In Waterloo, Dan Kaercher tours a spot devoted to the history of wrestling, and learns this favorite Iowa sport actually dates back to ancient times.
In Waterloo, I tour a spot devoted to the history of wrestling and learned this favorite sport actually dates back to ancient times. Dan Kaercher.
Kyle Klingman: Kyle Klingman. Glad you are here.
Dan Kaercher: Happy to be here. I sure didn't expect to see Abraham Lincoln on the wall right away when I walked in the door. What is that about?
Kyle Klingman: Well, this is a depiction of Abraham Lincoln wrestling Jack Armstrong in 1831 in New Salem, Illinois. And this match, this is a wrestling match that took place between these two. Between what is called the Clary’s Grove boys. This is what Jack Armstrong was a part of and then Abraham Lincoln of course he would be come our president. Probably our most prominent figure in the United States. A lot of people don't know what happened in the match. But the thing that we know is that Abraham Lincoln grew in confidence from this match win or loss and it helped him become who he was and helped him become President of the United States.
Dan Kaercher: Well Kyle, I am probably not as well versed in wrestling as I would like to be. So, I am looking forward to learning a lot today.
Kyle Klingman: Well, we're excited to have you here. This is a museum about history but we also want to make sure that we build the future. That is why we have a lot with the Dan Gable Teaching Center. So, we want that future to become our history and we are going to show you why that is going to happen.
Dan Kaercher: Lead the way! Wrestling dates back to ancient times. So, Kyle starts us off where it all began. Well, Kyle it looks like wrestling roots go back a lot farther than just the early days in Iowa.
Kyle Klingman: This is the part that really excites me about our museum is the history because wrestling is the oldest sport. And when you think about it when you look at the ancient style of thinking and what you would do it just makes sense that you would engage someone else in a combat form. Wrestling was going to happen. It was an incidental sport that you were going to have wrestling and it just makes sense that it would be the oldest sport known to man.
Dan Kaercher: Now, I don't need a map to tell me that Greece is a long way from Iowa. So, why did Iowa embrace this ancient sport? There is one man credited with sparking the wrestling fire here, Frank Gotch.
Kyle Klingman: Frank Gotch, who was from Humboldt, Iowa was an early day professional wrestler. People loved Frank Gotch in the state of Iowa. He was that person where people wanted to be like Frank Gotch, and he really kind of started this trend worldwide about how great wrestling was. And Frank Gotch is really the reason that we got good in wrestling and why it got so prominent. And it really is the reason why we have the great tradition that we have.
Dan Kaercher: For some wrestling brings to mind high flying acrobatics and crazy stunts. For these folks there is the George Tragos and Lou Thesz wing of the museum. When we think of pro wrestling it is a lot more theatrical and showbiz. But that really has nothing to do with the other stuff going on here at the museum?
Kyle Klingman: It doesn't but it is important to show the evolution because there is a split. College wrestling stayed its course as the legitimate sporting contest. Professional wrestling went to the entertainment side. But we recognize that split and it is an important part of our history.
Dan Kaercher: Now when I was a kid two of the big pro stars on black and white television every week were Dick the Bruiser and Vern Gagne. Do you have anything relating to them?
Kyle Klingman: Vern Gagne is a great historical figure not only for college wrestling but professional wrestling as well. He was part of the AWA and is a two time NCAA Champion for the University of Minnesota.
Dan Kaercher: Minus the theatrics, Iowa High School Wrestling has a rich history and the museum celebrates the accomplishments of theses school boy superstars.
Kyle Klingman: West Waterloo is really important to the history of wrestling because there have been eight individuals win NCAA titles. Bob Siddens was the head wrestling coach there, won 11 state titles during his tenure, and probably the greatest high school wrestling coach that this country has had. And behind you, here this is something I like a lot, this is the actual scale that a lot of the legends would weigh in on. This is the one that Dan Gable would have weighed in on and a lot of the NCAA Champions, All-Americans that came through West High. This is fun to be able to have this and people will come in and weigh themselves and it is just a neat thing to have. The gold standard in the state of Iowa is to become a four time state champion and you can go through, you can see the history of who has been state champions. And this is special to me because this is what is called the barn. There has been an evolution of where the state tournament has been held. It has been held at the West Gym in Cedar Falls. It has been held at the Cattle Congress Grounds and McElroy Auditorium in Waterloo. But this is probably what a lot of people remember. It is Vets Auditorium. It would get packed and as you see here, there were a lot of people just on the mat side and if you tried walking through here it was just complete mayhem. Eight mats in this really gives a great picture of what it looked like to wrestle in the barn.
Dan Kaercher: And that place is packed.
Kyle Klingman: Oh, it was packed and the Wells Fargo Arena is where it is now in Des Moines. This is a pretty special place for wrestling.
Dan Kaercher: It looks like it is not just about the wrestlers. It is about the fans in Iowa too.
Kyle Klingman: Oh, it is about the fans because with these small towns, when they have people competing at the state tournament, it is like a ghost town because everyone wants to go to the state tournament. So, I think it is so cool that it is recognized as the state tournament and when you win a state title in Iowa, you become a legend.
Dan Kaercher: Many of these young men went on to wrestling success in collegiate and international competition. The gold standard of these Iowa Champions is Dan Gable. This wrestling icon is showcased in several exhibits celebrating his legendary career as a wrestler and coach.
Kyle Klingman: Dan Gable is the quintessential figure. I have been working around this sport for a long time. I am still blow away by the statistics. What Dan Gable has been able to accomplish in this sport. This Gable Era picture right here explains a lot; 355-21-5 dual meet record over 21 years, 15 NCAA team titles, 152 All-Americans and two that blow me away 98-1 dual meet record in Carver Hawkeye Arena, Big Ten Champions 106. The rest of the Big Ten combined has a 104. And when you think about the greatest athlete and coach combination, I don't know how it gets better than Dan Gable.
Dan Kaercher: And Dan Gable it is not just about wrestling and winning. He inspires people.
Kyle Klingman: He does and that is what is amazing about Dan Gable is that he has never stopped. He retired as the head coach at the University of Iowa in 1997. He is still the biggest sports figure that we have in college wresting, international wrestling for our country, he just keeps going, and he just raises the bar higher and higher and he is never going to stop. We love the passion of Dan Gable. He exudes it and we want that for wresting. We want it for the state.
Dan Kaercher: Eventually we made our way to the Dan Gable Teaching Center to get some hands on experience. I was ready to compliment my historical perspective with some real wrestling moves. My teacher this day would be Mark Schwab. Mark is a four-time champion and current Associate Head Coach at the University of Northern Iowa.
Mark Schwab: Maybe outside -. Getting in maybe I am going to keep working on that. Head inside. Head outside. Arm drags. Head snaps. I mean there is a lot of things I can do to simulate real wrestling just with this Adam Dummy off the wall.
Dan Kaercher: Hey, would you mind if I tried the take down -? Now what would you like me to just try first?
Mark Schwab: How about a head outside shot?
Dan Kaercher: Which would be?
Mark Schwab: Head outside his legs - coming down.
Dan Kaercher: Ok. I will just tie into it. I might not be ready for my first match yet, but that National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum has something for everyone wanting to learn about wrestling and its enduring impact.