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By Mike Chapman
It was way back in 1991 when my wife Bev and I came up with an idea that we hoped would catch on with fans attending the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Now, 32 years later, the grand experiment is going stronger than we ever imagined.
What I am talking about is the WIN Memorabilia Show, now called WIN Fan Expo. It will be held March 16-18 between sessions of the tournament in Tulsa, and some 20,000 fans are expected to stream into the beautiful Tulsa Convention Center over the three days.
That’s a far cry from where it started that cold March weekend in 1991 in Iowa City, largely due to the efforts of Bryan Van Kley, publisher of WIN and a tireless champion for wrestling on various levels.
For years, I had been going to the NCAA tournament (my first was in 1966) and it was always a struggle to meet friends between sessions for some good conversation and food. We would try to find a place large enough to accommodate a dozen or so of us. But it seemed thousands of other fans were looking for the same type of spot to congregate, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to get in the door of many such places.
And most were not family friendly for those who had youngsters along, hoping to introduce a new generation to the grandeur of collegiate wrestling.
So, I came up with the idea of renting a space in the Holiday Inn in downtown Iowa City. I was able to find a few exhibitors willing to invest time and a little money in the new venture, and I brought in two very special guests that I hoped would draw some fans. With us that first year were Dan Hodge, the legendary three-time, undefeated NCAA champion from Oklahoma, and Verne Gagne, two-time NCAA champion for Minnesota and the first ever four-time Big Ten champion.
Both had fashioned tremendous careers in the professional ranks as well, and they were a huge hit with those fans who found us. Frankly, there was only 600 or so that first year.
One of the main attractions was my vast collection of memorabilia, which included rare trading cards from as far back as 1898, seldom-seen NCAA programs from the early 1930s and several of the books I had written, including my first called “Two Guys named Dan”, about Hodge and Gable.
The event grew steadily each year and the long list of celebrities included many of the biggest names in the sport’s history. Among those who honored us with their presence were Olympic champions Bill Smith, Doug Blubaugh, Yojiro Uetake, Dan Gable, Dave Schultz, Ben and John Peterson, Ed and Lou Banach, Bruce Baumgartner and Kurt Angle, World champions Lee Kemp and Lloyd Keaser, UFC sensation Randy Couture, and heroes like Wayne Baughman, Russ Camilleri, Stanley and Joe Henson, Wade Schalles, Greg Strobel, Dale Anderson and Carlton Haselrig.
THIS YEAR, we are excited to have as our special guests two of the most intriguing wrestlers I have ever known: Curran Jacobs and John Hanrahan. They will be with Bev and me at our tables to chat with fans and share their remarkable stories.
Curran Jacobs was captain of the 2012 Michigan State team and earned a master’s degree in theater arts. He has appeared in several movies and is the star and director of a new documentary called “For the Love of Catch”. It traces the development of wrestling through the early days in America, from Abe Lincoln’s iconic match in New Salem, Ill., to the Frank Gotch era in Iowa, and the way the catch-as-catch-can style of submission wrestling morphed into the forms we now know as scholastic, freestyle, BJJ and even pro “rassling.”
Among the many stars appearing in the documentary are Dan Gable, Tom and Terry Brands, Mark Johnson, Randy Couture and Dan Severn. It is a fascinating journey through the grand history of our sport. It has become a big hit on various streaming platforms.
Curran has won a number of major Catch wrestling tournaments, including the World United Catch Championship in 2018. He is also the star of a new movie called “Silent Night in Algona” which is the true story of a German prisoner of war camp in a small Iowa town in 1944. It has also been getting rave reviews.
In 2020, John Hanrahan wrote a book called “Wrestling With Angels” with a subtitle which says it is “A true story of addiction, resurrection, hope, fashion, training celebrities and man’s oldest sport.”
I wrote about the book in a previous column. It was shocking, sometimes scary and finally uplifting. I simply couldn’t put it down and read it in two days. John was a two-time All-American at Penn State and UWW Veteran World champion. While competing in a televised match, he was discovered by a prominent agent and became a world-famous model. It was that wild modeling lifestyle that took him to the very brink and a terrifying battle for survival.
John rebounded with the help and support of his wife, Kirsten, and became a well-established celebrity fitness trainer. They also founded a non-profit group called Recovering Angels to assist addicts and their families on the road to recovery.
He has appeared on national TV shows to discuss his book, including Fox & Friends, CBN’s Faith Nation and FloSports’s Bader Show. He has also been featured on The Brian Kilmeade Radio Show, The Big Talker Network’s Recovering Hope and Rescuers Radio Show with Art Brooks, as well as many podcasts.
He was a guest on the Coffee Hour Show, which features notable Penn State alumni and was even a speaker at the international NDE (Near Death Experience) Summit. A prominent Hollywood agent has shown interest in a books-to-film project.
Both Curran and John will be at our tables Friday and Saturday to talk with fans and offer their DVDs and books for sale. And we will have many of my books for sale, too.
We hope you will stop by and see Curran, John, Bev and me to help us put an exclamation mark on this long journey we began in 1991!
(Mike Chapman is the founder of WIN Magazine, Dan Hodge Trophy, the National Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, author of 30 books and was named to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2007.) n