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Brown’s blog proves wrestling can make changes
By Sandy Stevens
You love wrestling. You follow the sport. You’re frustrated by the lack of respect and publicity it gets. But you’re just one person. What can you do?
Meet one person named Jim Brown.
The 60-year-old Iowa native never wrestled. He never coached or officiated. His daughters Emily and Ann didn’t wrestle. The owner of a direct marketing consulting firm in Cedar Rapids, he insists he’s “just a fan.”
But the impact his passion for wrestling is having puts most of us to shame.
Through his weekly blog “The view from section GG,” Jim has launched drives that are putting hundreds of kids in the seats at collegiate duals and national tournaments.
The genesis for these campaigns began about four years ago as he viewed internet wrestling websites.
“You read so many comments about ‘USA Wrestling ought to do this …’ or ‘the NCAA ought to do that,’ and I thought why couldn’t I be that somebody?” he recalled.
His first move was to purchase two season tickets next to his and his wife Cindy’s (in section GG) at Carver Hawkeye Arena and give those away each meet to people who wouldn’t otherwise attend.
Then he began buying group-discounted tickets for Iowa home duals and offering them to Eastern Iowa kids’ clubs or middle school wrestling teams.
Next, after talking with Cornell College Coach Mike Duroe about the hope of breaking the NCAA Div. III Championship attendance record when Cedar Rapids hosted the 2008 tournament, Jim provided some free advertising and interviewed coaches and athletes for the blog’s “Road to Cedar Rapids” series.
He’s held a special place in his heart for Division III athletes since Ann played tennis at Cornell.
“They do it simply because they love the sport they’re in; there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Jim said. “They just have that go-for-broke attitude that’s so fun to watch.”
Last year Jim sat in his office wondering, “What am I going to do for Division III? I can give some tickets away, but why don’t I see if I can interest other people and get a bunch of kids to the tournament?”
Thus was born the first “Tickets for Kids (TFK)” campaign. Local businesses and readers of the blog donated enough money to bring 600 wrestlers — from Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa — to the tournament’s seats.
NCAA rules do not allow giving tickets to high school wrestlers, Jim explained, so the focus is on elementary and middle school students.
This year brings Jim’s biggest challenges to date. When Eric Betterman on openmat.com suggested that fans buy tickets for a favorite team’s meet even if they couldn’t attend, Jim countered, “Why not do that and give them away?”
He challenged readers: Within NCAA Div. I, II and III, NAIA and women’s divisions, which school’s fans will best support wrestling by sending kids to wrestling events? (Those donating or making pledges determine what school and event receives the credit.)
“I was completely surprised by the initial response,” Jim said.
By Oct. 5, support from fans at Coe, Cornell College, Hofstra, Iowa, Luther, Minnesota, Minot State, Northern Iowa, Northern State, Oklahoma State, St. Cloud State and Virginia exceeded $3,000. Also groups from Augsburg, Bucknell and UW-La Crosse are working on the TFK Fan Challenge, Jim said.
“The very first donor was for UNI, and he’s sending 25 tickets for every home meet,” Jim said. St. Cloud State’s contributions include 20 season tickets.
Mat official Rod Frost has so far raised nearly $500 for Minnesota Gophers’ meets, where Coach J Robinson said that youth tickets will go for just $2, Jim reported.
Fans can also support an endangered program like Cal State-Fullerton (10 tickets have already been donated).
Upon learning that the University of Iowa decided not to compete at the National Duals in January, Jim not only urged Hawkeye fans to continue to attend the tournament, he suggested readers could earmark donations for the event.
“I’m hoping to get a single session group discount,” he said. “Otherwise, the ticket cost is $10.”
Cornell and Coe colleges both eliminated home ticket charges for any youth groups, so their fans are now supporting the National Duals.
The competition runs through the end of November.
“You’re showing college wrestlers there’s support for them, but more importantly, you’re getting kids beginning wrestling or maybe not yet wrestling exposed to see what it can be,” Jim said.
“But if you really want your school to win, you’re going to have to get off the sidelines.
“E-mail your friends and alumni and the people that sit next to you at wrestling meets. Post a link to the blog on your favorite team’s sites. Rally your fans on Facebook. Let’s send 10,000 kids from all over the country to college wrestling events.”
Jim’s wife Cindy, a paraeducator who works with autistic elementary school children, has been “wonderfully supportive” of Jim’s involvement, but more than wrestling touches the couple’s hearts.
For three years, they have provided free childcare for the Young Parents Network, a Cedar Rapids-based social services agency dedicated to building successful families through education and support. Jim has recently become facilitator of the dads’ group.
But next on the wrestling scene? In December, Jim begins seeking business support for the NAIA and Div. III tournaments.
Last year the National Wrestling Coaches Association honored Jim with its “Dan Gable America Needs Wrestling Award.”
“If this little effort is worth that kind of award, there ought to be people doing bigger and better things,” Jim declared. “If I can just sit down in my office and think what I can do for the sport, other people can do the same thing.
“Make the commitment to do whatever it is you can do.”
Email Jim with questions or pledges at email@example.com or send a check to Tickets for Kids, C/O Jim Brown, 130 24th St. N.E., Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402.
Or … just remain on the sidelines.