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Baldwin and Eldowney share WIN’s Mike Chapman Impact Award
By Mike Finn
Most people will point out that there is an Eastern revival when it comes to college wrestling on the NCAA Division I level.
Check out the standings and one is reminded that while Penn State won a second-straight team championship, Cornell University of Ithaca, N.Y., finished fourth and Lehigh University of Bethlehem, Pa., claimed eight place.
But what was the fourth Eastern school to finish in Top 15?
“It was the little engine that could,” declared Billy Baldwin, known for acting and his love for wrestling, especially for Binghamton University, the up-state New York program that not only finished 14th in the team standings in St. Louis in March but produced as many All-Americans (2) as more historic wrestling programs like Oklahoma and Michigan.
And leading the way for the Bearcats was 149-pound Donnie Vinson, who finished third … but only after he won seven wrestlebacks after getting beat in the first round of the 2012 NCAAs.
“(Vinson) never had his hand raised (at the NCAAs) before this year and when he lost his first match, he came out and got thrown on his back and almost gets pinned (by Michigan State’s Dan Osterman). But he wound up pinning that kid and then won another six matches.”
Vinson’s performance may have been perfect for Binghamton, which also had its back against the wall back in 2005 when the university president threatened to discontinue the sport, which moved to the Division I level in 2000.
That’s when Baldwin — who wrestled for Binghamton back when it was an NCAA Division III program — led a group of Bearcat alums to not only help save the program but reach what many a few years ago considered and unattainable goal when BU set records for highest NCAA finish and number of All-Americans.
“We are blessed there,” said Baldwin, who made at least three trips from his California home to watch Binghamton, including the NCAAs when he actually broadcast the finals on Takedown Radio for Scott Casber.
“First, wrestling is not an expensive sport and two, over 60 percent of those wrestling in the NCAAs are from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and New Jersey.”
That fertile wrestling ground helps field a roster but if it wasn’t for the financial help that Baldwin and other Binghamton alumni generated, the Bearcats may not have had the season it enjoyed in 2011-12.
“The average donation at Binghamton is $6,000 a year,” said Baldwin. “We were able to generate $75,000 from wrestling alums.”
That is one reason Baldwin was named a co-winner of the Mike Chapman Impact of the Year Award for 2012. (Chapman, still a columnist for WIN, founded the magazine in 1994 and was one of first to fight the impact of Title IX in college wrestling, which put schools like Binghamton on the endangered list among college sports).
And sharing the honor is Clay McEldowney, who is the current secretary and founder of the American Sports Council, which leads the way in fighting the problems of Title IX, the federal law which was first implemented in the 1970s and was a big reason over half the college programs in the United States were cut.
“In a day and age where we’re losing Division I programs left and right, Billy proved a committed group of boosters can make a difference in not only saving a program but helping stabilize it in a way where it can be a Top-20 program. It should motivate others to do the same,” said current WIN Publisher Bryan Van Kley.
“And I so appreciate the impact Clay has made on our sport through the American Sports Council. He’s one of those individuals who doesn’t care how much time it takes and who gets the credit. He knows Title IX is being misapplied and gives tirelessly to fight for the opportunities of college and high school wrestlers.”
On paper, it appeared this was not a good year for fighting Title IX, especially after the courts threw out a suit by the ASC against the department of Education.
But McEldowney, who wrestled for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa. — where his coach Frank Bissell, now 99, recently joined the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. McEldowney remains optimistic about the ASC’s fight against proportionality in collegiate and scholastic sports.
“We expected that to happen. This a long and complicated series of actions,” said McEldowney.
“Our next step is to regroup with our legal foundation and pursue a course that has a chance to win after the appeals. We’re also looking for a high school student who has been victimized by the implementation of Title IX.”
McEldowney actually said the ASC’s biggest problem is with the wrestling community and said he was “shocked” when he attended a round-table discussion that took place last summer during the National Hall of Fame inductions in Oklahoma City.
“One of them stood up and said, ‘There was nothing we can do about (Title IX) and we might as well not fight it,” recalled McEldowney, now a 65-year-old engineer by trade. “I was so shocked that people involved in this sport were willing to throw in the towel.”
McEldowney, whose fight against Princeton for dropping wrestling in the 1990s was successful, said he and the ASC would not continue fighting if he didn’t believe in the overall cause.
He also believes the wrestling community needs to understand the repercussions if the impact of Title IX on the high school level is not changed.
“If the wrestling leadership goes this way, we are doomed,” said McEdowney, pointing out that current statistics show 1.5 million boys would not be able to compete in high school sports if proportionality is enforced on that level.
Baldwin also believes the NCAA is dropping the ball by not getting more people of celebrity status involved in promoting wrestling.
“People who run the tournament and people from the NCAA should be talking to us,” said Baldwin, pointing out that other actors like Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher have strong wrestling backgrounds.
Baldwin — who added that Binghamton would soon name a successor for coach Pat Popolizio, who recently the program after six years to take over at NC State — said he would love to be part of ESPN’s broadcast next year if Vinson makes the finals.
“For him to come back in dominant fashion (during the NCAAs), he will come back even stronger,” Baldwin said.
That may also be the theme of men like Baldwin and McEldowney. They continue to push for growth in the sport while others sit back, doing nothing and see decay.