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Palmer wins 2011 Dellinger Award

As almost any wrestler will readily attest, tallying up personal win-loss records and the total number of championship titles won are certainly not the only means by which to ascertain individual accomplishments within the sport. Case in point is this year's Dellinger Award winner Mark Palmer, whose own journalist body of work -- compiled over the course of the past 12 years -- has not only already left an indelible imprint upon the wrestling community at large but, also perhaps, well beyond its customarily established borders.

Mark Palmer
Overall, Palmer is the 47th individual recipient of the Dellinger Award, which -- since 1960 -- has been given out annually by Amateur Wrestling News magazine in order to recognize some of the sport's most outstanding journalists. The award itself is named after its first honoree, Bob Dellinger, an Oklahoma sportswriter and editor who spent 25 years providing statewide and nationwide coverage of wrestling at both the high school and college levels respectively.

In addition to Palmer's long-time status as a staff writer for the online media outlet InterMat -- formerly known as RevWrestling.com -- as well as his frequent contributions to Amateur Wrestling News, he also coauthors the ongoing series "Where Are They Now" for Wrestling USA magazine and has written for the Guillotine, a Minnesota-based wrestling publication with a corresponding online site.

His work has also been incorporated into two Division I NCAA national tournament exhibits, including "Family Ties" -- the 2011 presentation which has since been adapted into a book format. Additionally, he has offered written reviews of nearly two dozen wrestling-related books and three wrestling documentaries -- "Takedowns and Falls," "Veritas," and "Independence" -- and has recently finished writing a book manuscript detailing the life of former Oklahoma State head coach Ed Gallagher, which has yet to be released.

He has also made several appearances on "Takedown Radio" and has been a one-time guest of the radio broadcast "On the Mat" as well.

Introduction to the sport

Despite the fact that Palmer himself never wrestled, nor did any of his immediate family members, the inherit value of the sport has yet to go unnoticed by this recently named award winner.

"I grew up in a town called Sterling, Illinois, which is in northwestern Illinois, about one hundred and twenty miles straight west of Chicago and as I tell people, about twenty miles from Iowa," explained Palmer. "We got our television coverage from the Quad Cities, which straddles Iowa and Illinois, and being aware of wrestling in the state of Iowa and thinking about the people that I was aware of when I was in junior high and high school -- which is about the time that I guess I would say I was becoming a fan -- were Dan Gable, the Peterson brothers, and Russ Hellickson."

Individuals who later went on to wrestle in the 1972 Olympics as Palmer is quick to recall, vividly recounting it as the first Olympic coverage of wrestling that he remembers viewing on television.

"I remember watching ABC Wide World of Sports, because they covered the NCAAs on a tape delayed basis, " continued Palmer, "and I remember watching Dan Gable losing to Larry Owings two or three weeks after the fact in the match that was Dan Gable's only loss in high school and college."

"Back then, you didn't have the Internet," added the 2011 honoree. "I did not subscribe to any magazines. My coverage, or my awareness, was pretty much limited to the Des Moines Register. My dad would get the Chicago Tribune and the Sunday Des Moines Register. It was right around the corner from where we would go every Sunday in Sterling, so he would pick those up, and I would read both papers just really thoroughly."

"The Tribune didn't cover wrestling much, but they'd cover the Midlands," he further clarified. "That was the big event that I was aware of as a kid. Then, the Des Moines Register would cover both Iowa State University and the University of Iowa -- back in the 1970s, before Iowa became the force that it is now, it was more Iowa State and Gable being a wrestler at Iowa State."

"When I went over to Ohio University," continued Palmer, a journalism advertising graduate who -- along with his family -- relocated to the state of Ohio as a high school senior, "it was a chance to go to matches more easily; that made it more possible to follow (wrestling), and the student newspaper did a good job of covering the sport, so I was kind of able to grow that interest a little bit more."

Online contributions

"That's one of the beauties of the Internet is that it's really made it more possible to follow a team or program and individuals wherever they are," indicated Palmer.

A technological advancement he has since put to exceedingly good use in terms of his own subsequent involvement with the sport which resulted in the creation of Amateur Wrestling Fan Attics (AWFA), an online Yahoo user group launched by the Cincinnati-based wrestling enthusiast nearly twelve years ago and, to date, boasts a membership of three thousand.

"Yahoo has this function where people can set up a group and invite people in and post photos and articles," offered Palmer. "Generally, we (group members) post links to stories about college, high school, international wrestling, and anything amateur wrestling related. Sometimes there are discussions and even arguments," he added. "It's basically a way to make people aware of news stories and maybe keep people posted on events. It's not specific to a team. It's not specific to a wrestler, so hopefully it serves a wide range of people wherever they might be."

What are specific though are his other online groups, which showcase individual wrestlers as well as other assorted topics, including his Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson offerings along with his Vintage Amateur Wrestling and NCAA Heavyweight Champs websites.

"Thanks to the Internet, there are more and more people who are setting up websites, and I think that's tremendous," further acknowledged Palmer. "More and more people are doing quick interviews -- video and audio -- and that's great. I think the more these people's (wrestling-related) stories get told, the better it ultimately is for the sport. Maybe fans or young wrestlers or would-be wrestlers get to hear or read these things and maybe it'll help grow the sport."

History in the making

However, it was not until almost nine years ago, when Palmer actually started adding his own written accomplishments to his online resume, after he was approached by AmateurWrestlingPhotos.com and asked to write a post-event recap of the 2003 Division I NCAA national tournament that would run in conjunction with the site's hundreds of photos highlighting the wrestling action -- spanning the preliminary matches right up through the final championship rounds. Since then, he has written online national tournament recaps every year after that, whether from a distance or onsite while sitting on press row.

Then, six or seven years ago, he was asked to write for what was then a newly launched online media enterprise formerly known as RevWrestling, where his primary focus was doing profile pieces which were assigned to him by his editor, featuring either wrestlers or coaches--high school and college alike. When the website opted to purchase InterMat several years ago, Palmer made the transition as well, continuing on, again, as one of their regular feature-producing contributors.

"We -- InterMat editor Andrew Hipps and I -- always laugh about this, because I usually get to talk to people before they become really successful and well-known to everybody (collegiately)," shared Palmer, immediately citing two fairly recent Cornell competitors -- two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake and the late Adam Frey.

"I interviewed Kyle in his first month at Cornell," he further expounded, "before he had a single dual-meet match I believe. Here was some young guy -- an 18 year old -- who was very, very enthusiastic, with just the whole world ahead of him."

"Another individual in a similar situation, but with a very sad ending, was Adam Frey," continued Palmer, "who I interviewed during his freshman year, before his cancer diagnosis and, of course, before his passing away -- again, somebody who was just full of that future vision. Sadly, his life was over before he was even able to finish school."

Book reviews

Not only is Palmer recognized for his chapter contributions to the book "The Ultimate Guide to Wrestling Camps," he is also known for his numerous wrestling-related book reviews, which he began writing five or six years ago and can be found at InterMat Rewind -- with its link located on InterMat's homepage.

In terms of selecting the books themselves, often times it is a matter of the author approaching Palmer himself; whereas other times, it comes down to him contacting the book's author on his own. Either way, the result is generally the same and almost always involves uncovering the story behind the book itself.

"It's always fun for me as a writer to talk to another writer," acknowledged Palmer, "whether it's a historical book or if it's a novel -- to hear what motivated them, to hear about how another writer thinks and puts things together and how they even come up with the idea of a story."

"One of the neatest interviews that I had was with Nolan Zavoral, author of "A Season On the Mat," about Gable's last year as a coach," he added, "because that was a book that I really enjoyed reading when it came out -- to get to talk with the author and get the inside scoop about how the book came together and how he actually followed Gable and the Hawkeyes that 1997 season and then had three months to put the finished book together and went off to the monastery at Saint John's in Collegeville, Minnesota, and having to fax pages in the middle of the night to get the book published on time -- that one in particular just stands out."

Historical pieces

Also found at InterMat Rewind are Palmer's historical pieces, including profiles of wrestlers and coaches from forty, fifty, sixty, and seventy years ago as well as stories on the evolution of everything wrestling related from the changing of uniforms, to rules, to actual mat construction itself. True gems -- each and every one of them -- that are not only a reflection of this wrestling enthusiast's passion for history in general, but more specifically his equally strong feelings regarding the history of the sport.

"I interviewed the first African-American to wrestle at the NCAAs, which was back in 1949, and that was Harold Hanson, and then also Simon Roberts, who was the first NCAA champion of color," noted Palmer. "He was the 1957 NCAA champion for the University of Iowa. I interviewed both of those gentlemen over the phone -- both pioneers in the sport and really neat guys."

"Those people of the past -- they were great athletes, and they deserve to have their stories told," he further explained, "and sometimes, there's just a real human interest angle to it, too, including what it was like to be the only black person among one hundred and fifty to two hundred white guys, wrestling at an NCAA tournament held in Colorado, back in 1949."

"A lot of my stories about historical things are my ideas or spark from something someone has said," admitted the recent award recipient. "I did a story about the 1958 NCAAs because I had all this material about them and had the DVD of the finals to watch and then was able to interview three or four guys who actually competed at those NCAAs."

"I really enjoy doing those (articles about the past)," he added, "because I learn a lot from them and have received nice feedback from other people about those stories where I think they're learning something, too, and maybe gain an appreciation for people who might not just be names to them anymore."

Representation of wrestling at the collegiate level

Recently, Palmer has further extended the application of his talents and knowledge of the sport into his written work for Examiner.com, which he describes as a news organization where people are encouraged to write about an area of personal interest or knowledge and then focus primarily on that given subject matter.

"I am the College Wrestling Examiner," Palmer explained, noting that he has been representing the collegiate aspect of the sport in this particular vein for about the past two and a half years. "I write about college wrestling wherever it is in the United States. I am, to my knowledge, the only person who writes about college wrestling as a beat (for Examiner.com), consistently."

"We're encouraged to write often," he added, noting that he himself tries to write one relatively short, quick news story per day. "My goal is to talk to all college wrestling fans or maybe talk to that Iowa fan about something that may be going on outside their realm that's important, whether that's a possible coming apart of the Big Twelve again or changes in rules. Coaching changes are a really big thing, and I cover a lot of obituaries as well, because I think that people deserve to have their careers acknowledged and highlighted."

"Another thing I write about is the connection between college wrestling and mixed martial arts (MMA)," continued the Cincinnati-based writer, whose justification for the coverage has to do with informing those college wrestling fans who perhaps do not read MMA magazines or visit those websites pertaining to that particular sport who may want to keep abreast of their favorite collegiate wrestler's progress as he makes his way into the world of mixed martial arts.

Touching greatness

Along with the countless hours of time spent with respect to shared conversations during the interview process itself, some of Palmer's most treasured memories within the sport are the actual written correspondences and in-person meetings with some of wrestling's greatest names, including Rulon Gardner and his family during the 2001 World Team Trials in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"What a neat story that was," stated Palmer, referring to Gardner -- the dairy farmer from Wyoming with the learning disability -- who defeated the Russian Lion Aleksandr Karelin, a three-time gold medalist who was undefeated during thirteen years of international competition and expected to win a fourth title when he and Gardner met in the 2000 Olympics.

"I think Gardner is one of those figures that the wrestling community loves, but I think it goes beyond that, too, which I think is important for wrestling," he added. "That people who hit the consciousness of people who are not necessarily fans of the sport but are aware of them and admire them. Gardner I think is one of those examples of somebody, who because of his personality and his achievements, kind of transcends that."

"I think that's something that the sport could use more of," further recognized the Dellinger Award winner, "because I think with all the challenges the sport faces -- programs being eliminated and funding cuts -- that people need to see the value of the sport."

Recognition outside the sport itself

"Back when we were approaching the tenth anniversary of when Dave Schultz was murdered by John du Pont, I thought some kind of tribute was needed," declared Palmer. "So, I started doing some research, because I guess in my own mind, I basically knew what happened, but there were a lot of details I didn't know."

"In doing that research, I was then put into touch with people who knew him and had been at Foxcatcher, the estate where all of this occurred and was a training facility for a lot of the United States' wrestlers," he added, "and what I thought was going to be a typical one-part "Rewind" story, ended up being a five part (series)."

Contacts which later included an email to Palmer from Schultz' now college-age son Alexander, who was eight or nine years old at the time of his father's death -- an experience which the Cincinnati-based writer then later also wrote an article on for InterMat.

As it turns out however, that was not the only direct form of contact Palmer received regarding the Schultz series.

"I was approached last fall by an Australian television network or production company that have a series about sensational crimes involving the rich," acknowledged Palmer. "They were interested in the story because of John du Pont being a multi-millionaire. They had interviewed the police and prosecutorial people in the Philadelphia area that were involved in the case, and they came across my stories."

As a result of those stories, they then asked Palmer to talk about the wrestling aspect of Schultz' life during a filmed interview in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Palmer has yet to see the finished product, but has been told by friends that they have seen the segment aired here in the States as part of the Discovery channel's "Behind Mansion Walls" series.

"I think of the stories I've done, that one really seemed to speak to a lot of people, and maybe people learned from it," shared Palmer. "I certainly did which is a lot of why I write, because I want to know something, and I'm curious about something. I'd like to think it helps not only to tell individual stories, which I think is important, but maybe also helps to promote the sport."

The above feature is a revised version of the original article as it appeared in the Oct. 15, 2011, issue of Amateur Wrestling News magazine.

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