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InterMat Reads: The Sparrow's Spirit

I spend many hours reading wrestling books. Historical books, how-to-wrestle books, biographies, books that are inspirational/spiritual ... but the largest segment of books I read are autobiographies and memoirs penned by wrestlers and coaches. Some are very straightforward birth-to-______ (fill in the blank with the wrestler/author's top accomplishment) tales ... while others tend to focus on a particular portion of that individual's life ("My time as coach at State U ...").

Then there are the memoirs that are very much from the heart. As you read, you feel as if it's just you and the writer as he shares elements of his life story over a cup of coffee ... or on a vacation road trip. It's all very relaxed and conversational.

That describes Dr. Bill Welker's "The Sparrow's Spirit: A Champion Wrestler's Lifetime Reflections on Prayer and Perseverance" memoir, now available from Rosedog Books.

Meet Dr. Welker (if you haven't already)

Welker is a familiar figure in U.S. amateur wrestling. He has written two editions of his classic "The Wrestling Drill Book" and is a regular columnist for Wrestling USA magazine. Welker also produced an instructional DVD titled "Pancake Takedown Series." For his contributions to the sport, Welker has been welcomed into a number of wrestling Halls of Fame, including the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, and National Wrestling Hall of Fame, West Virginia Chapter.

Welker's willingness to share his knowledge and experience in wrestling comes from two key aspects of his life, first as an athlete ... then as an instructor. He wrestled in high school and college, winning a Pennsylvania state championship. Welker then had a long, 40-year career as a teacher, being named Teacher of the Year by the Wheeling (W.Va.) Area Chamber of Commerce, and inducted to West Virginia University's prestigious Jasper N. Deahl Honors Society for his contributions to education.

A life in wrestling

Bill Welker grew up in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, a small town in the heart of coal country. In describing his parents, Welker told InterMat, "Dad taught us about life, mom taught us about prayer."

"I started wrestling when in 1955 as a third grader," Welker continued. "Back then, coaches did it for the joy of sports. They loved to teach kids."

Bill Welker with Bobby Douglas
"You have to realize times were different then. It was a great time to grow up ... a simpler, more forgiving time. We were taught to accept things, not to make excuses."

"Wrestling taught me perseverance," Welker continued. "You have to be able to humble yourself in all your actions. Kids don't realize what you put out online will go everywhere and last forever."

Welker had some family history to live up to. His cousin Harold Welker was crowned state champ at the very first Pennsylvania state tournament in 1938. Bill's older brother Floyd then earned a PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) state crown in 1959. Keeping the Welker tradition of success at states, Bill Welker won his PIAA title in 1963.

For young Bill Welker, life was a struggle on and off the mat. Like many youngsters, he got into mischief. He didn't always concentrate on his studies. An elementary school principal described young Bill as "a piece of work" to his mother. "I was the good, the bad and the stupid," is how Welker described his youth.

How "Sparrow's Spirit" came together

As mentioned earlier, Bill Welker has a long history as writer for the local Wheeling newspaper, as well as a long-time contributor to Wrestling USA magazine. That led to his first book, "The Wrestling Drill Book."

"In May 2003, I got an email from Human Kinetics (wrestling book publisher)," said Welker. "God knew I wanted to write a book, which ended up being 'The Wrestling Drill Book.' First edition did well. In 2012, we updated it for a second edition. Together the two have sold over 30,000 copies."

"I was truly blessed to have that opportunity. It taught me how to put a book together."

That positive experience inspired Welker to write "The Sparrow's Spirit."

"For years I've wanted to write another book, to share my story. It ended up being a two-year project."

"The key word is perseverance," Welker said of the writing experience. "I have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), which means, when I start a project, I make sure it'll get done."

"I started to jot down memories from my life that I thought were interesting to me, and perhaps to others," Welker continued. "I'd brainstorm and jot down words that came to mind from my life that I thought might be the makings of a story worth sharing in the book. When I'd go out jogging, I'd remember incidents from my life that I had to share."

"I wanted (the book) to be very anecdotal, very conversational, even chatty."

Welker's newest book traces his life from youth into adulthood in a series of stories that are aptly described on the back cover as "trial-and-error experiences in which he usually took the wrong path." That said, Welker overcame those missteps thanks to the guidance and love of others.

"I don't come across as a perfect person, but as someone who has persevered."

Encouraging, uplifting ... without preachiness

"The Sparrow's Spirit" is infused with an inspirational spirit that is uplifting and encouraging, without being preachy.

Bill Welker with his son Rick Welker
"I wanted to share a practical view on religion without overdoing it," according to Welker. "A common-sense view of life."

"The key is forgiving. Not just forgiving others, but also forgiving yourself."

"My message to today's athletes would be, 'You're going to make mistakes, but you need to learn from them, and then move on.'"

"The Sparrow's Spirit" does a winning job of serving up one man's wisdom gained from experience, so that today's readers can learn from his own missteps and mistakes ... in a series of concise, compelling stories from Welker's life that make this 156-page book both humorous and uplifting.

Don't believe me? Consider what Rob Koll, head wrestling coach at Cornell University, had to say.

"'The Sparrow's Spirit' is an inspirational tale of triumph over self-destruction and adversity. Bill Welker vividly describes his lifelong battle to conquer the ultimate opponent - himself."

"The Sparrow's Spirit: A Champion Wrestler's Lifetime Reflections on Prayer and Perseverance" is available for purchase on Amazon. For a signed copy of "The Sparrow's Spirit" or "Pancake Takedown Series" DVD for $15 each (including shipping and handling), send check or money order to: Dr. Bill Welker, 110 North Huron St., Wheeling, WV 26003. To purchase his "Wrestling Drill Book: 2d Edition" visit HumanKinetics.com.

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