Friday, October 9, 2015

Opportunity: A Champion's Perspective

By Daniel Kelly

Opportunity is a word that people define in a multitude of ways.  Some people say an opportunity is something that is, figuratively speaking, directly in front of you.  Some people say it is something you can search for.  Some people say an opportunity is the aggregation of a set of circumstances accompanied by the ability to make a conscious decision that would leverage the set of circumstances in one’s favor.  Yada yada yada.  You get the picture.  Although those definitions are valid, that is not how I would define the word opportunity.  To me, opportunity is not a circumstance; it is a perspective.  Yes, opportunities involve circumstances.  Sometimes these circumstances are within our control.  Sometimes we have no control.  Lack of control causes fear to build up inside an individual.  It is human nature.  It is important to not allow the fear of things you cannot control prevent you from taking control of the things that you can control.  For example, in wrestling you cannot control what your opponent does with regard to training and preparation; however, you can control what you do to prepare before squaring off with that particular opponent.
Many people often allow their previously unachieved goals to affect their mentality with regard to creating future opportunities.  This attitude unfortunately is very common, on and off the mat.  And more importantly, the most underestimated problem with regard to past achievements is assuming that one will accomplish more prestigious achievements in the future merely because of past achievements.  In the transition from high school to college wrestling this is extremely common.  Steve Bosak, a 2013 graduate of Cornell University, was a three-time All-American and National Champion in 2012 at 184 pounds.  Steve spent some time with me to share some insights about this very subject.

Q:  You never won a state title in high school.  Tell us how that experience of falling short of a state title affected your self-awareness and confidence going into Cornell as a true freshman.

A: Winning a state championship was one of my goals since elementary school. As you can imagine, losing in the finals two years in a row was devastating, but to this day, I believe it made me better in college. I wasn’t satisfied, I didn’t lose confidence, and I became more competitive.

Q:  Tell us about the changes you made between freshman year and your junior year when you took home an NCAA title.

A: There were a number of small changes that made me significantly better in college. Some changes came naturally and others I had to work hard to improve. As with every wrestler transitioning from high school to college, they have to become mentally tougher. This is something I constantly had to focus on. Our coaches ingrained in us the idea that our minds would fail before our bodies and endurance would. I believe that to this day.

Q: What were some of the techniques or skills that you improved upon?

A: During my freshman year, I was limited to shooting low and sweep singles. But if anyone scouted me, they would know to protect their left leg. So the summer after my freshman year, I practiced hitting a knee pull to the opposite leg every day. I’d have individual practices with Damion Hahn (2x NCAA Champion and Cornell Assistant Coach) where I would only hit that shot. I’m pretty sure that Damion dreaded those workouts, but by the time my sophomore year came around, it was my best shot and completely opened up my offense. Guys I competed against didn’t know which leg to protect.

On top, Jeremy Spates (All-American and Cornell Assistant Coach) helped me develop a leg series to compliment my arm bar and tilt series. Again, I would not have been the wrestler I was without Jeremy. If one move wasn’t there, another would be.

Q: Understood.  The key to success in any area is around work ethic and dedication. With that said, there are state champs from all over the US that appear to work hard, but don’t end up reaching the accomplishments that you did in college. What made this possible?

A: In high school I wasn’t as physically mature as some of the guys I competed against. Because of this, I had to overcompensate with technique and specialize on top. Once I reached college, physical maturity was never an issue. I was just as strong if not stronger than everyone else, which made my moves that much more effective.

Q:  Did you ever think about the possibility of not winning an NCAA title at any point between your freshman year and the end of your junior year?

A: No, I always believed I would be a National Champ. My coaches also made me believe it and nothing less.

Q:  In your opinion, what is the single most important piece of advice you could give to someone going into college who never won a state title at the high school level and wants to compete for a national title?

A: Surround yourself with motivated and positive people. I was fortunate that one of my best friends, roommates and workout partners was Cam Simaz, who won his title at 197 the same year as me. We both had high expectations and held ourselves accountable.

Q:  I understand you are employed in the Information Technology field, specifically cloud and data center technology.  How has winning an NCAA title contributed to your skills-development mindset in the workplace?

A: Yes, I work for a company named Equinix. I found that many traits carry over from wrestling into the workplace, especially setting goals and working hard to achieve them. The IT industry is constantly changing, and you need to be able to adapt, evolve and continue to develop.

Many people reading this may be asking why we chose to talk with Steve Bosak with regard to the main subject of this article: opportunity.  Why not Kyle Dake?  Why not Logan Stieber?  Well, Steve is a member of a rare group of former Division 1 college wrestlers who ended up winning an NCAA individual title, but never won a state title in high school.  In fact, this feat is so rare that even with all of the extensive research I did before writing this article I could only find a short list of individuals in modern times that have achieved this: Please note, one of more members of this list won more than one NCAA title; however, we only listed the year in which they first became a member of this rare group; also anyone who transferred to a national prep powerhouse in the middle of high school does not count on this list, and we are also not including prep school state champions, as this is a much smaller pool of schools—ie: Ed Ruth, who more than likely would have won a state title in PA if he had stayed at his original high school.

1954 - Peter Blair, Navy (VA)
1982 - Bruce Baumgartner, Indiana State University (NJ)
1984 - Tab Thacker, North Carolina State University (NC)
1988 - Pat Santoro, University of Pittsburgh (PA)
1989 - Dan St. John, Arizona State University (OH)
1991 - Marty Morgan, University of Minnesota (MN)
1993 - Sylvester Terkay, North Carolina State University (PA)
1994 - Dean Morrison, West Virginia University (NY)
1998 - Tim Hartung, University of Minnesota (WI)
1998 - Mitch Clark, Ohio State (NY)
2001 - Keith Gavin, University of Pittsburgh (PA)
2008 - Phil Davis, Penn State University (PA)
2012 - Steve Bosak, Cornell University (PA)

I was shocked to see some of the people on this list, as I am sure most of you reading this article were as well.  To the high school and college wrestlers reading this article:  do not let this list intimidate you.  If you are currently wrestling in Division 1 and never won a state title in high school, do not let this short list deter you from trying to succeed.  Remember the flip side in asking the question of how many Division 1 wrestlers in history that won two or more state titles in high school did not win an NCAA title?  That list, my friends, is much longer than the one listed above.  Just as Steve Bosak would say, you need to believe in yourself to have an opportunity to succeed even if you failed to succeed in the past.  Opportunity is not a circumstance.  It is a perspective.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Secret to Success

By Justin McLennan

There is no accepted rule to success in team sports. It is almost as if there is this mysterious energy that governs it, leading to exciting displays of sports glory. Case in point: the 1983 N.C. State basketball team's RIDICULOUS national championship. No words would do it no justice, so do yourself a favor and watch the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, and you will see the exact mystery I'm talking about. The same thing can be seen in the wrestling film about the Peppelmans and the Central Dauphin wrestling team's improbable state championship team title in the documentary "Takedowns and Falls". Its the aligning of the stars, and the mechanism to move stars is as yet unknown. 

One thing that is certainly known about this mystery, however, is that it has something to do with human relationships. Again, the previously mentioned documentaries are excellent examples of this. In my life I experience something similar with the 2001 state championship team from Easton, PA. It was the only championship team in my 13 years in the sport, or in any sport for that matter, and this team had by far the best team culture of any team I was ever part of. It is often said that sports are largely mental (wrestling especially) and relationships are a big determinant of that mental ability. 

Reflecting on this main ingredient for success, it seems a bit odd that building relationships isn't more of a crucial point in coaching. Sports are inherent culture builders, but being aware of the workings of this process would certainly lead to more successful coaches. Using this framework you can assume that the more you work on positive culture, the more success you will have. Of course, this is in addition to athletic skill and talent. 

Think of the chance of a professional athlete's child being successful. I don't know the actual numbers, but it is pretty shocking how much your chances are increased of going pro if your parents did too. Of course the good physical genes are a big part of it. But people with good physical genes are born all over and don't do anything successful. And the parent-athlete demographic wins by a long shot.

Using this relationship model it becomes fairly clear why this happens. Ken Griffey, Jr's swing was so sweet not just because he was born with a physical gift. His teacher, Ken Griffey, Sr., was also his father, his friend and his hero. 

I think this same thing can be said for all types of success. As an educator, we always hear about "predictors of success" and how it can be linked to a variety of factors, such as socioeconomic levels, test scores, or ethnicity. But if we use the relationship model, the real causes aren't these undercurrents. It's based more on whether the relationships exist in a child's life to lead her to success. Who is her father, mother, role model, neighbor, teacher, coach, etc.? How is her relationship with these people? From there your prediction will likely be much more accurate than test scores or demographics.

Schools offer unique situations for relationships to be built deliberately. If it can happen early on, teams will be much more ready to be coached for success a few years down the road. Like a parent-child relationship, the bonds needed for trust, communication, and learning are already existent, so the team members are naturally inclined to feed off of the positive culture. By no means would the success rates be close to the pro-athlete parent demographic, but certainly somewhere in between that and a team form from scratch. Additionally, since these children are in school together, their relationships are solid and thus ready for this mysterious energy to build.

As a teacher and coach at a K-8 school, I have had the unique chance to build relationships with my students over the course of five years before they started wrestling. The 4th grade boys on my team were students in my kindergarten class in 2010 and I've seen them all at least 180 days per year for the last 5 years. I'm not making any guarantees, but I would definitely put money on these guys having success a few years down the road. Having the 5 years in our pockets to build culture and relationships is already done. The roads are built. It still takes work to walk that road, but its a lot more probable if we walk together. 

These reflections only make the urgency of sports in our world more obvious. Children need genuine relationships more than anything. They yearn to be part of something to help understand who they are. Sports give them the relationships needed for this inner work to be done in earnest. 

For all you current and former athletes out there, look at the teams you've had and how important they were for you. If you're not already spreading the knowledge, get out there and get organized! You're needed more urgently than you know. 

Justin McLennan is a coach and teacher based in Brooklyn, NY. He is originally from Easton, Pa, and attended Lehigh University. He would like to dedicate this article to Steve Powell, Barry Snyder, Ed Ferraro, Pat Santoro, Greg Strobel, Kerry McCoy, Dan Goffredo, and the original coach, his father Ross McLennan.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grappling With Autism: Justin Scales

By Daniel Kelly

Justin Scales grew up in Garner, North Carolina.  He is a 2014 graduate of Garner Magnet High School and was a four year member of the high school wrestling team.  During Justin's time with the high school wrestling team at Garner Magnet, he endured many of the challenges that all high school wrestlers face: long grueling practices, improving technique, balancing school and athletics, managing weight, and managing occasional bumps and bruises.  

For many high school wrestlers, the toughest six minutes is usually perceived to be spent in a live match, whether it be in practice or scholastic competition.  Imagine the things you feel during a six minute high school wrestling match, which for most is a combination of fatigue with a splash of adrenaline.  Imagine that feeling when you know the match is about to be over.  For most it is a feeling of relief to know you get to catch your breath and sip that liquid whether you win or lose that match.  Imagine if there is no whistle.  Imagine there is no end to the match.  Instead of two minutes each period is twenty-four hours, and instead of three periods the match has infinite overtime.  Infinite periods.

For the majority of people in society, the above scenario is laughable.  For Justin Scales, this is a reality.  At age 13 he was diagnosed with autism.  This diagnosis for Justin comes later in life than for most individuals with autism.  It has created struggles for Justin in his academics and social interactions and development.  Upon receiving the diagnosis, Justin felt even more alienated and alone because he felt labeled.  Justin had autism.  What helped when it seemed nothing else could?  Wrestling.

"When I was in school I made some friends, but I had a hard time fitting in because I was always treated differently," said Justin regarding how autism affected him day to day.  "People with autism want what everybody wants.  They want love, friendship, and to be accepted into society."  Justin had never wrestled before high school.  He did, however, have a deep passion for professional wrestling.  Since he was younger he had aspired to somehow get involved in it when he grew older.  This aspiration was what ultimately led him to joining the high school wrestling team.  After Justin's sophomore season, he joined a club called Dynamic Wrestling in the off-season.  He became immersed in wrestling.  By his senior year, he was named one of the team's captains.  Justin adds by saying, "With wrestling I gained brothers, sisters, father figures."

Justin continues to grapple with autism, and in fact has helped to round up some local wrestling people to run an autism wrestling event on Saturday May 9, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The event will feature duals between teams from the surrounding region.  Stan Chambers of Dynamic Wrestling will be hosting this event.  Pinning Down Autism, a non-profit wrestling organization which raises funds and awareness via wrestling events in various parts of the United States will also be contributing some help in addition to the local backing of the event.  Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Autism Society of North Carolina, an autism services and awareness non-profit in North Carolina.

For more information on Justin's charity event please visit the following links: 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Overcoming Obstacles: Bryan Dobzanski

By Daniel Kelly

 Every so often we read or hear about a story within the wrestling community that ignites a spark in all of us.  This is one of those stories.  It is bittersweet, and the story is still being written.  

Bryan Dobzanski grew up in Franklinville, NJ and is a 2014 graduate of Delsea Regional High School.  In my quest for additional photo content for this article, I glanced at his assortment of Facebook photos.  Bryan's Facebook photo gallery portrays him as your average young man from South Jersey:  wrestling photos, baseball photos, family photos, the prom picture, and of course the infamous diner booth pic (if you know Jersey, you know it is the diner capital of the United States...gotta love the late night diner trips!).  This kid is far from normal.  He is something special.  

Many of you reading this may recognize Bryan's name.  In 2014 InterMat had him ranked as high as #2 in the United States in the 220 pound weight class.  Nationally-ranked kids wrestle in college.  That's just what they do.  And like the majority of nationally-ranked high school athletes Bryan had it all planned out, and he was slated to play baseball for and attend the University of Louisville.  Wait...what?  Yes, you read one of the most prestigious universities for athletics in the country, and specifically for baseball they are a powerhouse.  He was going to be a Cardinal. 

Well, what is interesting is that a few months after graduating he remained a Cardinal; however, he went from being a University of Louisville Cardinal to being a St. Louis Cardinal when the St. Louis Cardinals offered him $700,000 to skip college and go straight into the world of professional baseball.

Bryan was a force on the baseball diamond in high school, but he was also quite dominant on the mat while competing for Delsea Regional High School.  Just how dominant?  155 wins.  Only 8 losses.  99 pins.  Yes, you read correctly...99 pins.  Oh, and he was a two-time State Champ.  Not a bad off-season training gig for a baseball player.  And not to downplay other high school wrestling states, but accomplishing this in New Jersey is an achievement worthy of the highest level of praise.  I approached Bryan recently, and I asked him if we could share his story with the wrestling community.  He gladly offered some time to sit down with The Daily Grapple.

TDG:  "You were a two-time New Jersey State Champ on the mat.  You had 155 wins,  99 of them pins, and only 8 losses in high school.  For you it was just the beginning of what you hope to achieve in athletics.  What do you look to achieve as a baseball player?"

Bryan:  "As a baseball player I hope to achieve the ultimate goal, and every little kid's dream, of making it to the big leagues.  It's always been a dream of mine, and basically I work hard every day trying to make that dream a reality."

TDG:  "How has wrestling played a part in your ongoing success in baseball?"

Bryan:  "Wrestling has been my whole life since I was little.  I remember stepping on the mat when I was five years old.  My whole family has been a big wrestling family.  Wrestling has been a major part of my success as a baseball player, and actually it has helped me a lot as a person.  Wrestling teaches you how to work hard, how to be tough mentally, sportsmanship, how to overcome one on one competition.  In wrestling it's me against the other guy on the mat, but as a pitcher, it's me versus the batter in the [batter's] box.  It is a lot of one on one for me, and having that mental edge.  Wrestling has helped me with that."

TDG:  "In June of 2014 you received a phone call that changed your life.  Being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals was a life-changing event for sure.  What were some of the challenges you faced in adjusting to this unanticipated change in your life?"

Bryan:  "It was definitely a big deal.  Myself and everyone around me knew I was college-ready.  I was ready to go off to Louisville.  Getting that call one week before leaving for college changed up my whole game-plan.  You only have one shot at becoming a major league baseball player.  Once I got that phone call I knew that was my shot, and I had to give it my all and my best.  In college you have a few years to sit back on it, but in professional baseball they really want you to win.  There was no school work to focus on anymore.  It was my time.  It was time for all baseball, all the time.  That's my job"

TDG:  "Do you ever think about the 'what if' with regard to wrestling in college?"

Bryan:  "That doesn't really bother me because I kinda always knew baseball was my future.  Wrestling is great for paying for college, and it's a great sport for that, but it's very tough to build a future on it unless you're one of the greatest.  I was always a multi-sport athlete, and I was always focused on baseball.  I believe I made the best decision, but I still love wrestling."

TDG:  "Are there times where you fantasize about winning an NCAA wrestling title?"

Bryan:  "Definitely.  I really think they're freaks [NCAA champs].  If you win an NCAA title you really are a freak.  I can't even imagine what it would be like to win one.  Even the best wrestlers can't say they are an NCAA champ.  It is an insanely hard tournament to win, so I put those guys that win an NCAA title in very high regard."

TDG:  "Do you still follow wrestling at the high school or college level in your free time?"

Bryan:  "I still follow wrestling at the high school and college level during the winter.  I'm always watching videos on Flo Wrestling.  I have a Flo Pro account.  Sometimes if I can't sleep late at night I go on Flo and watch dirty moves and videos.  My cousin wrestles at Northern Illinois University, so I'm always keeping up with wrestling with him also.  During the wrestling season I help coach at my old high school at Delsea Regional.  I'm in the room helping out as best as I can.  My brother is still on the team, and he's a sophomore so I like helping him also.  Nothing is more satisfying than finishing a tough wrestling practice.  Wrestling is a big part of my life, and I will continue to enjoy it as long as I can."

TDG:  "Do you have any advice for kids who are multi-sport athletes that wrestle and play another sport such as baseball or football?"

Bryan:  "A lot of colleges like multi-sport athletes, and they really do think highly of them.  It just shows the athleticism that you have.  You are only a kid one time.  You only get one shot at life, and don't let anyone else influence you.  Don't let people get in your ear and tell you 'oh just focus on one sport.'  I didn't listen to people.  I kinda shied away from them.  People were saying 'you already won a state title so why go out your senior year for another?'  I didn't let people turn me into a one sport athlete.  I love wrestling, and I love baseball."

As I was conversing with Bryan throughout the interview, I kept thinking about how his story sounds like a Disney movie in the making.  Bryan was supposed to be a Louisville Cardinal, and now he is a St. Louis Cardinal.  Bryan was a two-time New Jersey State Wrestling Champion.  He sacrificed wrestling in college to play baseball, and the NCAA Division 1 Championships are being held in St. Louis as I write this very article.  I, along with the entire New Jersey wrestling community, hope to see Bryan Dobzanski crowned a champion in St. Louis in 2015...but rather on a pitcher's mound instead of a wrestling mat.  


Friday, January 16, 2015

Back-Bridging Over The Achievement Gap: Why Wrestling is the Solution Educators Have Been Searching For

By Justin McLennan

The Achievement Gap

It is a widely held belief that schools are failing our children. This belief is backed with scores of statistics showing the grim situations that face the public school system and its inability to prepare our kids for the world. Nowhere are these statistics more appalling than in the lower socioeconomic bracket. So serious is the disparity between rich and poor that there has been a term coined to describe it: the achievement gap
I work for a high-achieving charter school in NYC serving low-income students. It is a place where we pride ourselves in bridging this achievement gap -- year after year we surpass the stats of even the richest public schools. The school has beautiful classrooms with teachers who are deeply committed to excellence and to getting their kids to and through 4-year universities. Most teachers put in 12-hour days every day to make sure they are giving every ounce of their being to this cause.
But, I'm sad to say, it is far from enough. Last year our high school sent 100% of its students to 4-year colleges or universities. That is a BIG DEAL and everyone was extremely proud. But what happened to them? How did they fair in their freshman year?
Not so well. Many have dropped out, and many are struggling academically. This is after 13 years of working their butts off morning and night with some of the hardest working teachers and parents on the planet. From K-12 they may have outperformed their middle-class peers, but the middle-class is making it through college at a much higher rate.  Why? What is missing from their educational or life experience that did not prepare them to succeed in higher education?

Today I want to focus on one thing that struggling schools are missing that could fundamentally change these statistics: WRESTLING. But before we get into the solution, let’s talk a little more about the problem.
The Purpose of Education

There are two main and seemingly opposite purposes of school. The first is to create productive citizens of our society. These kids will grow to have jobs and be part of the dynamic economy of the 21st century. This is the overarching purpose of U.S. public schools, and if you look at the structure of the classroom, with many students (workers) and one teacher (the boss) you see how we train our youngsters to fit into this economic system quite nicely. Certain behaviors are trained, certain knowledge is inserted, and voila!... you have a diverse population of ready, willing, and specialized automatons. 
The second, and less popular, purpose of schooling is to allow students to discover and develop their passions. This is a much more student-centered purpose of school, where the students are challenged to find that which they love to do and to develop it deeply, so when they graduate they know what drives them and can follow their passions into economic success. My favorite quote of education comes from a genius pedagogue named A.S. Neill, who said that kids “learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand.” In essence, children would learn what they need to on their own if they are doing that which they loved and wanted to do. Think of how much harder this person would work than an automaton because they ACTUALLY CARED about what they did. The boss wouldn't even need to tell them what to do because their hearts are already telling them.

As humans we are innately concerned with self-preservation and self-interest. When you have a school system that is not allowing kids to develop their own self-interested areas of study but instead forcing them through a state-dictated curriculum and test-preparation gauntlet, how can you expect success in life?
Success in college and in life are about much more than a curriculum can teach. But too much of that is left up to the luck of the draw of being born into a good family, or having a good teacher or a decent school that inspires you to do great things in life and to be successful.
Finding a Quasi-Solution in Sports

The sad truth about education is that the uninspiring, corporate manufacturing of our children’s minds through state-run schools is here to stay. In fact, the restrictive and dictatorial manner of schools only seems to be worsening, evidenced by a variety of YouTube videos by teachers and students alike. It's crazy that somehow only the teachers and students know that its not ever going to work.
The hope that I have hung onto is in the power of sports. The laundry list of the benefits of sports is extensive, and many successful athletes and professionals (myself included) attribute many of their successes in life to their sports background. 
The additional benefit of sport for our purposes of closing the achievement gap is that sports can be used to motivate the students. When teachers ask, “Why don’t they listen?” I always respond: “Why WOULD they listen?” Sports give uninterested students a reason to listen and to self-motivate in order to stay eligible for their team. That is in addition to all the positive culture and character that they get from the team and coach. 

Now here is where wrestling comes in. Aside from its incredible ability to develop toughness, determination and personal relationships, wrestling has the added benefit that it is perfect for society’s most struggling demographic: BOYS.
Boys Need to Wrestle
In all of my years as a teacher, boys have always been the most challenging. Ask any teacher and they will agree. Impulsive, aggressive, angry, silly, unfocused, the list goes on and on. The statistics about boys in education are SHOCKING. In fact, the disparity between boys and girls is actually GREATER than the achievement gap that we are talking about. 
Let me re-state that. Being a boy predicts failure in school more than being poor. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am in full support of girls and women’s wrestling. I truly hope my daughter Juliana will some day wear a headgear and singlet. But Julie doesn’t NEED it like the boys on my team need it. Julie can relate to other people without physical engagement. Julie can sit still and learn about anything she sets her mind to. Julie follows directions and doesn’t hit in school. 
In the book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, the authors argue that much of society’s adult problems stem from this boy problem. Boys don’t fit into the female-run elementary schools largely because it’s not set up for boys to succeed. They internalize their failures and take these all the way to their graves, an attitude that informs much of life.
Sports offer the boy an outlet for these boyish things, a place where boys can be boys and still be successful. Wrestling specifically utilizes the natural tendencies of boys to compete and engage physically. Working with my youngest group of 7 and 8 years olds, it is the most fascinating thing to see them first being allowed to grapple with each other. You sit them in a circle and explain “OK, now when I say go, your job is to try to get your partner on the ground and hold him there.” They look at you and laugh. 
And even as you are getting them ready for the whistle, they don’t believe you. And when the whistle blows pure boyish joy erupts as if, for the first time, they were given a space to be themselves. There they are, our future men, the warriors, the fighters, the soldiers from time immemorial, learning to be just that, but on a wrestling mat. 
When I look at my students and I ponder for their future, much of it comes to worry about their success, their prospects. But when I look at my wrestlers, I think of all the great things they will do some day. I just wish all of my students could also be wrestlers!  Some day it may be so.

Justin McLennan is a teacher and wrestling coach originally from Easton, PA, who lives in New York City. He is currently contributing to the immense growth in the wrestling community in Brooklyn. If you are interested in coaching wrestling and teaching in Brooklyn, please e-mail him at . 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching Foxes: Mark Schultz

By Daniel Kelly

Mark Schultz is one of the biggest names in wrestling, ever; period.  His competitive nature can be seen so clearly if one were to watch any footage of him engaging in battle on the mat, from his days of dominating the NCAA to winning gold in the 1984 Olympics.  People tell stories of Mark’s achievements in an effort to paint a picture of how dominant he truly was to people who may not be familiar with his achievements in the sport of wrestling, and it always begins to sound like a tall tale of gladiator-like proportions.  The only thing about these stories; however, they are true.  For the non-believers I can offer one comment:  roll the tape. 
                  Like many successful athletes in any sport, Mark trained extensively.  He had a clear focus, and that focus was winning gold at every level.  The majority of people reading this article more than likely know of the movie Foxcatcher, but may not be aware of many details relating to Mark Schultz's life and his personal perspective regarding his achievements on the mat.  Mark was kind enough to invest some time for an interview with The Daily Grapple:

TDG:  “You were a gymnastics competitor before you began wrestling in high school.  In your opinion, how did gymnastics contribute to your future success in wrestling?”

Mark:  “It contributed tremendously.  Gymnasts do not get dizzy, so whenever I got into a flurry in wrestling I never got dizzy.  Sometimes when you get out of a flurry and you are still inbounds, you have to protect or defend yourself against a shot.  And if you get dizzy you’re in trouble.  Gymnastics provided me with a huge advantage in those types of situations.”

TDG:  “How have you converted your hardships into positive experiences and lessons you can teach unto others?”  

Mark:  “I feel that it was an act of God that the movie [Foxcatcher] was made.  It immortalized my brother, and that is important to me.  I feel that Bennett Miller [director of Foxcatcher] took all of my pain and suffering, and turned it into something that made it all worth it.  The story could have been lost to history, but it wasn’t because of great men like Bennett Miller.”

TDG:  “Even after the ultimate sacrifices you and your brother made, for our sport and for the United States in general, do you still love wrestling?”

Mark:  “I love the beauty of the sport.  Wrestling is the greatest builder of character in the world.”

TDG:  “Is it painful for you to watch the movie?”

Mark:  “Yeah.  It is.  I cried.”

Mark Schultz (right) and his brother Dave Schultz (left).

TDG:  “I feel crazy even asking this question, but the people will want to know!  How does it make you feel that you defeated not one, not two, but THREE Iowa Hawkeyes wrestlers in the NCAA Finals, considering all THREE were under the leadership of Dan Gable, for THREE years in a row?”

Mark:  “Every year I went to the finals I met an Iowa Hawkeye.  That just goes to show you how tough that team was.  The psychological pressure before my finals match against Duane Goldman was the most I have ever felt in my life.  Goldman was a freshman.  I was a defending two-time national champion.  I think I won because before the match Goldman decided I was going to win.  All three were tough.”

Mark Schultz during his 1983 NCAA Championships Semifinal match.

TDG:  “When did you know for sure that your competitive career as a wrestler was over?” 

Mark:  “I herniated my back right after the first UFC, and I went in for surgery.  Then some people started writing letters to the President of BYU complaining about me fighting.  I needed health insurance for my kids.  All of those things are why I decided it was time to hang it up.  We have doubled our average life spans in the last two hundred years, but God didn't make spines to last eighty years."

TDG:  “You are putting out a book, a blockbuster movie based on your book and life events, Olympic Gold Medal, NCAA Titles.  The sky is no limit for you.  What's next?”

Mark:  “I am still doing wrestling clinics, but my back isn’t what it used to be.  I still try and give back to the sport.  I’m trying to help spread the Book of Mormon.  I am doing a lot of public speaking and promoting my book.”

Mark and I talked about many more things relating to his life story aside from the interview segment above.  I urge people to go to see the movie Foxcatcher, but if you truly want to gain insight into Mark’s life, on and off the mat, you need to do so through his perspective.  Keep in mind that the movie is based on a true story, but Mark’s book is the true story.  See the movie.  Read the book.  Compare the two.  Expand your mind.

Mark was competitive on a level that many people simply do not, and cannot, understand.  In the beginning of the discussion I had with Mark on the day of the interview we did, he proceeded to tell me something that he said he had not told anyone publicly in any previous discussions or interviews.  He told me about a few silver medals he won during college and after college while competing in the World Cup, and the aforementioned medals I speak of are the only three silver medals he ever won in his entire wrestling career.  One silver medal was thrown onto the roof of Gallagher Hall at Oklahoma State.  The silver medal he won at the Midlands tournament was tossed in a trash can outside of the gym.  The silver medal plaque he received at the World Cup still resides somewhere near the bottom of the Ottawa River.  He prefaced providing me with the above information by stating:  "Winning is everything to me."  These items, which now reside in landfills of sorts, are items that many of us would treasure for life, and perhaps even hand down to future generations.  Mark was not happy with anything less than gold.

Think about the sacrifices our Olympic athletes make to compete in honor of their country.  Think about the sacrifices that Mark, Dave, and other elite competitors in the sport of wrestling have made and continue to make.  Hopefully Foxcatcher is not merely a movie people go and see to fill up their calendars; a novelty of the sport of wrestling.  Foxcatcher isn't about growing the sport of wrestling.  The intention of Mark releasing his story, and his brother's story, is not to embark on some crusade to grow our sport.  It is frustrating to see people on social media only commenting that the movie is great for our sport and so on and so forth, and the sudden delaying of its release across the country in November of 2014 was some sort of conspiracy to stunt the growth of wrestling.  Is it great for the sport?  Absolutely, but what makes it more than just being great for our sport is that these events happened to real people.

The events which took place on that fateful day when Dave Schultz's life was taken by John DuPont were immeasurably tragic, not because Dave was a wrestler of historic proportions; but because Dave was a husband, father, teacher, mentor, friend, uncle, and brother.  The coincidence and deeper meaning behind the film; however, is that you don't have to have ever wrestled or have been a wrestler to understand the tragedy behind these events which occurred in Mark's life.  We are all wrestlers of sorts.  We all grapple with anger, frustration, doubt, fear, and loss.  These all come in many forms, on and off the mat.

For more information on Mark Schultz please visit:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles: Grappling with Autism

By Gary Kinzer
Guest Contributor
Grottoes, VA

The first time I met him, his mom did the talking. She explained about his past, the bullying, the torture. She explained that he had Asperger’s Syndrome [autism spectrum disorder], something I hadn't heard of, and that he didn't like touching, or talking, or getting close to anyone; but he was strong, aggressive, and wanted to fit in. Steven never really did fit in though. He had an attitude that set him apart. He sat alone on the wrestling mat tube while we talked. It was the last time he was alone in that room.
The minute I stepped in the house, I rushed to the computer. Googling ensued. I found out everything I needed to know about the condition, his temper, his isolation. This kid needed wrestling. He needed to be out of his comfort zone. He needed me. I didn't realize how much I needed him.
I was the Junior High wrestling coach in the same halls I walked as a kid. This was my second year with the title after taking a year off for work. That’s something that I have always struggled with. There were few places that would hire me on the strict schedule I had. I stressed to my kids that they needed to finish one dream before moving on to another, and that I was the perfect example of what they shouldn’t do. I wanted to be a teacher, but I began coaching before that came true.  A steady stream of classes is coming. I’ll get that degree, I swear.
The first few days with Steven were rough. He’d get beaten soundly by the rest of the team. The team was full of kids that had wrestled before, including the one he shared his weight class with.
He wasn’t picking up the moves quickly. His heartbreak was shattering me. He was not the starter. His limited time on the mat was evident.
Finally, he opened up to me. He didn’t want to get close to anyone, but he was stuck with me for two hours a day. Eventually, I learned his life story. I learned about his family. I learned that he did everything he could for his mom, the only parent he had in his life. The more we talked, the closer we became. Steven could get close to someone. Steven chose me.
As the seventh grade season ended, Steven had three wins. Our team had a lot of victories that year, but I remember those three distinctly. There were plenty wrestlers that did great, and I got close to each of them too. They didn’t need me though, any wrestling coach would do. Steven needed me. I needed him too.
That summer I held open mats, a room where wrestling ran free. It was open to anyone from anywhere. We had visitors, but there was only one constant. Steven.
He didn’t have excuses. He told me he wanted to win. Every week, he’d jog there. Every week he jogged home.
I couldn’t teach him moves in the summer. That wasn’t why we were there. I gave him a place to work out. I gave him a place to ease his frustrations. I gave him a place where he could shed the shell he hid in. He gave me everything he had.
I’m not one of those coaches that ask for the impossible. 110% does not cross my lips. I’m a realist, but I have high expectations. Success comes from putting time in, and time was all Steven had. I broke him every day physically. He broke me down right back. He’d tell me how life was going. He’d tell me about his enormous goals. He’d tell me he loved me, and I would do the same. Then he’d bruise me, or bloody my nose. He kept coming. I couldn’t stop Steven from getting better if I tried. He simply worked too hard.
Eighth grade rolled around, and the team was shaping up. The youth had diminished and Steven was a man. His teammates became men too, but I hadn’t seen them grow, not like Steven. Every Wednesday, I saw him, every Wednesday he grew.
He found a spot on the starting line-up. He opened up to the other kids. He constantly tried to prove that he was a wrestler, and that he could outwork anyone in the room. He did.
There were other kids on the team that were given athletic gifts. They worked hard and became great. Steven wasn’t given anything. He worked for everything he had. Wednesday nights were over, the real test was about to emerge.
Steven started winning.
I never saw him wrestle a pretty match, but the wins started piling up. His eyes gazed at the medals he won, validation for giving up his summer Wednesdays. He didn’t have a lot of moves, but what he did have was working. In close matches, he didn’t win with technique. He won with heart. He won because he did things to get better when no one was watching. He won those winter matches in July.
When the season ended, he had thirty-three wins.
In Ohio, there is a goal for every Junior High wrestler. The OAC Junior High State Tournament is the test. There are no divisions. There is just one champion in each weight class. Steven wanted to taste it. Taste it, he did.
Steven went from three wins to thirty-three, and he can forever say that he was an OAC Junior High state qualifier.
I often get messages from my old wrestlers, but no one talks to me more than him. He validated his work on the mat. He validates mine with his words.
Good Luck on the upcoming season. I love ya, kid.