shot taken by past All-American, Chris Drouin, and scored the winning takedown with just seconds left in the match. I still get goose bumps whenever I see a young Hawkeye wrestler experience one of those Carver Hawkeye Arena salutes for the first time.

It was also a historic night to be there. At the intermission the creation of the “Dan Gable Traveling Trophy” was announced. Each year the winner of the Iowa/Iowa State dual will take the trophy home for display. It’s a fitting way to honor a man who has not only meant so much to both institutions, but to the sport of wrestling. As the announcement ceremony was ending, Tom Brands trotted out of the tunnel to matside and hugged Gable. It was funny in a way – yet very poignant. Here were two men who appeared not to be comfortable hugging another man, doing so in front of almost 12,000 people. Then Gable walked to his family and his grandkids surrounded him. I have to admit that I choked up a bit. Those fans who chose to go up for ice cream missed some great moments.

I love dual meets – especially rivalry meets. I’ve been attending the Coe/Cornell meet for several years now and will do so again later this season. I’ve not yet gone to the Wartburg/Augsburg event, but hope to in the near future. I also believe that dual meets are the way we bring new fans to the sport. It’s just a natural tendency in college sports for fans to align themselves more fervently when an established rivalry is involved. Take Coe vs. Cornell for example. It is the oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi. That spills over to other sports. When my daughter was playing tennis at Cornell, Luther was the established Iowa conference women’s tennis powerhouse(until dethroned by the Rams), but it was the Coe/Cornell meet that drew the biggest crowd. The wrestling dual will pack the Eby Fieldhouse in February just as it did the Small Multi-Sport Center last season.

I’m not the only one who sees the value in dual meets. A few weeks ago Sandy Stevens introduced me to John Graham, the co-founder of the Virginia Duals. To say that John is passionate about the dual meet format is quite an understatement. He and other members of the Peninsula Wrestling Association founded the Virginia Duals back in 1981 as a fund raiser. The event introduced the dual meet advancement tournament format to college wrestling. The Virginia Duals offers two intercollegiate and three high school divisions. This season’s edition will be held January 7th and 8th at the Hampton (VA) Coliseum. Led by Penn State the National College Division will feature five NCAA Division I top 25 teams. Teams from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware are in the three high school divisions. As always it will be a great two days of wrestling. For more information visit their website.

The NWCA National Duals sprang from the Virginia Duals in 1989 and NWCA executive director, Mike Moyer, is also fervent in his support of the dual meet. The current National Duals format is the most unique in all of college wrestling. Top teams from all three NCAA divisions, the NAIA, the NJCAA and 8 women’s teams will all battle for the title of National Dual Champion for their respective divisions. At one time Minnesota might be wrestling Iowa State on Mat 5, while Grand View and Missouri Baptist square off on Mat 1. As you continue to scan the floor at the UNI Dome might see Coe and Delaware Valley battling on Mat 8 and the women from Oklahoma City University wrestling freestyle against the team from Jamestown College. The National Duals are a wrestling junkie’s dream. This season’s event will be held January 8th and 9th at the UNI Dome on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Fan support is especially critical for both events this year. Hampton is one of the finalists in a bid to win the 2012 wrestling and weight lifting Olympic Trials. A strong turnout for the Duals can only enhance their chances.

As has been hashed and re-hashed everywhere in the wrestling media, the University of Iowa has declined an invitation to the National Duals this year. Like it or not, the attendance of the Iowa fan base is frequently crucial to the financial success of any event. The Hawkeyes are not competing that weekend and some Hawk fans will still attend National Duals – but I suspect that number will be nowhere near the total black and gold butts that would be in the seats if the Hawkeyes were on the mat.

These events are both great opportunities for the wrestling community to demonstrate their support of the “world’s oldest and greatest sport”. We have chosen to support both of them with Tickets for Kids efforts. The National Duals effort is off to a good start. We have already received enough pledges and donations to send over 200 kids to a “day at the duals” including 25 that have been earmarked to introduce girls to wrestling.

We’ve not yet received our first Virginia Duals donation. Who out there wants to break the ice? We’ve got a lot of money to raise and a short time to do it – so forward this blog to everyone you can.

You can donate to buy tickets to either event by going to the Tickets for Kids website. Click on “Other Events” and then choose the one you wish to support. If you’re more comfortable sending a check, make it to “Tickets for Kids” and send it to

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

Please make note of which event you are supporting on your check.

Sadly, I can’t be at both events at the same time, but I hope to see many of you in Cedar Falls.