Rest in Peace

By | September 10, 2018

Last week the sport lost one of the finest men to ever walk on a wrestling mat. Mike Milkovich. There was so much more to Mike than just raising a wonderful family or winning championships. He made the rest of the country sit up and take notice relative to promoting the sport. A consummate gentleman, he shared himself with whomever asked for advice. He was simply, the first king of wrestling in America.

I would have loved to have been part of the Maple Heights program when I wrestled and I told Mike so on many occasions. That made him smile because he knew that was the ultimate compliment.

And the fact that he lived to be 96 means he was still overcoming the odds at the end.

Was Wondering

Last season I coached a high school team here in Florida. We ended up with 237 pins on the year. Thought the season went reasonably well. Does anyone know of a program or programs who had more pins? Trying to determine where we ended up. Appreciate the help.

October Gold

I can’t wait for this year’s World Championships. At long last, in part due to the Soviet Union being caught with their better athletes through chemistry program in full swing, the red, white and blue is now king.

Yep, we’re number one, assuming Coach Zadick has the group peaking at the right time.

Actually, this is probably the best team America has ever put on a mat, at any time, in any decade and due to several factors.

  • Being fortunate enough to have probably the most “to-be” Hall of Famers on the mat at any one time in history.
  • USAWrestling doing an amazing job of helping create a mentality that any athlete, at almost any age, can compete against older competitors, regardless of there country of origin. It wasn’t that long ago when you think about the age of wrestling when the largest events athletes could attend at the scholastic level were intrastate affairs. Now wrestlers travel and compete everywhere and anywhere there’s a road, waterway or airport.
  • And probably the most dominant reasons for our success is the retirement age for wrestlers has slowly inched upward over the years from the low 20’s prior to 1970 to over 30 years of age now. This has happened for three reasons. 1) The financial well being of the sport has had a meteoric rise over the last 50 years. 2) The lines between the terms amateur and professional have merged and 3) The expression “Wrestling Bum” disappeared about the same time as the Chevrolet Corvair.

Regarding finances, how many of you remember, or knew, that prior to 1970 most if not every athlete who made an American team was so poor that they had to eat Ramen soup or Mac and Cheese for almost every meal, hitch-hike to competitions and sleep on the mats if they wanted to compete? A lot of this had to do with an athlete’s “amateur status,” because the receipt of any money, from any source, was suspect enough to potentially classify you as a professional and as a result, disqualify you for life from competing. Many of our great wrestlers were so afraid of accepting support, for any reason, that it forced them into retirement way before they reached their peak.

Bill Smith as an example, wanted to defend his 1952 Olympic Gold Medal, but wasn’t allowed to because he was declared “professional” due to receiving a salary as a physical education teacher.

Our national governing body at the time, the AAU had their own issues with finances. So much so that they were forced to charge athletes for the very singlets and warm-ups they were expected to wear overseas.

Back then, there was no such thing as shoe deals, stipends from the national governing body or Regional Training Centers where money flowed to those who represented them. Heck, I remember having to hitchhike in a blizzard to the NCAA’s during my freshman year due to finances.

Today however, our best athletes make upwards of 10K a day working clinics. And if our top 30 wrestlers aren’t earning 50k a year from the sport, well, they aren’t in the Top 30. Actually, I believe I’m right in saying that every member of our starting line-up makes over 75K a year without having to take a job outside of the sport. And it’s my understanding that our top five wrestlers receive well over 100K a year and a few of them are over 200K.

As to the “wrestling bum” stigma. This was a derogatory term that every wrestler received who was still competing by their mid-twenties. It was almost as bad as having a red A tattooed on your forehead if you were determined to be an adulterer. No one wanted to be called a “wrestling bum.” It kept so many great athletes from chasing their dreams, even if they had the money to do so, and America from being the team they are today.

But that was then, this is now. Thank you USAW and go kick-butt guys.

Jacob’s Cradle

Exciting news, my newest book is at the publisher. It’s a 300-page story of fiction with the tagline being, “There’s more to winning than Gold.”

A few people didn’t think I could write a book, my 8th grade English teacher didn’t think I couldn’t read a book. Opinions debunked.

Here’s the summary:

World-class wrestler Jacob Charles has more on his mind than the Olympics. 

As a member of the CIA’s Athletes Courier Corp, a black project that takes advantage of elite athletes’ unique ability to cross borders into hostile territory without scrutiny, Jacob at times moves among people even more dangerous than his wrestling opponents – and he has a personal score to settle with one of the deadliest men in the world. 

But at the center of his universe is his wife, Charlotte, an independent and freewheeling boat captain who plies her trade along the pirate infested-waters of the African coast, and whose life is about to become even more treacherous than Jacob’s. 

From the Olympic Training Centers of the United States to the steamy back alleys of Castro’s Cuba, from the exotic islands of the Indian Ocean to the grand stage of the Olympic Games, author and legendary former wrestler Wade Schalles takes readers on an adventure like no other love story ever has with the explosive and touching Jacob’s Cradle.

I hope you look for it when it hits the book shelves in November.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­A Little Humor

I was thinking, most all of the rules we have in wrestling pertain to athletes and how they perform, or select not to perform. Shouldn’t we have some for the coaches?

Yes, there are warnings that can be directed toward the bench and the occasional misconduct calls but typically, coaches spend most of their time saying what they want, when they want.

When I officiated, I remember hearing things coming from the coaches that were absolute head turners.

So, just for fun here, how about we consider the adoption of a “stupid decision” rule? If the coaches can express their displeasure at what, in their judgement, are bad calls on the part of the referee, why can’t there be a rule like this for them as well?

The “stupid decision” rule would work like this . . . anytime coaches say something stupid, the match is stopped and they’re admonished. An example might be; if a coach tells his athlete to shoot a double leg and gets pancaked to his back in the attempt, that would be a violation of the “stupid decision” rule. Similarly, telling a collegiate athlete to cut his opponent lose with 58 seconds on the riding time clock would be a “stupid decision” if 15 seconds later the match ended without any further scoring. Another “stupid decision” would be a coach telling his athlete to take down against Lee of Iowa or Rutherford from Penn State. And that actually happened and were more than “stupid decisions”, they were “really stupid decisions.”

The hand signal I envision for this would be to point a finger at the coach while the referee covers his mouth with the palm of his other hand.

This sounds fair to me. If coaches can hold referees to a 100% standard of excellence, why not the reverse?

I guess because the pyrotechnics of such a rule would be greater than the fireworks over the Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch?

Eastern Michigan Settled

Last weekend, the court case that was brought against Eastern Michigan University regarding their decision to drop wrestling was decided.

Without going into the details, suffice it to say that their wrestling program just had the last shovel of dirt thrown on its grave. And that’s in spite of all the indignation and chest thumping we heard from our leadership.

Okay folks, that’s yet another program gone the way of the Dodo bird. And like Boise State, we’re talking about major D-I programs. Not the less than recognizable D-III and NAIA programs that are being added and touted as something special.

Someday we’ll get it. The sport is in the ICU ward while the coaches are still teaching stand-ups and our leadership, those who are actually attempting to do something about this downward trend, could fit into a Prius.

When a company loses 20% of their customer base, they usually file for Chapter 11 protection. If they lose 40%, they go straight to Chapter 7 and don’t receive $200.00 for passing go. That’s a reference to Monopoly for you younger folks.

But wrestling, the sport we love, has lost well over 50% of its collegiate programming since the 70’s and hasn’t added a “major” D-I program since Clemson in 1975. To define “major”, I’m talking about schools that when you hear their names everyone sits up and takes notice. Texas, LSU, Florida, USC, Oregon, Kentucky, Colorado, Syracuse, Yale, Kansas, Tennessee, Notre Dame; when any of them begin adding wrestling programs we’ll know we’re back.

Scholastic wrestling is not much different than their collegiate counterparts. In PA as an example, they have more teams forfeiting weight classes than are fielding full teams.

Were you aware, today, men’s gymnastics only has 16 collegiate teams competing and they were almost as large in numbers as wrestling was in the 70’s. And of those 16 teams, that’s the total number of programs period, in all three divisions, including the NAIA, and that’s sad.

To my point, if I’m standing next to a friend and a hungry bear eats him. It’s not too hard to figure out who’s next on the menu. Shouldn’t we take lessons from some of our less fortunate non-revenue sports and start carrying a large gun.

Now I don’t see us falling as far as gymnastics, but why even discuss the possibility. We should be planning, preparing and executing a strategy to become financially self-sustaining by 2025 with a secondary goal of having every major university in the country housing a wrestling program.

This is not hard to do unless you feel accepting change is hard? It’s all about the number of paying fans we have in the stands and to get them we have to change the way we’re doing business. Nothing else matters at this point but paying fans. Money makes the world go around. It also fixes most, if not all other ailments, while quadrupling the salaries of everyone in the sport who’s being paid to play some role.

Yet, they still don’t want to change? Maybe we should talk to their wives.

The change I’m talking about is making the sport enjoyable for the fans to the point where our paid spectator numbers double every year.

That means making the sport exciting, which it is now for the educated fan but NOT the casual fan. Don’t even think about arguing with me here. We’re just not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of excitement. We need to have television networks fighting for the rights to broadcast meets; and we don’t. We need to generate so much cash that every college and university in the country can’t wait to start a program.

But the way it is now, there are probably 50 schools in America that would drop wrestling tomorrow if they weren’t worried about the political fallout. But that may not be the case forever, and that day may come sooner rather than later.

Where’s the sports sponsorship deals with power players like Nike and Under Armor? They can’t be bothered because there’s no real number of fans in it for us and as a result no money in it for them.

All this becomes non-issues if we had fans, in numbers that matter. Which we don’t. Because people want to be entertained, not sit in bleachers for 8 hours to catch an occasional great match. They want to cheer and be exhilarated, not to feel like they just took Ambien.

As to where we are . . . did you know, of the Power Five Conference schools, which include the Big 10, ACC, SEC, PAC 12 and Big 12; of those 63 schools, 25 have wrestling? That’s less than 40% who think wrestling is worth having.

Of the other major conferences . . . American, Mountain West, WAC, Big Sky, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Big West and the New England Conference; only 8 of those 86 schools, or 9%, have wrestling. Do you see a trend developing here?

Changing our trajectory isn’t hard to do, but it’s impossible to get those with power to decide to change.

Fox and Friends

I guess this means “I made it”. Wow, an opportunity to be on Fox and Friends, here with Abby Huntsman, and to be given 2 of the morning segments. We were taking about the significance of replacing Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy with someone equally as conservative. And then the importance of civility when it comes to disagreements with those who reside across the aisle from us.

Sitting diagonally from me, not shown in this photo, was Ira Fleckman, one of wrestling’s greatest fans, coaches and officials. He happens to also reside in Orlando, but he’s much further away when it comes to ideology. Yet we had great fun on the show demonstrating how two individuals should act toward one another while making our points, without either of us being shown the door.

2 thoughts on “Rest in Peace

  1. Derek Bekeny

    I have been reading your blog with deliberate intensity. Plenty of good thoughts and is as creative as your wrestling and coaching.
    Thank you for mentioning the passing of Mike Milkovich, my high school coach and father to my friends Mike Jr., Dan, Tom, and Pat.
    What is sometimes overlooked as Big Mike’s greatest accomplishments is the fact that he made Ohio wrestling What it is today, one of the top states fir amateur wrestling.
    His greatest accomplishment was in the promotion of the sport.
    He changed it from a Thursday after school activity to a Saturday Night Entertainment Event. The gym was filled for every home meet as well as many of the away meets.
    He brought uniforms, mat maids, and total people involvement to what was previously an afterthought sport.

    He wrote a two page article in Amateur Wrestling News on 100 Ways to Promote Wrestling.
    I am trying to get my hands on it to see how it compares to some of your thoughts and how relevant it may be today.
    Thanks for sharing all your forward looking thinking.
    Derek Bekeny

  2. Wade Schalles

    Thank you all . . . this particular blog has just become the highest visited one of all at over 50K viewers.


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