Lifetime of Achievement Award
Amateur wrestling has its share of national awards, but when we compare our numbers to other organizations and sports, we need to do better.
Especially at the elementary and middle school levels where we have so many outstanding coaches, mentors, and administrators who play pivotal roles in our children’s development.
At the other end of the award spectrum, we also have a glaring omission, a Lifetime of Achievement Award … the apex of achievement. Think Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and what they do each year to honor their artistic legends.
So why don’t we have a Lifetime of Achievement Award too?
Now the National Wrestling Coaching Association does have them, but only at the state level. And the National Wrestling Hall of Fame has quite a few distinguished awards, but none that rises to the level of a lifetime of achievement.
So again, shouldn’t we as well?
Of primary concern is what occurs when someone is inducted into one of our Halls of Fame? In essence, reaching the sports pinnacle of achievement. When that happens, does the individual stay involved in the sport or does he or she look elsewhere for a new challenge?
Isn’t that something that achievement is all about? Once you reach the bar that you set for yourself, and there’s nowhere else to go, isn’t it human nature to start looking around for another mountain to climb?
Wouldn’t a Lifetime of Achievement Award be that next mountain? A reason for our greats to continue advancing our sport?
And even if you’re not sure that wresting needs a Lifetime of Achievement Award, we should consider it anyway because every major organization, and sport in America has one. And for us to be different, yet again, sends the type of message to those outside of our sport that wrestling still doesn’t get it.
Recently, I read a series of posts on Facebook addressing the question of who was America’s greatest pinner?
Given that I have some background on the subject, I decided to weigh-in.
My first thought is, there’s never a clear cut answer to any question in wrestling. Our sport never seems to be able to get past the first point of contention; what criteria are we using?
If we’re discussing who’s the greatest wrestler of all time, are we talking about someone who has the most victories, the most titles, or the most marquee wins? Should we include international competitions, or just analyze domestic events? Should there be a larger emphasis on the middle weights, given that’s the apex of the bell curve relative to numbers of athletes competing? How about using the highest percentage of wins to matches wrestled as the defining criteria?
The same dilemma occurs when we’re trying to discuss pinning. Are we talking about who has the most pins, the highest ratio of pins to wins, the most physical pinner, the most dangerous, the most exciting, or someone who has the most marquee falls?
As I typed each of these criteria, a dozen names came to mind. In alphabetical order they were: Ben Askren, Larry Bielenberg, Mark Churella, Dan Gable, Danny Hodge, Bill Koll, Randy Lewis, Gene Mills, Bo Nickal, that Clarion guy, Al Sears, and Chris Taylor.
If we’re talking about sheer numbers, Al Sears, from SIU-Edwardsville is the current NCAA title holder with 110 pins over a collegiate career? He was very good at pinning, but if I have to walk the plank here and rank each individual, I don’t have him in my Top 5 for two reasons. The first one is his school’s strength of schedule, and second, a shortage of marquee wins by fall.
Chris Taylor, God rest his soul, pinned a lot, but I wouldn’t classify him as a pinner when he weighed well over 400 pounds. He just pinned a lot. So, if we’re trying to decide who the greatest pinner of all time was, I think we have to base our decisions on subtle differences. Two of them might be; did the individual use various techniques to secure falls, or did he or she with the inclusion of women in the sport only have one go to method, or in Chris’s situation, a distinct advantage.
Amazingly, both Hodge and Gable hold the national record for percentage of pins to wins with 73% of their matches ending by fall. Now I have to admit, I never had the pleasure of watching Danny wrestle so I can’t possible classify him as a pinner or someone who pinned … a lot! But I would imagine every one of the poor souls who ended up underneath him would agree; he was not only a pinner, but someone blessed with beastly power.
Dan on the other hand, I worked out with, a lot, and don’t have a problem classifying his skills. Simply, he was a pinner with exceptional intensity. His greatness, as well as Hodge’s, can never be questioned and why I have the two Dan’s tied at number 2 in my Top 5 list of greatest pinners of all time. And, along with Bill Koll, they own the category of the most physical pinners of all time.
Gene Mills was a pinner extraordinaire, with 101 different ways of putting a half nelson on, and almost as many collegiate falls. He was amazingly talented, and combined with a level of tenaciousness I’ve never seen before or since, puts him at number 4 in my Top 5 list of greatest pinners of all time.
Regarding the third and fourth categories, most dangerous, and most exciting, I’ve been told I fall into those categories along with Gene, Randy Lewis, and Bo Nickal.
Then there’s Ben Askren, he’s always in the conversation when we’re talking about great pinners. Ben was both funky, and fun to watch. His opponents were always apprehensive when they faced him because any mistake they made, typically ended the match. He’s my number 5 in the Top 5 greatest of all time with 91 collegiate falls.
Athletes who fell outside the Top 5, and into an Honorable Mention category, which somehow seems wrong when we’re talking about how great these athletes are, were; Larry Bielenberg, Mark Churella, Randy Lewis, and Bo Nickal.
Although not on my original list, a name that kept popping up in my head was Lou Banach. He was an incredible heavyweight, pinning future NCAA champions Bruce Baumgartner and Tab Thacker, and 4-time All-American Steve “Dr. Death” Williams when he was outweighed by huge amounts.
Every one of these individuals are clearly the best pinners the country has ever produced. Tenacious, fun to watch; each are a legend’s legend, and the type of champions that so many of our current wrestlers try to emulate.
As to number 1, I’ll defer to Mike Chapman here. He’s been to 47 NCAA tournaments, written 17 books, created WIN Magazine, the Dan Hodge Award and founded the Dan Gable Museum. He’s often said, privately and publicly, “that he considers a guy named Wade Schalles to be the most dangerous and exciting pinner he ever saw.” What separates Wade from the rest, besides the Guinness Book of World Records for pins, is the quality of those he pinned; 6 NCAA Division I Champions in four different weight classes, 32 NCAA All-Americans and although not collegiate competition, 4 World Champions.
Regional Training Centers
There seems to have been some confusion relative to my last blog. People are wondering why I praised Rich Bender for America’s successes in Tokyo, but in an earlier blog, I outlined my distaste for the Regional Training Centers. One moment I was condemning the RTC’s and then the next, praising Rich for establishing them.
To be clear, the RTC’s have been a fabulous idea when we’re talking about our international efforts. Having Rich’s vision and focus here has been nothing short of amazing.
However, and this is a BIG however; the RTC’s are poisonous with respect to NCAA programming. This is where everything gets dicey. Collegiately, it’s the rich getting richer while all the other programs get to live in their shadows.
I’m happy for the institutions that have RTC’s, and able to make them work financially. That’s the American way, it’s competition, and it’s great in industries that are part of a free market system.
But in wrestling, we don’t have a free market. Instead, most of our 70 plus D-I programs have to rely on the generosity of Athletic Directors to stay afloat.
I get it, it’s wonderful to have world class athletes in your wrestling room. But it’s almost impossible for the Clarion’s of the world, the Indiana’s, UVA’s, Cal Poly’s and Central Michigan’s to even raise enough money to be able to say they have an RTC; let alone have any left over to begin to be competitive.
Allowing RTC’s on college campuses is wrong. And it’s just the opposite of what the NCAA was trying to do for the sake of parity when they limited scholarships and the number of coaching positions a school can have.
RTC’s are nothing more than an end run around a system that the NCAA put in place to help wrestling maintain the number of programs it still has.
I’m sure some of you will disagree, but where does all the money come from that supports the RTC’s? Not through gate receipts, or television rights. It comes from the generosity of boosters.
And that’s all well and good, but the question becomes; are these boosters reaching into their pockets and giving more, or are they just redirecting what they’ve given in the past, with the feeling that the Athletic Departments will continue to fund the sport at the same level as before?
I’m afraid, if you follow the money, you’ll find that what the RTC’s are currently receiving is money that the athletic departments aren’t depositing.
And how do you think that sits with athletic administrators, maybe not at the big boy schools, but with the other 30 plus RTC locations that are trying to keep up with the Jones, but losing the battle? Then there’s the bottom 30 or so D-I programs whose administrators are probably thinking, what’s the point of all this when my school’s varsity would lose to the intermural champions from those universities that house the nations top RTC’s?
And if you look, I bet you’d find that USAWrestling pays nothing for the use and maintenance of these collegiate facilities, but enjoy the benefits just the same. What a sweet deal if you can get it.
Let me reiterate, RTC’s are a wonderful thing for Colorado Springs. They’re the reason we’re doing so well internationally. But when our collegiate programs are limited to a certain amount of food, and a second mouth appears, it causes great distress at the athletic director level.
RTC’s are working, but when administrations at schools like Boise State, Old Dominion and Fresno State realize they can’t compete, and funding is drying up, what do they do?
And who’s next?
So yes, Rich has put together a program that works extremely well for USAWrestling, which is exactly what he’s paid to do. In that regard, my hat is off to him.
But again, at what cost to the overall health of our domestic programming?