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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota

Well, there’s been a slight change in plans

Last year, I made a decision to run a marathon. This decision still stands, but the timeframe was a bit premature for me to try to run the St. Louis Marathon on April 19. That being said, I’m simply backing up my schedule, and instead, running the Twin Cities Marathon on October 4.

I could make excuses, but the reality is, I’ve got running shoes and the desire to accomplish this feat, but wrestling season, traveling and of course, the Minnesota winter, got in the way.

I started running in October and early November, then the cold got to me. I’m from Virginia, so I’m used to pretty mild winters with little, if any snow. I’m not a runner. I’ve never been a runner. I’m also not a runnin’ fool like my co-worker, who can probably rip off 10-15 miles if you say “Go.”

The most I ran in one set before the winter set in was six miles. Now, the weather is starting to cooperate and I can get some real headway before the summer. Another bit of motivation is my girlfriend is going to run one in June. Now, the alpha male in me cannot have that on my conscious. If anything, it’s something we can do together and I’m looking forward to it.

Kyle had suggested I start with some 5K’s after I train some, that way I can get used to running road races and get a bit acclimated to the decorum and rules of running. I’m to the point where I’m 255 pounds and my knees don’t have 30 extra pounds of weight pushing down on them. Why join a health club when I live in the suburbs and have many running trails and less-traveled roads to follow.

The trail behind my house is a few miles long and could be a great way to just relax. I’ve been eating right, living right and doing what I can to make my body work better for me. Gone are the days I’d kill 2-3 pitchers while shooting darts and rifling through a pack of smokes. Gone are the college parties, bar hopping and general debauchery. Oh, I’m not going all prude, if anyone saw me in St. Louis, they know I’m still a social being.

I still loathe fast food, but during the wrestling season and traveling, it’s very hard to avoid those types of food options. What may come as a surprise to many of you is that I really enjoy salads. I’ve made some kick ass salads since returning home from Nationals and returning back after my trip to Virginia. It’s a lot more cost effective than ordering salads out. I’m cutting the dining out portion of my life back and using the space in which I live to be more conducive to a healthy, life-loving atmosphere.

The last three weeks, especially the last nine days, have been a great motivator for me. The weather is cooperating and it’s now disc golf season. For the die-hards, it never died, but I now have maps to 100 courses within 100 miles of my residence. I bought some new plastic (discs) from the Disc Golf shop on Rice Street in St. Paul and I’m eager to toss them around and check out the new courses.

The thing about disc for a portly fellow like myself isn’t just throwing and chasing, but the walking involved does lead to breaking a sweat up the hills. The course back home in Newport News is about 1.5 miles around, and I usually play 1-2 rounds a day. This will start to pick up, probably tomorrow. I’ve finished editing Tuesday’s show and it should be encoding as I type this, but there’s something very calming about disc golf to me. I’m not very good in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an activity you can start doing with little cost and even less effort.

I won’t be playing today, but I’m anxious to get my new drivers some added distance. I’ve never been a “big arm” thrower, which doesn’t make sense since I’m a big guy. One of these days, I’ll finally beat my buddy Nate, who has NEVER lost to me once. We’ve tied once at Buchmiller Park in Lancaster, but maybe I’ll get a shot when he comes into town on business next week.

I’ll also be blogging more and blogging less, if that makes any sense. I feel energized now that our season has come to an end, but it also hasn’t. We’re having more topical shows on Wrestling 411 and still doing two shows a week and trying to fundraise, which is always a treat in this economy.

So the new goal is October 4, 2009 — Twin Cities Marathon. I WILL be ready.

Written by Jason Bryant

April 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Wrestling fans outdrawn by Roller Derby?

I’m a little overdue for a poingant post about anything not relating to Wrestling411, but this weekend in Minnesota, something dawned on me that I feel wrestling fans need to address.

Kyle and I have harped constantly about fan support of college wrestling. In places like Iowa City, an off-day can mean 4,000 people. In New Brunswick, N.J., that’s an all-time record.

Rutgers beat Rider in an all-New Jersey dual over the weekend, drawing just over 4,000 fans with a solid high school dual as a prelim to entice a large crowd to see the state’s two Division I wrestling programs. Nice job, but that needs to be consistent, not a one-time deal, once in a blue moon.

In Denny Diehl’s most recent edition of the Lehigh Wrestling News (LUWN), he pointed out this attenance mark broke the previous mark, which was set 44-45 years ago.

Some of you might know I’ve got a relationship with Roller Derby. I spent time announcing derby back in Pennsylvania under my (registered) derby name — Horace N. Buggy. Last night, I checked out my first Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG) bout. I took one of my roommates, who’d never seen derby. He’d also never seen wrestling on TV until two weeks ago.

Now, I’m used to seeing derby in rinks surrounded by concrete walls. ESPN did a feature on Roller Derby not too long ago. This isn’t the banked-track type many might think of, but Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby.

But here’s the thing … the capacity of the “legendary” Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul is about 4,000. There were at least 3,500 people there last night. It blew me away. It was a real event, big time, concessions, beer sales, merchandise.

Compare that to what I saw today, about 10 miles from where I sat last night. The Sports Pavilion on Minnesota’s campus saw 2,571 come through the doors. That’s not a bad crowd, especially when I’ve announced duals in front of 50 fans.

But Roller Derby drew more fans than Minnesota wrestling did on Sunday against Michigan State.

Before fans make excuses about the weather (it was sunny, with a slight breeze and 10 degrees — in Minnesota, we call that WARM for January) or the team (Michigan State is the only unranked team in the Big Ten), you’re telling me that Roller Derby outdrew college wrestling in the same area?

I didn’t hear a single commercial for the MNRG bout, but I saw sponsor booths, vendors, radio station bumper stickers (For an NPR station!) and a carnival atmosphere. The smell of PBR and mini-donuts and overcooked hot dogs oozed from the place.

So why only 2,500 for a college wrestling dual? We will complain about lack of television coverage, but until wrestling fans start showing up more than once in a while, we’re going to be relegated as a second-tier sport, disrespected … not by the networks, but by our own sport itself.

We can make excuses that “Oh, it was just Michigan State, I’ll go when they wrestle someone good.” That’s like playing the lottery when the jackpot only gets over $80 million or something. What, a little bit isn’t good enough?

C’mon people. I really enjoy Roller Derby, but I love wrestling and I sat back and wondered what is it going to take for us to finally get off our butts, stop making excuses and go to a wrestling match, any match, all matches, bringing people, to NOT get outdrawn by Roller Derby.

I don’t know what marketing the MNRG uses, but they started out in a small rink (much like Dutchland) and now have sellouts, halftime entertainment, a risk factor with the contact sport.

And the thing is … more people here in Minnesota know about wrestling than they do Roller Derby, BUT I can’t prove that based on the attendance I’ve seen. This isn’t just in Minnesota, because I know Dutchland outdraws both Millersville and F&M combined. The Windy City Roller Girls outdraw Northwestern on average.

We, as fans, point to basketball constantly about coverage. We don’t get this, but basketball does. Why are we focusing on a sport every Division I school plays (I haven’t looked it up, but I’m sure the 300-plus D1 schools all have hoops)?

We’re being outdrawn by Roller Derby. That’s a great thing for derby fans, but if wrestling fans are so passionate about supporting their teams and programs, even in wrestling hotbeds like the midwest and Pennsylvania, we sure have a funny way of showing it.

I’m happy that there’s such a following for MNRG and Roller Derby in general, but they make their events … events. Jim Harshaw talks about marketing our sport (no, this isn’t a name-drop, but it’s something people have read about on the boards and on Flo recently), well, I can’t think of a better reason to kickstart the marketing of our ON CAMPUS duals than to realize we’re now drawing fewer fans in some areas than Roller Derby.

Some schools have meet and greets and autograph signings, Derby has after parties. Same general concept that the Gopher club uses here in Minnesota with a bus to and from the meet point. Great. The interaction between fans of derby and the derby girls themselves is something that gets people coming back. Perhaps we need more of that.

Mike Denney at Nebraska-Omaha had about 800 fans on Friday, which for Division II, isn’t a bad draw against a non-traditional opponent like Augsburg. But they honored local coaches, threw t-shirts into the crowd, had a great opening intro sequence, made it fun to show up and watch. Wrestlers mingled with fans afterwards with ease.

We, as a sport, like the fact that our athletes are approachable and we don’t have the ushers shooing us away like in roundball … but we don’t take advantage of how good we have it.

Get to a match … because right now, I wouldn’t compare us to basketball … I’d strive to outdraw Roller Derby first.

Bottom line: Sports Pavilion and every wrestling venue SHOULD be full EVERY TIME OUT. Until that happens, we’re going to be a community relegated to whining on message boards about why the NCAA hates wrestling and why ESPN hates wrestling and why wrestling doesn’t get respect.

We must first respect our own sport by showing the support it deserves. I had fun at the derby bout last night … and for good reason, it was a good show.

Today’s Jayson Ness-Franklin Gomez bout was a good show … and more people could have been there to see it.

Written by Jason Bryant

January 25, 2009 at 11:41 pm

A quick chat with Shelton Benjamin

I forgot to eat lunch at the proper time. I realize this is hard for many to believe, because A) I like eating and B) I’m usually right at lunch around noon or within 15 minutes of it. Today wasn’t quite the same, I was responding to some internet chatter when I realized it was almost 2 p.m.

Instead of hitting the Subway about a block up the street, I decided to hop in the car and drive over to Dinkytown, an area next to the University of Minnesota with shops and cafes and some decent fare. I decided on Qdoba and a mammouth Ancho Chile Chicken Burrito. Stuffed. As in, the burrito and myself. One is all you need.

After leaving, I stopped by the Gopher wrestling office to mill around and just make small talk on my way to the office. Coach J Robinson’s wife is in a triathlon in Hawaii, and as a supportive husband, he’s there grueling along with the travel (yeah, no trip to Hawaii is grueling, unless it’s coming back and it’s Snakes on a Plane).

WWEs Shelton Benjamin was a two-time All-American at heavyweight for Minnesota.

Shelton Benjamin was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American at heavyweight for the University of Minnesota.

I was greeted by Joe Russell, who immediately introduced me to Shelton Benjamin. A pleasant surprise. I’d never met Shelton. When Coach Russell put the start on practice, I got a chance to just chit chat with Shelton and it was rather enlightening.

Like many first-timers in wrestling, Shelton had recalled his first wrestling practice and how he thought it would be like the stuff he saw on TV. “I remember watching John Smith win the Gold in 1992 on TV, but still thought what was on TV was wrestling,” he said.

A two-time All-American at Minnesota, Benjamin has been a popular star in the WWE, or as we refer to it in the college game, “the fake stuff.” Now, I grew up watching this on TV. I have pictures with the Rock-N-Roll Express, Chief Wahoo McDaniel, the Dynamic Dudes … and even a more recent one with Scott Steiner. I often had friends yell at me for being a “real” wrestling writer and watching “the fake stuff” on Monday nights.

Benjamin had a similar story.

“Even in college, when it was Monday, I was watching RAW,” he said. “They always asked me why I watched it, but then try to change the channel …”

Wrestling purists around the country, save Mike Chapman, will tend to look down upon amateur wrestlers who “sell out” for the money and hopeful fame of the WWE. This is apparent with the public perception of 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle. Commonly, detractors will say he didn’t give back, or isn’t giving back, or is making a mockery of his medal. Some type of high and mighty judgement on an athlete who accomplished the top goals in college and international wrestling — NCAA titles and an Olympic Gold.

Who are we to judge. I was impressed by Shelton based on just 15-20 minutes of conversation. I had some basic questions as it related to my past with “the fake stuff,” mainly about travel, any references to college wrestling from fans and the “mark” terminology.

Obviously he wasn’t there to give an interview, so I didn’t fire question after question about the correlations between college wrestling and the WWE’s brand of sports entertainment.

Current Gopher heavyweight Ben Berhow approached and gave Shelton a handshake — Berhow obviously shook Benjamin’s hand out of respect as a Gopher wrestler rather than a TV persona. Prior to practice, Russell told of Minnesota’s improbably win over Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye 10 or 11 years ago. Benjamin got the fall in the last match to give the Gophers a one-point dual win. Russell still tells that story with a big smile.

Benjamin’s simple swing through the wrestling office didn’t get any press, in fact, it would have gone completely unnoticed had I not dropped by on my way back to the office. But things like this, they don’t get press, they’re not meant to get press, does this mean those former college wrestling stars don’t give back and remember their roots? I think this proves just because we don’t read about it or see it first hand, doesn’t mean they don’t give back. I’m wondering if Angle swings through Clarion’s room from time to time, or stops in to talk to the wrestlers at Mt. Lebanon High School in the Pittsburgh area. We don’t hear about it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

I can’t give a review of Shelton Benjamin in just 20 minutes, but you can see how grateful he is to have come from such a program. College wrestling gave Benjamin the opportunity to get into the WWE. It’s giving wrestlers chances to get into MMA, it’s giving wrestlers a chance to work towards making an Olympic team.

Let’s remember wrestling has given so much to teachers, coaches, mentors, fire-fighters, police officers, actors … so why do we chastise those who pick another form of entertainment? There isn’t much that’s “real” about pro wrestling … they know that, I know that, but why do the detractors seem to eliminate that fact. Let them make a living as the best one-take actors in the business. It’s athletic, and you can’t go one match without Jim Ross or Jerry Lawler mentioning the college background of Shelton Benjamin everytime he steps in the ring.

That does, in its own way, expose the sport of college and high school wrestling to a bigger audience on a Monday night than we think.

Written by Jason Bryant

October 9, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Good Stuff

Tagged with , ,

Godzilla needs a toothbrush

It’s a nice little Thursday here in the Twin Cities and I’m taking this one in from a comfortable recliner, a 50-inch television and a really, really bad movie — Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. Remnants of a Jimmy John’s sub sit on the stand to my right, along with a cool can of Diet Mountain Dew, a glass of water, a snorkel and an avocado. The movie is the reason today’s blog has such a title. Working from home today allows me to lounge in some of the most comfortable sweats I’ve ever possessed. Before leaving Penn, Zeke Jones hooked me up with some awesome Champion sweats … comfortable and warm. Good stuff.

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I have the ability to do a Four Points style of blog like I did with InterMat when I came to the realization that not only do I have the time, I should be writing wrestling musings daily, because I don’t have to spend near as much time here in the offseason toiling on behind-the-scenes projects. Oh, I’m still diligently prepping the show, meeting with folks who will build the set, working on graphics and schedules, and developing the show outline. It’s a learning experience. I’m confident in my ability to pull this off.

Here’s some things that I will bring back …
Weather: 60 degrees and beautiful.
Gas: $3.29 (On the Run, County Road E2, Arden Hills, MN)

It should be noted this is the new station for the updates, although I might have to get Tammy or Jeff at the NWCA to keep an eye out for the prices at Sheetz in Mt. Joy, the last base of my gas price monitoring. It’s right off 35W a quarter-mile from 694. ONWARD!

<Insert Cliche Brands Brothers reuniting headline here>
As I’ve mentioned on message boards the past day and a half, the Terry Brands move back to Iowa was one of the most poorly-guarded secrets in coaching news. It officially was announced yesterday, and with the machine that Tom has resurrected in Iowa City, that makes it much more tougher to leap over the Hawks. They’re not invincible, but this could be wrestling’s equivalent of the Yankees having A-Rod and Derek Jeter in the line-up — at least when you compare it to coaching.

Once chatter started circulating about USA Wrestling not being too pleased with Kevin Jackson following the Olympics, it was one or the other for Terry — the head of the Olympic program or back to Iowa — common sense could really dictate what was going to happen. While the appointment of Zeke Jones as the new National Team coach was a good one, Terry can have a carte blanche of sorts in Iowa City. I think Zeke will do great, but I think Terry would have done great as well. I guess this means there will be an end to seeing Tom in one corner and Terry in the other at events like the U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials. I always found that kinda funny.

California Love
“In case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attendance, you haven’t, the Indians have managed to win a few ball games and are threatening to climb out of the cellar” — Harry Doyle, Major League.

Speaking of not noticing things, the California Community Colleges have started their season with some tournaments and dual meets. One thing that I find promising on the promotion of such a unique wrestling league, is the local papers picking up on things. Just today, I found two stories about duals involving CACC teams here and here. InterMat is posting the dual results again — give it a look.

Before I hit the next point, I just realized another benefit of working from home today — BASEBALL. Sadly, my Halos got beat by the damned Red Sox last night. I’m still burping the bad night, followed by a remnant of Grain Belt Premium. Now it’s Dew and the Rays-White Sox.

Minnesota Media Day
Being in the Twin Cities brings a unique experience in my wrestling coverage is being in Big Ten country. Growing up out east, the only Big Ten venue I’d visited was the one at Penn State. Great facilities, great campus, different atmosphere. I lived near Franklin & Marshall, which I thought was a unique little private school. Here, there’s like 100 F&M’s — Bethel, McCalester, Hamline, Northwestern College, St. Thomas to name a few.

But Minnesota hosted a media day yesterday, something uncommon for wrestling programs en masse, but the small but knowledgeable media field included Kyle Klingman and I, a writer for the Minnesota Daily, which is one of the best student daily newspapers I’ve read, Jeff Beshey from The Guillotine was there, as was Andrew Hipps of Having already two story ideas for the upcoming issue of W.I.N., I just had a chance to take it all in. We need more “media days” for our wrestling programs, not just in the Big Ten, but every school should use this concept. It’s not a new idea, but one that needs to be put into practice. It would help get more media coverage in the newspapers rather than just to wrestling-oriented media. Joe Russell showed me around the facilities, too. I like the dungeon-like wrestling room. Very blue collar.

A smart move by wrestling coaches
Everyone now has .com sports websites for their college athletics programs, but one trend that is continuing to be successful is the wrestling coaches are doing a good job at creating news about their program by getting their Sports Information offices engaged in writing releases about their schedules. This will put wrestling on the main page of their athletic web sites during football season and will give the fans of one sport a chance to read about wrestling when they’re checking out some football info. We used to see only the big programs have releases about their schedules — but now everyone’s getting involved and it’s a smart thing.

Why? Instead of wondering when a team is wrestling and waiting until the season to find out, the releases are coming out when interest is starting to peak. Wrestling folks know their teams, but this is a good way to engage fans from the school’s other sports. Eastern Michigan and Kent State both released their schedules yesterday and Kent pointed out two of its bigger opponents to draw in readers. Schedule releases are a simple, but effective way coaching staffs can drum up support by using resources that are already in place. It also will help get the SID’s familiar with the sport earlier, especially if they are in their first year at a school or have no prior wrestling experience, which is all too common outside of the big conferences.

Written by Jason Bryant

October 2, 2008 at 1:49 pm