Sunday, February 6, 2011

Senior Day

Senior day is a tradition in all college sports. I’ve attended a lot of them for wrestlers over the years. I’ve seen future world and Olympic champions honored as they took the mat in front of the home crowd for the last time. I’ve watched as fans said good-bye to young men who are now successful high school and college coaches. There have also been many who stepped on the mat for the last time and went on to careers as doctors, attorneys, teachers, entrepreneurs – even an Iditarod musher.

The biggest cheers always come for the All-Americans and the National Champions. But – there’s a special place in my heart for the “guys in the room” – guys who went to practice every day, lifted, ran and got beat up daily by some of the best wrestlers in the country and stuck it out for reasons only they know. When they get handed their diploma at graduation there ought to be a certificate enclosed that reads – “Toughness 101: A+”.

I’m attending two Senior Day/Nights this week. Sunday afternoon the Hawkeyes host the Michigan Wolverines. Since I won’t get to go to the Big Ten tournament or Division I Nationals, it will be the last time I watch Luke Lofthouse wrestle. Luke has not had your typical career. A three-time state high school state champion in Utah, Luke cut to 174 pounds from his high school senior year weight of 189 and started for the Hawks as a true freshman. It was a tough year and he went 8-17 in collegiate competition. In the matches I remember seeing that year, I always admired his hustle and his fight.

After his freshman year he left the University of Iowa and went to Africa on a two-year Mormon mission. When he returned he was not in wrestling condition, but Luke is a worker. He red-shirted, kept working hard and last season filled in admirably when Chad Beatty was out with injuries.

This season Luke is the starter and is having success. Friday night he scored an upset win over fifth-ranked Matt Powless of Indiana. It is hard-earned success. By all accounts Luke is a tireless worker and a team leader. He projects a great image when in front of the press and when he’s on the mat I can’t help but root extra hard for him. He is a credit to his family, his religion, his teammates, his coaches and his university.

Friday night my wife and I and our granddaughter, Piper, are going to the Coe/Cornell dual at the Eby Fieldhouse. I suspect that Piper, who is 4, will not make it through the entire meet and that’s okay. I just want to be there to honor Clayton Rush. Not just because he has had such a remarkable career (NCAA Division III Champion and 3X All-American to this point), but because he is a fine young man who embodies what intercollegiate sports can be about.

Since the Flood of 2008, I’ve become friends with the Rush family – Clayton, Gail and Rick. When a young friend of mine and his family lost everything in the flood, Gail and Clayton were among the first to help out. When I needed help manning the Adam Frey memorial booth at last season’s National Duals, Gail volunteered. This season she joined in on the Tickets for Kids effort and raised enough money to bring almost the entire town of Aledo to National Duals.

An Academic All-American, Clayton wants to coach. Somehow I suspect he’ll be a good one. I’m looking forward to seeing him wrestle in La Crosse at the Division III Championships next month.

1 comment:

Chuck Yagla said...

Jim - great article and I too have always admired the guys that workout just as hard and put in just as much time, but never get the glory or opportunity to compete on the varsity team - kudos to them!