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The Life and Legacy of Dave Schultz, Chapter 4: Smiling Back at a Life Remembered

Mark Palmer

2/15/2006
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

Dave Schultz was one of the all-time greats. Not just because he was an NCAA champion or an Olympic gold medalist … but because of his genuine good nature and generous spirit.

Ten years ago, Dave's life was taken in a senseless, bizarre murder that sounds straight out of a really awful movie. Only this was really awful real life.

RevWrestling.com seeks to pay tribute to Dave Schultz with a series of articles that address various aspects of his life and legacy. In the previous chapter, we eulogized the late wrestler with comments from family and friends not long after his death. This installment features some of the lighter remembrances from friends, with specific stories that provide insights into Dave as a wrestler, a coach, a mentor… and a friend.


When individuals are asked to remember a deceased friend, there tends to be two kinds of stories.

Dave Schultz
There are those stories that seem to be straight out of a formal eulogy -- lovely words and lofty messages expressing respect and admiration that would strike a positive chord with anyone attending a very solemn funeral.

Then there are the specific stories that might be a bit more appropriate for the wake or other relaxed after-the-funeral gathering of friends -- lighter, more fun, more personal, more specific to the storyteller.

Welcome to the wake held in David L. Schultz' honor.

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Let's start with those who knew Dave back in Palo Alto, California, his birthplace. As a youngster, Dave moved to Ashland, Oregon … but after his parents divorced, he returned to "Paly" to live with his father, Philip. It's in the hometown of Stanford University where Dave first made a mark on the wrestling world.

Mark Christine, Dave's eighth-grade PE teacher at Jordan Junior High in Palo Alto, remembers roughhousing on the grass with Dave, when, suddenly, he couldn't move. "He had me pinned with his legs. I said to myself, 'What do we have here?' It looks like he had a natural flair for it."

Coach Christine also recalls Dave's never-ending dedication to wrestling, saying that after Dave made the team at Palo Alto High School, he often returned to Jordan to work out in the practice room. The instructor also remembers that Dave would head over to Stanford to watch the team practice after finishing his high school workout.

Mark Martel, a long-time Palo Alto friend who later coached with Dave at Stanford: "He was a pudgy, red-nosed kid. He didn't seem to have any muscles, but he had this amazing technique."

Martel remembers that when Dave beat Mark's brother in a high school match, all his brother could say was how nice Dave was. "He was very friendly. He's done so many nice little things for people. He was very self-effacing, very humble. He made everybody feel like they were his friend."

Doug Boyett, who graduated from high school with Schultz in 1977: "He told me (in ninth grade) that he wanted to move and live in Russia. He said he'd be put in a sports school so he could wrestle. That's what he wanted.

Boyett recalled how Schultz used to carry a copy of The Illustrated Guide to Wrestling in his backpack. "He'd write in it after a match, or go ask (other wrestlers) about a move."

John Kochelman, a teammate at Palo Alto High School: "The last time I saw Schultzy, we climbed to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge" two years before Dave's death. "He was very fun-loving. He liked adventure. We're going to miss his spirit and passion."

Kochelman recalled that Schultz was always ready to wrestle, with his wrestling shoes on his feet, wearing a singlet under his regular school clothes, headgear tucked into in his backpack. "That was his entire life. He was Olympic material in high school. Right from the get-go he was a top-notch wrestler."

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As Dave's wrestling career progressed, he tallied an impressive resume of championships and honors. But perhaps even more important, he developed strong, enduring friendships with some of the great wrestlers of the era.

Jim Humphrey, former head coach at Indiana University and Team Foxcatcher, and now an assistant at Ohio State, first met Dave at a pre-Olympic training camp at Northern Illinois University. Among the wrestlers participating in the camp were members of the US Olympic team preparing for the Montreal Games that summer (Jim having been a member of the US world team in 1973 and 1974) … and a high school kid from Palo Alto named Dave Schultz. "He was phenomenal at an early age," recalls Jim.

Jim also describes an incident from a second meeting with Dave, still in high school, at the Bakersfield Express camp in California. "I was coaching Larry Morgan -- Nathan's dad -- in his match against Dave. I told Larry to throw him, and he did, and Dave lost. He never let me forget that."

Jim had considerable experience coaching Dave over the years - first, at the University of Oklahoma, then in freestyle competition. "Before an international event, I gave a pep talk to the guys, and Dave would say, 'I'm not sure I'll win.'"

"He didn't look like an athlete, with his slumped shoulders, shuffling gait, and being pigeon-toed. He wasn't particularly fast. But he had a phenomenal attention to detail. For him, position was everything.

"He was always picking everyone's brains, asking other guys he'd watch from the sidelines about specific moves.

"Fans around the world admired his technique. They loved his attitude, and willingness to share technique. He kept in contact with folks all over the world."

Jim Pearson, CEO of Suros Surgical Supply, first met Dave Schultz when Jim wrestled at Indiana University in the late 1980s. Jim's coach at IU, Jim Humphrey, brought his friend Dave to the Bloomington campus to conduct a clinic.

After graduating from Indiana in 1990, Jim Pearson headed to Team Foxcatcher in Pennsylvania. "Dave and I were the same weight, so I was a training partner," recalls Jim. "It was a great way for a young guy like me to learn."

Jim shares a specific example of how even someone as experienced and talented as Dave Schultz was always willing to learn: "During one practice, I shot in on him and got in on his leg. He asked, 'How did you do that?' I replied that it felt funny for him to ask. He said, 'How do you think I got to be as good as I am? I got this way because I don't resist the flow of information. In this case, I don't know something you know.'

"This exchange taught me that you have the choice to use the information you're given."

Jim Pearson offers up another valuable lesson about exchanging information… and the importance of listening: "We were training for him to get ready for Kenny Monday -- they had battled back and forth at the same weight class. Dave was getting tired, and asked to take a break. I kept pestering him. We went into position, he lunged forward so his forehead hit me hard in my nose, really bloodied it."

"Dave said, 'I told you I didn't want to go. It's important to listen.'"

Jim also recalls that Dave always had a little notebook tucked into the waistband of the back of his pants, and would take notes at various times.

One last lesson that Jim Pearson continues to draw on in his life as head of an Indianapolis-based surgical supply company -- positioning is everything. "Wrestling is all about position. It's critically important to you know where you are - not just your body, but your mind as well."

Bruce Baumgartner
Four-time Olympic medalist Bruce Baumgartner and Dave share more than Olympic hardware and 'wrestling legend' status. They also have in common a bit of history that would seem to be straight out of Ripley's Believe It or Not: "Dave and I both got pinned in the 1981 NCAA finals, then won (the NCAA title) together in 1982."

Four-time World medalist Melvin Douglas: "I met Dave in 1981 when I went to college. He showed me what it was going to be like in college and what the competition was like. He took care of me while I was in college and after I got out.

"I saw that Dave's qualities were to help any wrestler, no matter what club you wrestled for. He was always kind and rarely got mad … He gave what he had all of the time."

"I bought a scope in Russia and it didn't work over here. Two years later, Dave gave me a battery for it from Russia, so it could work. He was always thinking of someone else."

John Smith
Oklahoma State head coach -- and two-time Olympic gold medalist -- John Smith: "There is really one that stands out. He took me under his wing in 1986 at the Goodwill Games. I was a young 20-year-old kid in my first international event. At weigh-ins I was intimidated. He said they were human and beatable. That really stands out. He helped in every aspect. At this event he was a player/coach for me.

"He took time to spend with you to teach you techniques. He would not let you leave until you understood. This is very unique in wrestling, because most athletes hold his information. Dave Schultz was not this way.

"His ability to get across a skill and technique was amazing. He showed me a skill in 1986 before we left for the Goodwill Games. That skill stuck with me until the last match I had in '92. It was on the leg lace attack. He made you listen and understand."

Matt Demaray, four-time US Nationals champion: "I first came into contact with Dave when he was the assistant coach at Wisconsin. He recruited me and he was one of the main reasons I ended up at Wisconsin. We got along real well because we both enjoyed studying the sport of wrestling.

"I was always a real inspiration for me and my wrestling career. I remember that he took time to help me work through an injury that I suffered right before the 1983 World Championships.

"Dave was a real student of the sport. I remember on more than one occasion staying late after practice to work out new techniques with him that he wanted to perfect.

"Opponents would even ask him to show them moves that he had just used to pin them."

Long-time friend and teammate Ed Giese: "He really enjoyed himself while wrestling. He'd joke with the officials during a match winning or losing."

Kurt Angle, 1996 Olympic gold medalist: "Dave was my coach," Kurt told Sports Illustrated. "I'm like a puppy. I'd do what he did."

"He cared about everybody. It didn't depend on who you were or how good you were. Before I had success, he helped me…"

"He was a very clever individual and picked up things quickly. One thing was that he knew all the different languages so he could speak to the athletes. He spoke Russian so he could learn their ways and be able to beat them. He knew five, six or seven different languages."

Bill Scherr, 1988 Olympic gold medalist: "I'm proud to say that I was fortunate enough to count Dave as a friend and mentor.

"Dave possessed many unique qualities that gave him the drive and the ability to become the United States' greatest technical wrestler ever. First, Dave was as competitive as any athlete I've ever met. He did not like to get beat. He was consumed with being the best, and believed that learning more and better technique was the key to reaching that goal. Second, Dave had a tremendous mind. While we were on the National Team together, Dave got into chess and soon had all of us playing. And I don't remember him losing.

"Dave's desire and ability to learn skills were perhaps keyed by some quirks in his make-up. Although he was a great natural athlete, he was not one of the best of his generation … Also, Dave's mind seemed to work a bit differently than others. It was said that he was dyslexic and he may not have been the best at 'book' knowledge. However, with spatial skills he was the best. He could immediately pick up techniques after seeing them demonstrated once.

"Dave was very good at forming friendships and convincing his new friends to divulge their secrets. And he was persistent. He would learn the new skills and try them in practice. If they worked and fit his style, then he would incorporate them into his repertoire. If not, he would salt them away in his memory bank."

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Dave Schultz was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma as a Distinguished Member in 1997.

In its tribute to Dave at its website, the Hall says, "By his own admission, Schultz 'wasn't the greatest athlete in wrestling' but he was one of the most intelligent wrestlers in the history of the sport. Schultz once told one of his mentors, 'I cheated! I learned HOW to wrestle!' And thus he was a winner all of his life."

In the last two paragraphs of its online tribute, the Hall describes Dave Schultz this way: "For all his achievements on the mat, Schultz is best known as wrestling's greatest friend and diplomat, across the nation and around the world. He always had time to talk, he always wore a smile. His sportsmanship transcended national boundaries…"

"As a true champion on and off the mats, and the most-loved international ambassador for peace and friendship the wrestling world has ever known, David L. Schultz is honored as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame."

Chapter 5: The lasting legacies of Dave Schultz

Did you know Dave Schultz? If you have stories to share, please email the author at mark@revwrestling.com

Chapters:
Chapter 1: The Day Wrestling Died
Chapter 2: The Murderer, John du Pont
Chapter 3: Immediate Memories of Dave
Chapter 4: Smiling Back at a Life Remembered
Chapter 5: A Spirit That Lives On

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