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Wrestling was lucky to have Dan McCool

Dan McCool

He was one of a kind.

And the sport of wrestling was lucky to have him.

In 30-plus years of covering wrestling, I've never met a journalist more passionate about his craft than Dan McCool.

It was a sad day in the wrestling world on Monday afternoon when the news broke that McCool had passed away. He was 60 years old.

Dan made his mark during the many years he covered wrestling for the Des Moines Register. In a state that loves wrestling, he was the perfect fit.

He was a prolific writer who covered high school, college and international wrestling. He was just as passionate about a small-school prep dual meet on a Tuesday night as he was about a high-stakes Iowa-Iowa State college dual on a Sunday afternoon.

Dan wasn't always the friendliest person to be around, especially for a sportswriter from a competing newspaper. He was often gruff and grumpy while sitting on press row with his giant bag of candy sitting next to him.

But one thing I learned from being around McCool was how to build rapport with the people you cover. He was the master at developing strong relationships with coaches and athletes in the sport of wrestling. He built that level of trust with hundreds of people and that served him well while covering all levels of wrestling.

He had great respect and admiration for the people he covered. He cared very deeply about sharing their stories with the thousands of people who read them.

During the decade I worked in communications for USA Wrestling, I had an opportunity to work with him while helping set up interviews for him with a few athletes. I was able to sit down and chat with Dan on a few occasions. The guy was an encyclopedia of wrestling.

His biggest thrills weren't being able to say he went to the Olympic Games or the NCAA Championships, it was developing the personal relationships with people involved in the sport.

He took great pride in writing a feature story on a high school athlete from a small Iowa school that an entire town would be talking about.

When Dan McCool walked into a high school gymnasium during a cold, snowy Iowa winter, he would immediately be recognized by a coach, athlete or fan. He was well-known not just in Des Moines, Ames and Iowa City, but all over the state in places like Lisbon, Gilbertville, Morning Sun, Underwood, Sheldon, Osage, Creston, Emmetsburg, Mediapolis, Eagle Grove and all points in between.

While many sportswriters start out covering high schools and move on to covering college and pro sports, Dan loved following the high schools. The Iowa state tournament was his favorite event.

McCool was a fixture while covering the Iowa state tournament and then in later years while selling his popular state tournament book at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. He went on to author more books about wrestling and he continued to be a fixture at numerous wrestling events.

McCool also was well-known by wrestlers, coaches and fans all over the country, who spent the past two decades reading much of his work online. He was a national wrestling writer of the year who also was honored for his work at the Iowa state tournament.

The last time I saw Dan was at the Wartburg-Augsburg dual meet in early February in Waverly, Iowa. The battle featured the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in NCAA Division III and was contested before an enthusiastic sellout crowd at Levick Arena. It was a hard-fought dual between two legendary small-college powerhouses.

I remember McCool walking into the gym about an hour before the dual that night at Wartburg. He had a smile on his face as he greeted his good buddy Wyatt Schultz of The Predicament. He gave Wartburg announcer and booster Joe Breitbach a hard time and even threw out a playful jab to the match official. He knew everybody. And everybody knew him.

In his post-Register days, McCool moved even closer to the mat while taking photographs at wrestling events. And his shots were top-notch.

He also made a big impact covering college wrestling. He documented much of Dan Gable's remarkable run as Iowa's head coach and he was in Albany, New York, in 2002 when Iowa State's Cael Sanderson completed his unbeaten career by winning his fourth NCAA title.

If there was a big wrestling event going on over the past three-plus decades, it was a safe bet that McCool was there.

His coverage was compelling, informative and comprehensive. Wrestling was certainly his life's passion and he developed a huge following as one of the most respected people in the sport.

That high level of respect was evident with the outpouring of support for McCool on social media Monday night. He will be missed.

The sport of wrestling was lucky to have Dan McCool.

He made tremendous contributions to the sport in so many ways.

There will be a void next wrestling season when Dan isn't taking photos matside or selling books on the concourse at the state tournament.

It won't be the same without him.

Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.

Comments

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ban basketball (1) about 3 months ago
I live in the shadows in the wrestling world, not caring if I know a person or not (or in life, for that matter), but it's interesting to note how I'd see McCool at meets for years, knew he was a writer, but had no idea for whom did he write until after he left the Register. However, the event DIDN'T matter, McCool was there with pad in hand, writing a story. It's like he cloned himself and was at every wrestling event across the state at the same time.

With that said, I knew he was too young to retire when he left the Register, so why did he leave the Register? I always wanted to know.
ban basketball (1) about 3 months ago
Must have been laid-off or downsized, which is becoming more and more the norm with newspapers these days. It's the only explanation that makes sense, given how many more years he still had to work, and his continued passion for covering all aspects of wrestling in Iowa.
twolverton (1) about 3 months ago
To ban basketball, he was part of a massive downsizing the Register did. That said, it was baffling why he of all of the sports writers were let go. No one could, or has, figured it out. Dan McCool meant as much to the sport of wrestling in Iowa as anyone. He told the stories of the great ones, as well as those from the small schools that did something remarkable. He was the best. The sport lost a great one.
ban basketball (1) about 3 months ago
twolverton,

Thanks for the info., and what I had to assume happened.

I don't know his name, as I know hardly anyone in wrestling, but I think the only person in Iowa whom I've seen at more wrestling events than McCool is the photographer for WIN (or so I think that's who he works for). The guy is everywhere!