Wrestling legend Douglas receives well-deserved honor

By Craig Sesker For the Predicament

Nobody is more passionate about the sport of wrestling than Bobby Douglas.

And few people have accomplished more in their career than the Hall of Fame wrestler and coach.

It was impressive to see the massive turnout when Douglas was honored Saturday at an event held in his honor at the Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo.

Douglas has an incredible story.

He grew up in extreme poverty in eastern Ohio and also endured his share of racism while experiencing a difficult and challenging childhood.

Douglas developed into a standout athlete in three sports, also excelling in football and baseball.

But it was wrestling where he excelled most. He made two Olympic teams, one in Greco-Roman and one in freestyle. He also won a world silver medal in 1966 and soundly defeated a young Dan Gable en route to making the 1968 Olympic team.

Bobby was more well-known for his impact as a coach. He built Arizona State into a powerhouse and led the Sun Devils to an NCAA title. He also helped start the Sunkist Kids, a wrestling club that became one of the best in the world.

He went on to Iowa State University, where he coached Cael Sanderson to the greatest career in NCAA history. Douglas also was in Sanderson’s corner when he won Olympic gold in 2004.

He also coached the star-studded 1992 U .S. Olympic team that was led by gold medalists John Smith, Kevin Jackson and Bruce Baumgartner.

Douglas was an innovative coach who was ahead of his time with his immense technical and tactical knowledge. His wrestling technique books positively impacted thousands of wrestlers and coaches.

In 2010, Bobby approached me about writing a book on his life and career. It was my first published book as an author and it was an honor to work with a man of such high character and integrity.

Bobby was great to work with and we developed a strong rapport. We would give each other a hard time about the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry. He jokingly called me “Hawkeye” because I had grown up near Iowa City as a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Even with all of Bobby’s noteworthy achievements, I will always remember him most for something else.

I gained a huge appreciation and high level of respect for Douglas after a selfless decision he made during the 2003 NCAA tournament in Kansas City.

Iowa State heavyweight Scott Coleman was injured while wrestling No. 1 seed Steve Mocco of Iowa in a second-round match. Mocco built a big lead and had an arm bar on Coleman before he was called for an illegal hold.

Coleman was injured and appeared he may not be able to continue. Under the rules, Mocco would have been disqualified because his illegal move had led to Coleman’s injury.

Douglas felt that Mocco’s move was unintentional, and Douglas made a somewhat unorthodox decision for a coach at the biggest event of the season.

Douglas talked with Coleman and they agreed Mocco didn’t deliberately try to hurt him. They did not want to win that way.

After his injury time ran out, Coleman walked back to the center of the mat. The referee blew the whistle and Coleman immediately indicated he could not continue, making it an injury default win for Mocco.

I will never forget Mocco in the press conference two days later after he went on to win the national title.

“I want to thank God,” Mocco said. “And I want to thank Bobby Douglas.”

It was an incredibly selfless gesture by Coleman and Douglas.

That’s the type of man Bobby Douglas is. He’s one of the best people I know. And he’s positively impacted hundreds of people in his life.

Now 77 years old, Douglas is still as passionate as ever about a sport he believes saved his life.

I called Bobby on Sunday afternoon and he told me he was “overwhelmed and extremely appreciative” for being honored on Saturday in Waterloo.

“It was a wonderful evening,” he said. “It was great to see so many of the wrestlers I coached and it was really nice to see so many familiar faces. Wrestling is the best sport there is – I’ve been fortunate and blessed to be involved in it for most of my life.”

A number of his former wrestlers, including Sanderson and Arizona State coach Zeke Jones, were there Saturday. Gable, who credits Douglas for contributing to his development as a top international wrestler, also was there.

Kudos to Jim Miller and the Dan Gable Museum for honoring Douglas, who became the first person to sign a wall at the museum that will recognize legends in the sport.

It definitely put a smile on my face to see Bobby rocking his familiar “fanny pack” on Saturday. His fanny pack became his trademark during his coaching days and is prominently displayed on the cover of the book we did together.

It’s important to remember and pay tribute to the people who have impacted the sport of wrestling. They paved the way for others to follow.

Bobby Douglas made major contributions to the sport as one of the best wrestlers and coaches on the planet. He took tremendous pride in wearing the red, white and blue colors while representing the United States at the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

It was awesome to see Bobby recognized for his outstanding career on Saturday.

It was a fitting tribute to an American wrestling legend.