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By Mike Chapman
What kind of a year was 1994? Well, try this: Bill Clinton was President of the United States, “Schindler’s List” won the Academy Award for best film and Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers was the MVP of the National Football League.
The nation was rocked by the brutal murders of O. J. Simpson’s former wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Brown, and riveted by the chase of Simpson’s white Bronco down a California highway. It was also the year that Richard Nixon, the nation’s 37th president, and Jackie Kennedy Onassis, former first lady, died.
More important to this column, it was the year that Pat Smith of Oklahoma State became the first wrestler to win four NCAA Division I titles, helping the Cowboys to a runaway team title, with Iowa and Penn State taking second and third, respectively.
And it was also the year that WIN was born.
The date was November 15, 1994, when that premiere issue debuted. The cover was adorned by a tremendous photo of Bruce Baumgartner doing a back lift on Tom Erikson, with this headline: “Bruce Baumgartner: Is He the Best Big Guy Ever?”
The Top 25 Greatest Wrestling Moments in the history of WIN
I was the publisher and my wife, Bev, the office manager. At the time, I was executive editor of Sauk Valley Newspapers in Dixon, Ill., and had pondered starting a new wrestling magazine for several years. There were several reasons for taking on such a new venture:
First, I had 25 years of experience producing a daily newspaper and felt I could put my journalism background to good use;
Second, I had written a column for Amateur Wrestling News for several years and though I enjoyed doing it, I felt a different approach to marketing the sport would be beneficial;
Third, Dale Anderson, the former two-time NCAA champion at Michigan State, was an attorney and had a very strong concern about the way Title IX was hurting the sport. Dale and I are both from Waterloo, Iowa, and are very close friends. We talked often on the phone about how to combat the demise of college programs due to the interpretation of Title IX and we both felt the wrestling public needed to know much more about what was happening.
One night, the two of us were sitting in my kitchen in Dixon and Dale said, “If you start a wrestling publication, I will write a regular column about Title IX.”
I was on board from that moment on. I was working for a great publisher named Bill Shaw at the time. I approached Bill the next day and asked if I could use the very modern equipment at the newspaper in the evenings to produce the publication. Bill said yes.
So, while working full time as a newspaper editor and with Bev working full time at a local bank as a loan officer, we began working nights and weekends to produce a monthly sports publication.
My first order of business was to line up advertising and it took just one call to Bill Farrell, the legendary head of ASICS Wrestling, to get the ball rolling. I pitched my idea to Bill and he committed to a year’s worth of advertising. Other advertisers quickly followed suit, and I am forever indebted to Bill for getting WIN started.
When Bill passed away June 9, 2012, I wrote a column saying he had done as much for the overall growth of wrestling as anyone, ever. His two top associates, Neil Duncan and Nick Gallo, soon took over TW Promotions, the company Bill had begun, and have carried on the Farrell tradition … and today ASICS sponsors the Dan Hodge Trophy.
I then began lining up columnists; former wrestlers who I felt had a lot to say. That first issue featured columns by Wade Schalles, Lou Banach, Greg Strobel and Dale Anderson. What a lineup, representing different parts of the country and a variety of professions. Ironically, all four had been two-time NCAA champions (Wade at Clarion State, Lou at Iowa, Greg at Oregon State and Dale at Michigan State)!
Here’s what each wrote about that first issue:
Wade: “New Rules: Is the pin valued enough?”
Lou: “Wrestling needs leaders to map its course.”
Greg: “What drives the best to keep going?”
Dale: “You need to get involved with wrestling’s biggest fight ever.”
In that same issue, we announced the start of the Dan Hodge Trophy with the following top candidates: Kerry McCoy of Penn State, T. J. Jaworsky of North Carolina, Les Gutches of Oregon State, Lincoln McIlravy of Iowa, Earl Walker of Boston University and Jody Staylor of Old Dominion. Jaworsky was the winner.
At the outset, Bev and I spent a lot of time on the road at various events to market the publication. We met many new wrestling fans and enjoyed the time. But four years after starting WIN, I was offered a dream job as publisher of the Daily News in Newton, Iowa.
A publisher is like a superintendent of schools, running the entire operation. Newton was in the same chain as the Dixon paper and since we were native Iowans, I took the job.
Shortly after, we also started the Intentional Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton. In reality, I was working three jobs at once and something had to give. We hated to part with WIN but I had met Bryan Van Kley by that time and I was very impressed by his enthusiasm, work ethic, and love of the sport. We began talking about the possibility of the Van Kleys purchasing WIN.
That was 20 years ago and I have written a column every issue since then. In fact, counting the years I wrote columns for Amateur Wrestling News, I have produced a wrestling column now for almost 30 years. At 12 issues a year, that comes to nearly 360 columns — without missing once.
Bev and I also started the WIN Memorabilia Show at the NCAA tournament 28 years ago and the WIN staff now run that alone. I have to say that Bryan, with the help of Mike Finn, one of the best and most dedicated editors I have ever known, have taken WIN to new heights.
The publication and the WIN Magazine Memorabilia Show are now such an integral part of the entire wrestling scene that I cannot imagine what the sport would be like without them.
It’s been a quarter of a century since WIN first appeared. So, here’s a big thank you to Bill Farrell, Bev Chapman and the many advertisers, friends, coaches, and fans of the great sport of wrestling for helping make my dream come true … and to Bryan Van Kley and Mike Finn for allowing me to continue to be a part of it.