Of all the things I’m most proud of during my coaching career providing young people with the opportunity to see the country or world is at the top of the list. Travel affords us a plethora of lessons and learning experiences and it may just be the spark that leads an individual to personal heights otherwise unreachable. One of the reasons I’ve not posted in a while is I’ve been traveling – I’m a voyager at heart fostered by my trips as a high school wrestler.
In 1978, as a junior in high school I took part in an exchange trip to Germany. Part of the trip included a training camp and the AAU National Tournament. The week prior to leaving for Germany was spent at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. Not knowing it at the time but this turned into an epic week for this boy from Puyallup, Washington.
I crossed paths for the first time with Dave Schultz. He was a year ahead of me in high school but was training with the senior world team. He was battling in practices with the likes of Humphreys, Lee Kemp and Andre’ Metzger as I was thinking how tired I was getting up three hours earlier from the time change. During the training camp some of the World Team members and their training partners provided a technique clinic for the 300 plus high school wrestlers. Watching Dave show technique I couldn’t get past that he was relatively the same age as me and was leading the clinic like a seasoned teacher. Like all wrestlers we size everyone up, especially if they are our weight class and I had to ask myself, “how would I do against him.” We were at very different levels but this experience in itself gave me an idea of the possibilities in our sport. I believe he placed in the Tiblisi Tournament earlier that year. He was the first and probably only one of two true wrestling phenom’s I’ve seen over the years (I watched firsthand Sadulaev win Cadet Worlds the year he went on to win Senior Worlds and I said to my friend sitting next to me that is the toughest 18 year old I have ever seen.) I never got to watch Dave wrestle at 18 as it was way before the world wide web and believe it or not personal video. As a note of significance: in USA Wrestling history the World Team was still governed by AAU hence the training camp situation along side the AAU Nationals even though the premier high school tournament and largest tournament in the country was USWF Nationals in Iowa City. A few years later USWF would become USA Wrestling’s governing body leaving AAU in the dust.
Two days later I experienced another wrestling great but this time it was up close and personal. In the finals of AAU Jr Nationals I wrestled a cat named Nate Carr who at the time was considered one of the best high school wrestler in the country. Also in my bracket was the older brother of Rico Chiapparelli and Iowa State All-American Murray Crews. For me, making the finals at a National Tournament and wrestling some pretty good competition along the way was my coming out party as a wrestler. This was my first exposure to wrestling out of state and when I realized I could do really do this.
After getting a my butt whooped by Nate my fellow Washington teammate, Mitch Powers and I snuck into the city of Chicago to watch Eric Clapton play alongside Muddy Waters at Chicago Stadium in what was a monumental blues/rock moment. This was my introduction to blues and an experience that has for sure made my life richer. The the trip back to Concordia that night was very sketchy but a story for another time. I’m sure our coaches would not have been happy if they knew just exactly where we were at early that morning.
What an eye opening experience. In a matter of three days I was afforded the opportunity by some very gracious coaches to see and meet Dave Schultz and Nate Carr, watch music icons Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters and navigate the south side of Chicago at one in the morning, pretty big stuff for a hayseed from Puyallup,WA. All this and we still had a trip to Germany to attend to.
Years later while sitting in my office talking about the upcoming season’s schedule I said to my assistant, “what do you think about taking these guys to the Virginia Duals?” He laughed and than we went to work making it happen. You must realize, Lake Stevens, WA is a far stretch from Norfolk, VA and a trip for twenty people for a wrestling tournament is a lot to ask of the administration, parents and wrestlers. Fortunately, we had garnered some success and had a little clout with our administration who was very accommodating. It helped that I took my Athletic Director and strength and conditioning coach with us to make this an opportunity for more than just the team and coaches. That initial trip in 1998 started it all and the experience for many of these kids who had never been out of the state before was a selling point for years to come. One of the edicts I’ve always maintained about travel and my high school wrestling program is that it must be beneficial to the wrestling team first and foremost. The wrestling component of the trip is paramount and we will not take a trip just to go on a trip. Of course, no matter where we travel there will be ancillary educational benefits but the wrestling competition must fit the needs of our team. Since that inaugural trip we have attended the Powerade Tournament in Western PA, wrestled in the Phillipsburg Duals in Eastern PA, competed in the Final Four in Easton PA against the likes of Blair Academy, High Point, NJ and Easton. We have traveled to Minnesota for “The Clash” and competed against Apple Valley and many other nationally ranked programs. We have traveled south to California to The Doc B, Torrance Tournament of Champions and El Cajon. We have watched the ball drop in Times Square twice and been greeted in the office of Washington Senator Patty Murray in Washington DC. We just recently spent a week in San Diego this past summer working out with Poway HS. All this on top of the trips to numerous college campuses, Vegas, Fargo, Western Regionals and many others have opened our kids eyes to the places, people, culture and possibilities that are available to them if they are willing to take the step. The lessons of travel are many and go from taking care of yourself, dealing with others in close quarters for an extended period of time, being respectful of other people and their ways, eating strange food, being flexible, being attentive to your surroundings and maybe the most important – breaking down stereotypes.
Yesterday, I posted on Facebook a picture of a trophy in a box of junk I found while cleaning the garage. The trophy was one my son, Burke had won at the prestigious Powerade Tournament his junior year in high school. The trophy got taken to the dump but the memories of that trip, the great competition and watching the ball drop on New Years Eve in NYC, like my trip to Chicago as a kid, will last a lifetime.
Sitting in hotel room in Berlin, Germany this past week during the Charlottesville, VA attacks and protests I reflected on the history of Berlin, the insidious nature of bigotry and racism and what can happen in a society that allows hate to grow and fester. I also recognized all the great people I ran across in my travels to Germany, their kindness and how they have taken in a record number of refugees and function in what may be one of, if not the most diverse country in the world. I thought about how their horrific past has molded their current country and how we can continue to learn valuable lessons from it. I reflected on my trip to Auschwitz years ago and what atrocities hate can reap. The wider scope of thought and understanding is fostered by travel and spending time meeting others. The true gift of travel is learning the average person, no matter where they live is not much different than us and like us wants peace in this world.
#wrestling, #coaching, #travel, #usawrestling