InterMat Reads: Family Ties

Mark Palmer

4/20/2011
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

When a wrestler steps onto the mat, he or she may be all alone. However, many wrestlers have found their way to the sport thanks to family ties ... an older brother or sister, or a dad or uncle, who has taken to the mat first.

Now a new book celebrates the thicker-than-blood bonds that have brought generations of wrestlers from around the world to the sport: Family Ties: An American Wrestling Tradition, published by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The book documents over 130 families (from Abas and Abel, through Zilverberg and Zinkin) that met criteria established by the Hall of Fame: Immediate family members who were NCAA Division I All-Americans, Senior World Team members, or Olympic Team members. Photos of these wrestlers -- and their credentials -- are included in the first chapter of the book. In addition, there are dozens of stories about these wrestling families, written by nearly two dozen wrestling writers and historians. (Among the contributors: InterMat's Andrew Hipps, Brian Jerzak, and Mark Palmer.)

It all begins with family

The foreword of Family Ties presents the big-picture purpose of the book.

"The National Wrestling Hall of Fame's Educational Outreach Exhibits celebrate the sport's heritage by informing the public about the influence the sport and its heroes have upon society," wrote the Hall's Executive Director, Lee Roy Smith. "Family Ties: An American Wrestling Tradition documents the greatest wrestling families in America. Through a collaborative effort of 22 contributing wrestling historians, writers and media professionals, we are able to present a glimpse into the achievements of America's most accomplished wrestling families. We hope that their stories will entice young families to consider the benefits of this family-friendly sport."

Lee Roy Smith
"Traditional values derived from wrestling are conveyed by the various family members featured in this book," according to Smith, himself a member of one of the nation's leading wrestling families that includes current Oklahoma State head coach John Smith. "These stories further the positive contributions the sport has made to the institution of the family, and to building a more civil society."

"We've always had a section in the museum devoted to 'family ties,'" according to Krista Graff, Development and Special Events Manager for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. "In recent years, we've produced exhibits and books honoring African-American wrestlers, Native American wrestlers, wrestlers in the military. In talking to Lee Roy (Smith), we thought it was time to look at wrestling families."

"Everyone sees wrestling as a family sport," Graff continued. "Not just fathers and sons, or brothers, but mothers who take their wrestlers to countless practices and tournaments all across the country, who wash sweaty clothes and make two dinners to help their wrestler make weight."

"The notion of family goes beyond the blood ties," said Graff. "At the presentation for the military project, so many of the guys being honored talked about how great it was to see their 'wrestling family.'"

The birth of a book

Krista Graff worked with Kyle Klingman of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa to bring the Family Ties book together.

"Early on, we had decided we wanted to cover various aspects -- siblings, fathers-and-sons, fathers-and-daughters, wives, moms ... We tried to be representative of all aspects, in terms of freestyle, Greco and folkstyle."

"We wanted to stress the personal aspect, by telling the stories of these families," said Graff, whose father and brother were wrestlers. "As we started working on the book, we immediately saw so many families met our criteria. We quickly realized there were too many stories for just one or two writers."

"Once we came up with the family stories we wanted to tell, Kyle and I went through the list, and assign a writer to each story. We tried to match stories with writers who might already have written about their subject, or have some kind of connection to the family or the school they represented."

Families you know ... and some you might not

Family Ties features profiles of more than 40 wrestling families. Some will be immediately recognized by anyone in wrestling -- Brands, Sanderson, Schultz, Smith, to name a few. And there are some that might not be as well known to today's wrestling fan, including the Peerys (father Rex, sons Ed and Hugh) or the Hensons (brothers Stanley and Josiah).

These profiles are organized into chapters that bring together similar relationships. For example, in the chapter titled "Moms," the reader gets to know wrestling moms like Bonnie Brands (mother of Tom and Terry), Louella Carr (nine wrestling sons, including Nate and Jimmy), Leslie Churella (wife of Mark, mother of Mark, Ryan and Josh) and Debbie Sanderson (mother of Cole, Cody, Cael and Cyler).

Zadick siblings: Terry, Mike, MaryAnn, and Bill
Wrestling dads aren't left out. Among the stories Family Ties shares are current Cornell head coach Rob Koll and his late father Bill, one of the all-time great wrestlers of the 1940s who coached at what is now Northern Iowa, and Penn State ... and Oklahoma State All-American Jerry Kelly and his daughter Mary who won Cadet World and Junior World medals.

As one might expect, there are a number of brother stories (including the Askrens, Ben and Max, and Ben and John Peterson) ... along with a couple stories about wrestling families -- the Peerys, and the Zadicks -- from the perspective of a sister who didn't wrestle (at least, not in organized competition).

Words ... and pictures

One of the bonuses of the Family Ties book is the incredible bounty of photos sprinkled throughout. These images -- many of them in color -- help bring the stories of the featured wrestlers and their families to life.

When asked about the photos, Krista Graff responded, "We contacted a lot of schools, and got great cooperation. We also worked with Amateur Wrestling News, which has a lot of photos. We also have a pretty large photo library here at the museum as well."

Family Ties: An American Wrestling Tradition provides a great introduction to some of the top amateur wrestling families. The individual profiles are meaty yet concise, making this book a great choice for young readers with short attention spans, or for on-the-go adults who may only have a few minutes to spare for reading.

Family Ties: An American Wrestling Tradition is available for purchase from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater at their website or by calling (405) 377-5243 ... or from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo at their website or (319) 233-0745.

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