The Wrestling For Life Story
In 2008 our Founder, Jim Brown, had been a University of Iowa wrestling season ticket holder for 18 years. He got the idea that sharing the excitement of the “Carver Hawkeye Arena experience” with kids might be a good way to enhance their passion for the sport. Using social media he found a club in western Dubuque County, Iowa that would like to attend a Hawkeye meet and the first 25 tickets were purchased and given away. Later that season he gave a set of tickets to a group of kids in Davenport.
The following season he gave away tickets to a few more Hawkeye meets. Others got wind of the effort and began to join in and the name “Tickets for Kids” was coined.
During the 2009/2010 wrestling season, Jim decided to expand the program – in a big way. He set the goal of raising enough money to give 1,000 kids tickets to a session of the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. Jim fell short of the goal, but was able to send over 600 kids to the Saturday morning session. For this effort Jim was awarded the Dan Gable “America Needs Wrestling Award’ from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and was named a marshal for the finals of the Championships.
The 2010/2011 season brought the “Fan Challenge”. Once again relying on social media, Jim challenged fans of wrestling programs all over the country to match or exceed “Tickets for Kids” in giving away tickets to their respective events. The response was excellent and Oregon State University “won” the challenge by giving away 800 tickets to kids groups for one of their home meets. Fans from Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Coe College, Northern Iowa, Cornell College, Mankato State, Hofstra University and several other schools answered the challenge, many of whom chose to send kids to the NWCA National Duals in Cedar Falls. An extra benefit of the fan challenge was the addition of Rod Frost as a supporter. A native of Gilbertville, Iowa, Rod had wrestled at Don Bosco High School and Cornell College and now resides in the Twin Cities. He led the drive to get free tickets for a meet at the University of Minnesota and was very successful. His work didn’t end there and the following season he convinced the U of M athletic department to offer free youth admission to select meets. He kept at it and now, there are only certain meets where young people are charged to enter.
2012 brought a minor crisis – and subsequently an opportunity. The nice lady who owns the rights to the name, “Tickets for Kids”, called and politely asked us to cease and desist. After much discussion we settled on Wrestling for Life as our name because we want to emphasize the value of the life lessons learned on the mat. The 2012/2013 season marked the first time that we were able to send at least one group of 20 or more kids to every Hawkeye home event.
Fall 2013 was the first time that we awarded wrestling camp scholarships to middle school kids. In 2013/2014 we were once again able to send at least one group to every Hawkeye home event and, thanks to the generosity of UNI fans, we were able to do the same for every Panther home meet. The NCAA Division III Championships were once again in Cedar Rapids and we were able to send over 350 kids to that event.
2014/2015 has been our most exciting time to date. Our ticket giveaway efforts expanded eastward and we were able to send youngsters to dual meets at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland and also to the Division III Championships in Hershey, PA. By the end of the season we had given away over 5,500 tickets in our history.
We have also decided that wrestling’s growth would best be fueled by increasing the number of girls participating and by making wrestling more of an urban sport. To that end we are offering financial support to Female Elite Wrestling, a team of Iowa’s most active female wrestlers, and to Beat the Streets – Baltimore.
Won’t you join us as we move to the future?
Jim Brown, founder of Wrestling For Life
Why wrestling needs your help
In February, 2013, the International Olympic Committee stunned the world when it announced the elimination of wrestling from the Olympics, beginning with the 2020 Games. The uproar was immediate and worldwide – and not just within the sport. Average citizens in the United States, Russia and Iran were shocked that the governing body of the world’s most storied international athletic competition would ever consider dropping one of its original and defining sports.
The tenacity of wrestling reared up and seven months later wrestling was restored – BUT ONLY AS A PROVISIONAL SPORT. Yes – wrestlers will compete in 2020 but, as a provisional sport, inclusion in future Olympic Games will be considered every four years. The fight to restore wrestling’s “core sport” status continues, but with the lack of immediacy comes the apathy that allowed the elimination in the first place.
The sport faces other challenges. Since 1972 168 NCAA Division I institutions have dropped their wrestling programs. Wrestling has fewer participation opportunities in the three combined NCAA divisions per participating high school athlete than any other sport contested in America’s high schools. Only one out of every forty-one high school wrestlers has the opportunity to continue to compete on the mat as a part of his collegiate experience. This compares to 1 out of 30 in basketball, 1 out of 18 in golf and soccer, 1 out of 16 in football, 1 out of 15 in baseball/softball and swimming and 1 out of 10 in track/cross country.
Clearly, the threats to “the world’s oldest and greatest sport” come from the “top down” – governing bodies and administrators deciding what we do or do not want. At Wrestling for Life we take a “bottom up” approach to saving the sport. Kids want to wrestle! Our mission is simply to give kids more opportunities to wrestle and to support them as they grow in the sport.
Your support is key to keeping the sport of Wrestling on the mat.