In terms of upsets, it’s bigger than any of the on-the-mat surprises served up at the 2010 NCAAs. Bigger than Darrion Caldwell of North Carolina State’s stunning 11-6 victory over Brent Metcalf in the 149 finals at last years NCAAs.
Most high school wrestling programs can’t claim a single NCAA champ…nor have they ever sent anyone to the Olympics. Yet, the wrestling program in one Iowa small town has produced more than its fair share of national champs and Olympians…along with a couple of college coaches who led their teams to national titles. Not to mention a wrestler who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Norman Ernest Borlaug may be the most accomplished former wrestler in the twentieth century.
Borlaug never won an Olympic gold medal, or a national collegiate or conference title, or even a state high school title. His coaching career was brief, serving as a freshman wrestling coach while in college. However, the former high school and college wrestler’s accomplishments as an agricultural scientist are nothing short of astonishing…..and life saving.
The programs of the Iowa High School Athletic Association have produced some outstanding athletes in their first century of competition, but as former executive Bernie Saggau often said, “I really could care less about all the All-Americans we produce. I am more concerned about the good Americans, not the All-Americans.”
In the state of Iowa, wrestling is about as close to a religion as it is anywhere. And, in this wrestling hotbed state, Cresco was one of its hottest incubators for the sport — a place where mat champions were born and made.
If Cresco were any further north, it would be in Minnesota. This community of approximately 4,000 residents is located in the rolling farm country of northeastern Iowa, about halfway between Waterloo, Iowa and Rochester, Minnesota. From the 1920s into the 1960s, Cresco launched more than its share of wrestling success stories … with names likely to be familiar to even to today’s fans, including Nichols, Kurdelmeier, Peckham and Borlaug…
Gary Kurdelmeier wore many hats in his life. Although he was a two-time Iowa high school state champ, a Big Ten titlist, an NCAA champ, and coach whose wrestlers won conference and national titles, Kurdelmeier’s lasting legacy a decade after his death may well be as the architect whose planning and efforts thirty-five years ago helped put his Iowa Hawkeyes at the top of collegiate wrestling as 2008 NCAA team champions.
Ask a wrestler why he or she took up the sport, and many times the response is, “My dad was a wrestler.”
One can imagine that there might be considerable pressure on a youngster whose Dad was a three-time NCAA champ (winning NCAA tournament Outstanding Wrestler honors twice) and long-time coach at the University of Northern Iowa and at Penn State.
This spring, much was made about the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson being the first African-American in major league baseball. There were special ceremonies at baseball parks across the country, along with countless articles, TV news stories and commentaries, commemorating Robinson joining the New York Dodgers in 1947.
This spring also marked the 50th anniversary of a similar milestone in college wrestling history.