Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gable and me.

I knew who Dan Gable was when I was in high school. His exploits were well known to me, first at Waterloo West and then at Iowa State University. In 1969 or 70 (I don’t really remember which), I went to Ames to watch him wrestle. A friend of mine wrestled at Augustana College in Rock Island and was going to the meet and asked me to ride along and maybe share the driving. That night planted the seed that would blossom into my love for wrestling.

I remember one Sunday morning when I opened the Medd-O-Lane/Dairy Queen where I worked, bringing in the newspapers and seeing, “Gable Fails”.

In 1972 I watched on ABC as he and one of the greatest American freestyle teams ever assembled dominated the wrestling competition. Commentator, Frank Gifford, called Dan the most dedicated athlete he’d ever seen.

Somewhere in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, I went to my first University of Iowa dual meet. I didn’t go to many in those years, but we’re blessed in Iowa with Iowa Public Television College Wrestling broadcasts and I rarely missed one of those.

When my wife and I started dating in 1989 she bought our first Iowa season tickets. We’ve been in the same seats ever since.

I first met Dan in 1993. I was doing a little business with Eric and Adam Heneghan, who owned a small advertising agency, video production/editing company called Giant Step Productions. Eric had wrestled for Gable and some of their first work was producing videos for Dan. Once we learned of our mutual interest in wrestling, we generally spent more time talking about that than business.

Their studio was on the third floor of an older house not too far from the Iowa campus. One day I had an appointment with them and either Adam or Eric (I forget now) met me at the bottom of the outside steps that led up to the studio. He said, “You’re a big wrestling fan, right? Don’t you have season tickets?” I was puzzled because these were things we discussed frequently. I opened the door and was greeted by, “Hi, I’m Dan Gable.” My witty response – “I know.”

I’ve been known to have the occasional alcoholic beverage at the Cedar Rapids Marriott. I’ve also been known to talk endlessly about wrestling while there. One day I went in and a young bartender said, “Here, I have something for you.” It was a bar napkin with Gable’s autograph. Dan had been speaking at an I-Club meeting the night before and this young man (thank you, Chris) had made a point of getting the autograph for me. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Last year I launched Tickets for Kids. One day an envelope arrived with one of those pre-printed return address labels, “Dan Gable, Iowa City, IA”. It contained a check to Tickets for Kids. My wife asked if I was going to frame the check. Nope – I used it for what Dan intended – sending some kids to last season’s Division III Championships.

I framed the envelope.

I met Dan for the second time at a breakfast honoring longtime wrestling coach, athletic director and development director at both Coe and Cornell, Barron Bremner. The event was sponsored by what is now called the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum and he and I were both speakers at the event. He was still on crutches from the broken leg he had suffered in November, but he was gracious to everyone that wanted to talk to him – including me.

Shortly after that I learned that I had been awarded the National Wrestling Coaches Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling Award”. I was stunned. It is a tremendous honor to have my name associated in any way with his. It’s also quite humbling.

Dan officially retired from the University of Iowa Friday. The Cedar Rapids Gazette is featuring him in today’s edition. Several people are sharing their memories of Gable – including the infamous Barry Davis Hy Vee doughnut story.

My most lasting images of Dan Gable are both from the 1997 NCAA Championships. The first – pounding his crutch on the floor and yelling, “Strongest man in the world” when Jesse Whitmer won his title. Then when Bob Siddens handed Gable the team championship trophy – I cried.

I suspect it’s not going to be a leisurely retirement. He loves this sport more than most of us can imagine and I’m guessing he’s just getting ready to ramp up even greater efforts to grow the “world’s oldest and greatest sport” in America.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Things change

Things change.

The first day of a new year is often used to comment on changes that happened in the previous year and/or speculate on what will be new in the one that is just beginning.

Things change.

Early competition results seem to indicate that the Iowa Hawkeyes will have a difficult time winning a fourth consecutive NCAA Division I wrestling championship. In fact there is a good chance that a new member may be added to that elite fraternity of Division I team champions. Cornell University has the strength and experience to possibly join a group that hasn’t added a new member since Minnesota joined in 2001. As the new year starts, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Minnesota appear to be their biggest challengers.

Things change.

A “’burg” has won the last 16 NCAA Division III Championships – Augsburg with 9 and Wartburg with 7. Ithaca was the last “non ‘burg” to win a DIII title in 1994. Both Augsburg and Wartburg are still among the leading contenders, but St John’s, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Coe, Ithaca and The College of New Jersey all have teams that might be strong enough to break the “’burg” stronghold.

Things change.

Wrestling coverage grew significantly in 2010. The addition of Big Ten Network broadcasts was a major milestone. Scott Casber scored a triumph when he got his wrestling highlight show, Takedown Radio and Television, in a major Eastern cable market. However, the bulk of the growth has come on the internet where many events are now live streamed.

Things change.

Tickets for Kids has grown from a one-time effort to support wrestling and the Division III Championships (and my city) into an ongoing effort to help kids get and stay excited about wrestling. The biggest change has been the help I’ve received – literally from all over the country. Kevin Roberts, Coach Jim Zalesky and their supporters at Oregon State joined in. Rod Frost started Tickets for Kids-Minnesota and raised enough money for about 500 kids to attend Golden Gopher dual meets. In 2010, thanks to your generosity, almost 2,500 youngsters attended wrestling events ranging from the USA vs. Russia freestyle dual at Hofstra to dual meets at the University of Northern Iowa.

2011 is off to a promising start. Thanks to hard work from “super-mom”, Gail Rush, Arno Niemand and an effort led by 2X NCAA champion Chuck Yagla and his employer, Bob Buckley, of the Kirk Gross Company – at least 200 kids will be attending the National Duals next weekend.

Things change.

If you’ve read this for any length of time, you know that I have been self-employed for the past 20 years. My little company, Direct Marketing Solutions, has been helping companies and charities sell products or raise money by putting envelopes in your mailbox since 1990. On November 8th Direct Marketing Solutions was acquired by TAG Communications of Davenport, Iowa to form TAG Direct Marketing. I am now charged with building a new division within a larger, growing company. For the first time in two decades I have a boss.

Why mention that in a blog that is supposed to be about wrestling? Being my own boss afforded me the time to be as active as I wanted to be in support of this great sport. Now my time is limited. I’m committed to Tickets for Kids and plan on giving that as much of my free time as I can. On the other hand – I’ll probably be posting fewer blogs – and maybe that’s a blessing. I’ve made commitments to a couple of other projects and will honor those – but mostly I’ll be focusing on the new business effort.

So – if your favorite charity needs to raise money and wants some help from someone who has been doing it a long time – email me at