Bucknell wrestling gets boost from sport's biggest star
Oct. 19, 2005
by Guy Cipriano
LEWISBURG--They had the big-name wrestler, the big-name coach and the big-name ambassador on campus this weekend.
Okay, all three titles belong to the same person.
Dan Gable, wrestling's Michael Jordan, John Wooden and David Stern, entertained more than 500 wrestlers and coaches Sunday at Bucknell's Gerhard Fieldhouse.
While the 56-year-old Gable hopped on his toes, and kept the audience attentive, Bucknell coach Dan Wirnsberger and assistant Larry Sprecher entertained 43 recruits.
"This is something we needed to do to get the program some exposure," said Wirnsberger, Bucknell's coach since May.
For three decades, Gable, who went 118-1 at Iowa State, won an Olympic gold medal and led Iowa to 21 straight Big Ten titles, has been wrestling's best spokesman. Gable retired from coaching after leading the Hawkeyes to the 1996-97 national title.
Now, he's focused on selling one product.
"I'm not like most people," he told wrestlers from Hughesville, Williamsport, Montoursville, Jersey Shore, Milton, Muncy, Montgomery, Lewisburg and dozens of other high school. "I'm a fanatic about this sport."
Yes, even Gable can be considered a wrestling fan.
He might not pound bleachers or scream "two" after takedowns. But Gable privately pumped his fist when Bucknell announced in 2004 that it planned to reinstate its wrestling program. The school eliminated wrestling in 2002 because of Title IX proportionality requirements.
"Any time a university, college or high school drops a sport it is a setback," Gable said. "But when certain institutions drop it, it's really a blow. I think when Bucknell dropped it, it was really a blow to the wrestling community. Bucknell is in the heart of wrestling country."
The Bison are returning to varsity status this season, although they will struggle fielding a full lineup. Revitalizing wrestling at Bucknell will be a multi-year process and it begins with the 2006-07 recruiting class, the most important in the program's history.
"This is obviously a good weekend for them," Gable said. "I call it a celebration."
The initial celebration came when alumnus Bill Graham decided to donate $5.6 million to the university. Because of Title IX -- legislation Gable could rant about for hours -- Graham's money will be split between wrestling and improving facilities for women's sports.
"Bucknell was one of those places that probably realized bringing back the sport is the right thing," Gable said. "Of course, it just didn't happen. It took some initiation and Bill Graham to help bring it back."
It also will take some initiation to make the reinstatement a success.
Athletics director John Hardt and senior associate athletics director Tim Pavlechko have wrestling backgrounds, so for now, administrative support won't be an issue.
"Obviously, the administration is behind it or they wouldn't bring at back," said Gable, an assistant athletics director at Iowa.
Gable also called Wirnsberger a "key." Graham is risking more than anybody on Bucknell's ability to sustain wrestling, but Wirnsberger is a close second.
Last season, Wirnsberger helped six Bloomsburg wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Championships and led the Huskies to a 10-6. This season, Wirnsberger will spend more time recruiting than coaching.
"I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on him, but sometimes you don't realize how valuable you are in your position," Gable said. "Coaches represent so many people, not just people in the state and the area, but all the former grads, and the current enrollment and all the future enrollment. He's in a real important position."
Gable said it might take an "idealist," rather than a realist, to build a competitive program from scratch. But he said Bucknell has the resources to become successful.
"There are competitive coaches that don't want Bucknell to be successful just because they're reinstating it," Gable said. "But there are plenty of kids to go around as you can tell by this clinic."
Gable, who was wearing sweats, then flipped off his hat and glasses, walked onto a mat and started teaching.
Maybe something he said Sunday will help Bucknell win a match in a few years.