The NCAA Championships

The city of Pittsburgh did a wonderful job hosting the event. From friendly, helpful airport greeters to welcome banners hanging on seemingly every lamp post in the city. Everything Pittsburgh did said, “welcome, and thank you for visiting,” and the Steel City did us right. The arena where we wrestled and the Penguins play, was comfortable and without question, a championship facility.

Overall, I’d support returning again, actually quite often. Just like “Bo knows wrestling,” the Keystone State also knows wrestling. And as is the case every year, we had more than our share of exceptional bouts and surprising upsets. If someone would have told me before the event began that Nick Piccininni, Alex Marinelli, Myles Martin, Sebastian Rivera, Steven Micic and Gable Steveson wouldn’t win the tournament, or even make it to the finals, I would have said they were showing early signs of dementia.

As to those who did win, here are a few of my takeaways . . .

125; Spencer Lee, wanted it more than anyone else in the weight and even though he hit a few pot holes during the regular season, he obviously found the entrance to the freeway by the time weigh-ins began.

133; Nick Suriano, is a physical beast. Can you imagine how much better he could be if he had a wrestling room full of like talented workout partners?

141; Yianni Diakomihalis, even though McKenna gave him all he wanted, and some might say more than was necessary to win, he has the most kinesthetic sense of anyone in the tournament. You could throw him in the air 10 times and like a cat, he’d land on his feet just as many times. I’m not sure you can say that about anyone else in the tournament.

149; Anthony Ashnault, it was obvious from the beginning of the tournament he was the most solid performer in a weight class that wasn’t overly stacked with contenders. Regardless, he was consistent, tough and technical. In any other year I’m sure Anthony would be in the mix, regardless of who was standing across from him.       

157; Jason Nolf, was the country’s bonus bunny all year, averaging over 5 team points a match. Some might think that his weight class was weak given how he walked through and over the competition (except in the semi’s), but it was just the opposite, and he’s that good. Actually, he’s one of the best that ever wrestled in the weight class.       

165; Mekhi Lewis, so much talent, and heart. Given he was a freshman, it appeared no one told him he should respect his elders, or his peers. Or maybe it was the competition who needed to respect him? He did win the Junior World Championships this past Fall. And of all the wrestlers in Pittsburgh, he was the one who stood out as actually enjoying the event. His infectious smile and unlimited energy could be seen from any seat in the arena. Although he didn’t win it, he was my tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler.

174; Zahid Valencia, he didn’t have the season he was capable of putting together but someone kicked him in the pants when it came time to show the nation who was #1. Conversely, Hall seemed uninspired, there wasn’t an urgency to his wrestling, especially when he needed to score. If he’d only let go of the reins, and allow the thoroughbred that’s in him to run, he’d win every race he entered.

184; Drew Foster, who knew? Especially with shoe-in Myles Martin in the weight class. But Drew, in workmanship fashion, took each match as they came and when the smoke cleared, he was the man still standing. At-a-boy, well done!

197; Bo Nickal, a tremendous athlete and technician who can do pretty much what he wants, whenever he wants, against whomever he wants. Next year’s NCAA tournament, and the Nittany Lions, will sorely miss his confidence, swagger and electric performances.

Hwt; Anthony Cassar, I give Cael a lot of credit here. Besides always ending up with more points than his opponent, Anthony did it through the type of tactics I haven’t seen in years. He didn’t poke the bear in the semi’s, rather he continually flirted with stalling calls as he lulled Steveson to sleep, then stung him at the final buzzer to win. In the finals he did just the opposite, immediately attacking what appeared to be an apprehensive Cowboy; who never recovered from the opening takedown.

Regarding the team race, Rutgers surprised everyone with 2 champs as did Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan with no champs.

And even though Penn State ran away with the team title, they seemed to be “a little off” their game in Pittsburgh. The only Nittany Lion who wrestled above expectations was Cassar.

And how about the job the Princeton coaches are doing with 3 All-Americans. The Tigers finished 15th in the country and I can’t tell you in the last decade when that happened. And they had more than a few great individuals. During the season they knocked off Lehigh, North Carolina, Virginia and only lost to Rutgers by a point.

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An Open Letter to ESPN

Dear Programming Director,

Each year your production of our championships keeps getting better and better. I can say without hesitation; the sport of wrestling truly appreciates all you do to help us demonstrate our greatness.

As a suggestion for future events, would it be possible to broadcast our sport like you do golf; with over half of the approach shots, memorable putts and cringeworthy flubs aired by way of tape delay.

With wrestling, like golf, a lot of the action that is broadcasted is actually inaction. But if you look at what’s taking place on the other 7 mats, like you do with an entire field of golfers, there’s always something exciting to see.

This is why our fans currently prefer to attend the NCAA’s rather than watch them on television. When you’re in the arena, it’s an 8-ring circus, there’s always something fun to watch. All anyone has to do is swivel their head.

Do you think you could do for us what you do for golf? You already have cameras on every mat. Just direct those who are in the control booth to capture whatever action isn’t being aired, add some dialogue, and air it when you’re ready. I’m not suggesting that you cut away from big matches to show the action, just use your picture in picture technology to bring it to the viewers.

The point is, it doesn’t matter if these video snippets are tape delayed, our fans will enjoy them as much as those who love golf enjoy the way you handle their sport.

I hope I didn’t overstep any boundaries here in sharing this suggestion. I just see things that others tend to overlook and like them, love the sport too much not to say anything.

But regardless, thank you for being a part of man’s oldest sport.

Warmest Regards,

Wade Schalles

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Television at its Best

Speaking of television, I just finished a program on Netflix, the first full season of Northern Rescue.

What an entertaining show. I only paused the series once to grab a coke. Well, it might have been a rum and coke but regardless, I highly recommend it.

It stars Billy Baldwin, one of wrestling’s largest supporters and brother of Alec and Steven, who by the way, all wrestled for Al Bevilacqua on Long Island.

The show’s worth your time, and it never hurts to promote those who continually support us. Give it a try.

Well done Billy.

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Seeding the NCAA’s?

For the life of me I can’t understand the NCAA Rules Committee. They may know their escapes and half-nelsons but marketing and self-esteem not so much. Why, help me here, why do they feel that seeding every wrestler at the NCAA tournament is either desirous or helpful?

From the personal side of things, if it were one of the rules committee’s sons who was seeded 23rd or 33rd, I wonder how they’d feel about it? Why would anyone do that to any athlete, or child; and for what purpose? It couldn’t be that the wrestler would want to brag to his family and friends that he was chosen by his peers as one of the worst wrestlers in the tournament.

Wouldn’t that be considered labeling, or possibly, bullying?

Seeding every athlete in the tournament doesn’t serve any reasonable purpose. Everyone knows who the top athletes are, and after the top 8 seeds, it doesn’t matter where an athlete is in the bracket. All that means for those wrestlers is the round when they’re going to begin their travels back through the consolation bracket.

The bottom line for me is, seeding the lower half of a weight class is unproductive, unnecessary and amazingly insensitive.

If you want to talk marketing, which media outlet, or fan, is sitting on the edge of their seat to watch the 32nd seed take on the 1st seed? At least in previous years, if the 1st seed was competing against an unseeded wrestler of unknown capability, the media would at least pause before dismissing it as a potential white-wash.

Relative to self-esteem, something the Rules Committee has seemingly overlooked, which of these athletes would want to answer the question when their grandson or granddaughter asks, “What were you seeded at the NCAA’s when you wrestled Grand Pa?”

This isn’t hard to fix . . . here’s what I wrote about 3 blogs ago relative to seeding . . . and it’s still a winning suggestion any way you slice it.

Relative to seeding in any wrestling event, and certainly at the NCAA’s, we need take a page from basketball’s playbook. They break their NCAA tournament into quarter brackets and then seed each one as if it were 4 separate tournaments.

I like it . . . a lot.

It gives their sport four 1st seeds, four 2nd seeds, four 3rd seeds, four 4th seeds, and so on while achieving the same goal we have in keeping the best athletes apart; but through empathy, compassion, and with an emphasis on marketing.

Why wouldn’t we want to do the same thing for wrestling? Could be that we’re too stubborn, or proud, at the expense of our athletes, to admit that basketball had the idea first?

All we have to do is take the top four seeds in each weight class and give each one of them a 1st seed designation in their respective quarter bracket. Then seeds 5 through 8 would receive a 2nd seed designation and so on through 4th seed. That takes care of the top 16 wrestlers in the field of 32.

Now I realize this suggestion might have a few readers saying, “I don’t like it.” But wouldn’t this elevate every seeded wrestler while still achieving the primary goal of keeping the best wrestlers apart, as long as possible?

Why would this be bad, why would it be wrong to make so many more of our wrestlers feel important than we do under the current system? The best wrestler in each weight is still going to win. The second-best wrestler will still take second and everyone would still be aware of who the 16th seed is; he’s the 4th seed in the top quarter bracket.

Why not do what we can to uplift our athletes, I see plenty of upside, and no downside.

Regarding the media, when several of our 1st seeds hits the 2nd seeds in any of the quarter final rounds, sportswriters have something exciting to write and ESPN to talk about.

Now, if those who decide these sorts of things, still insist on seeding everyone in the tournament, as lame as that might be, they can still use this system. It would give our 32nd seed an 8th seed designation.

This certainly seems to be a Gold Medal suggestion. It doesn’t change anything we do with the actual wrestling, but it does help us market the sport while reducing those self-esteem issues that the Rules Committee has to know they’re creating.

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Refereeing in Pittsburgh

It was the best I’ve ever seen. We can always debate the benefits, or disadvantages of any rule, new or old, but none of that has anything to do with the officials. Their job is to apply the rules as they’re written, and in that regard, the referees scored very high marks in Pittsburgh. They were more consistent and professional than I’ve ever seen them.

In that regard, those who oversee the officiating corps, did a whale of a job.

And imagine this, all without any obstruction of justice or collusion.

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Shameless Advertising

If you’re looking for a present to give the young wrestler in your family, or looking for a great read for yourself, may I suggest Jacob’s Cradle. I recently finished it, and in the last 2 months both the sales, and reviews, have been beyond amazing.

It’s the story of young wrestler trying to win the Olympics while as an agent of the CIA, settling a score with one of the most dangerous men in the world. But at the center of Jacob’s universe is his wife, Charlotte, an independent free-wheeling boat captain who sails the pirate infested-waters of the African coast. Together they go through adventure after adventure like no other love story.

Here are four reviews from dozens that I’m proud to have received.

“Wade Schalles writes the same way he wrestled – all out, holding nothing back and with a very exciting style! His first novel is a thriller with great characters and numerous plot twists. He keeps a pace that will have the reader eagerly turning the pages. Wrestling people will love the hero and enjoy his journey through a tangled web of international intrigue and escapades, with fascinating locales and settings. Read it and enjoy!” Mike Chapman, Historian Founder, WIN Magazine

“This book is so good it’s distracting me from the weather, I can pay it no higher compliment.” Joe Bastardi, Meteorologist WeatherBell Analytics 

“Regardless of what brought you to Jacob’s Cradle, you are in for a treat. Wade Schalles has effectively transferred his creative imagination to pen and paper. In doing so he has successfully blended world class wrestling with love and intrigue. This book is bound to have readers asking for more from one of our sport’s all-time greats.” Rich Bender, Executive Director USA Wrestling

“I couldn’t put it down. Started reading the day I got it. Finished it in one sitting. It was that entertaining and I loved the wrestling scenes. Great job.” Sheila Wager, International Wrestling Official and Distinguished Member, Amateur Athletic Union

Jacob’s Cradle can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, or any of your local book stores.  

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