What's the story behind Edinboro's mat success? Find out for yourself with the new book The Fighting Scots of Edinboro by John Dudley.Not all of these stories involve one individual underdog wrestler knocking off the king of the hill. Sometimes, it's the small-school program that surprises the much larger, better-funded, sure-bet-to-win teams. After World War II, tiny Cornell College of Iowa beating perennial powerhouses Oklahoma State and Iowa State Teachers College (Northern Iowa) to win the 1947 NCAA team title is the classic Cinderella story from sixty years ago. Nowadays, a prime example is little Edinboro University.
This public school in northwest Pennsylvania has only about 7,500 students, and competes in NCAA Division II in most sports -- except wrestling, where it's a D1 school. Despite having a total student enrollment that's a fraction of most Division I schools, Edinboro has defeated programs such as Arizona State, Lehigh, Michigan State, Missouri, Penn State, Stanford and Wisconsin, and has experienced more than its share of NCAA All-Americans and individual champions.
What's the story behind Edinboro's mat success? Find out for yourself with the new book The Fighting Scots of Edinboro by John Dudley, published by Reedy Press.
This 112-page book provides an inside perspective on the past quarter-century of Edinboro's wrestling program, starting with its move from Division II to Division I in 1984, and concluding with Gregor Gillespie's thrilling upset win over Michigan's Josh Churella in the 149-pound finals at the 2007 NCAAs held at the Palace of Auburn Hills, practically in the Churellas' backyard.
The right man to tell the Scots' story
John Dudley is uniquely equipped to tell Edinboro's story. A sports columnist and wrestling writer for the Erie Times-News, Dudley has covered the Fighting Scots matmen since 1999. He grew up in northwest Pennsylvania where Edinboro is located, wrestling in high school at Cambridge Springs, and then, for a time, at Allegheny College in Meadville. "Once I got a taste of college wrestling and the academic life, I dropped wrestling," discloses Dudley.
John DudleyWhen asked how The Fighting Scots of Edinboro came about, Dudley says, "I was an undergrad at Edinboro right after the Division I change. (Coaches) Mike DeAnna and Bruce Baumgartner were there, Sean O'Day won his championship."
"I had heard stories about how Edinboro became a D1 program, but didn't know the details."
"The story of Jim McDonald (Edinboro athletic director in the early 1980s) and the conversion had never been told. I originally thought the story could be a magazine piece for Sports Illustrated or ESPN The Magazine -- a David vs. Goliath story."
"As I started to do the research, Bruce Baumgartner had a throwaway line: 'This could be a book.'"
It turns out that Baumgartner -- at this point, Edinboro's athletic director, as well as four-time Olympic medalist -- had received a query from Reedy Press, asking if the St. Louis-based publisher could assist with any of Edinboro's publishing needs. Two-and-a-half years later, John Dudley had his first book … and the Fighting Scots' story could be shared with the rest of the wrestling nation.
A humiliating loss that changed everything
Edinboro University has had a wrestling program for nearly seventy years. However, arguably, the true turning point took place on January 25, 1984. That night, in Edinboro's McComb Fieldhouse, Clarion University demolished the Fighting Scots 57-0. Then, adding insult to injury, the Golden Eagles asked permission to conduct a post-meet workout -- as if the visiting team hadn't worked up enough of a sweat in winning all ten bouts that evening.
Edinboro athletic director Jim McDonald was furious. Although he had never wrestled, as a former basketball player in West Virginia, the competitor in him immediately took Clarion's workout as a slap in the face and as a clarion call that Edinboro needed to put more resources into its struggling, chronically-underfunded wrestling program. He wanted to pick the brain of arguably the most famous figure in U.S. amateur wrestling at the time: Dan Gable, then head coach at the University of Iowa. McDonald placed a call to Iowa City, and immediately got through to the iconic Hawkeye coach. Thus began a powerful Iowa-Edinboro connection that helped take the Fighting Scots to a whole new level and become the program some have labeled "the Iowa of the East."
Calling into question a Hawkeye's manhood
One of the more fascinating stories in the early pages of The Fighting Scots of Edinboro involves Mike DeAnna's interview with Jim McDonald for the job of head wrestling coach. (Gable had encouraged his assistant to talk to McDonald about the position in Pennsylvania.) DeAnna stopped at Edinboro while driving to the 1984 NCAA Division I Championships at the Meadowlands in New Jersey with his wife Pam. McDonald offered the position to DeAnna on the spot, but the Cleveland-area native wasn't ready to make an immediate commitment; he wanted to think about it, and talk it over with his wife. McDonald demanded an immediate answer. The Edinboro athletic director basically questioned DeAnna's manhood: "You've been sucking from Dan Gable's milk bottle all your life. You need to grow up and become a man!"
Tim FlynnIt was a huge gamble, but McDonald realized that, given time, the DeAnnas could talk themselves out of taking the Edinboro job as they traveled to and from the NCAAs. The Edinboro AD pressed harder: "They've got phones all along the turnpike. You've got four hours. If I don't hear from you, I'm going to the next best assistant coach in the country and I'm going to hire him."
John Dudley tells the tale of the emergence of the Edinboro wrestling program in the words of the major participants, which gives readers of The Fighting Scots of Edinboro a powerful you-are-there feeling. "I knew early on I needed to focus on the people, not dates and events and stats," says Dudley. "I wanted to appeal to anyone interested in wrestling, not just inside Edinboro or this part of Pennsylvania."
"I had a lot of cooperation on the part of everyone involved," continues Dudley. "DeAnna really opened up. Bruce (Baumgartner) was very cooperative and supportive … (Current head wrestling coach) Tim Flynn has one of the best grasps of what media can do to draw attention to his program. He's extremely open, honest, accessible. The Edinboro wrestlers were great, very open. I was able to build on the trust gained in covering the team over the years."
Surprises along the way
When asked about what surprised him as he conducted interviews for the book, John Dudley immediately responds, "Jim McDonald was my first interview. He was telling the details of the Clarion win, calling Gable for advice. All I had known was the barebones. The details he supplied were both surprising and fascinating."
Another surprise for Dudley concerned Josh Koscheck: "I didn't know how badly hurt he was at the 2002 NCAAs, the seriousness of his neck injury, even though I covered him and the team. He kept quiet about it, and was willing to put his own health on the line."
"The Koscheck chapter was probably my favorite," continues the Erie Times-News sports columnist and wrestling beat writer. "He opened up about his upbringing, essentially being raised by his grandparents. He never won a state title, didn't draw much attention from other college programs, but, not long after arriving at Edinboro, he expected to win a national title."
The Fighting Scots of Edinboro is definitely NOT a "homer" book, designed to delight the fans of the program in northwestern Pennsylvania, at the exclusion of anyone else. Author John Dudley deftly weaves universal themes that resonate with wrestling fans everywhere.
"It's not just an Edinboro story," says Dudley. "It's a story about the sport. Name me your favorite program, and you'll find a lot in common between Edinboro and what you know."
The David vs. Goliath aspect is just one theme explored in multiple ways, throughout the quarter-century since the Fighting Scots suffered that humiliating loss to Clarion in their home gym. Another theme is the interconnectedness of the wrestling community -- phrases such as "it's a small world" and "six degrees of separation" come to mind. For example, the ties that bind the University of Iowa to Edinboro that all started with a phone call to then-coach Dan Gable, and went on to encompass Mike DeAnna, and early Iowa transfers Matt Furey and Mike Hehesy. That Iowa-Edinboro connection went on to reflect what has become the Fighting Scots' wrestling style that was true to the hard-nosed, never-stop reputation that had made the Iowa Hawkeyes the dominant college program for the last three decades of the twentieth century.
Yet another theme is the overall stability of the Fighting Scot program over the years since moving up to Division I. "Gable points out that Edinboro manages to be successful even after a disappointing season or two," says Dudley. "For some programs, a tough year or two has an immediate impact on recruiting, which then affects the on-the-mat performance, and a negative cycle begins."
"Coaching stability is part of Edinboro's overall success. There's a straight line from DeAnna to Baumgartner to Flynn. A common message, a common philosophy from the start that continues today. What Flynn says now is very much what DeAnna and Baumgartner would've said. If you had been in the room in DeAnna's day and came back now, you'd find a familiarity that's pretty much tradition."
Josh KoscheckWhether you are a long-time Edinboro mat program supporter from long before the move to Division I, or a wrestling fan whose awareness of the Fighting Scots is limited to more recent superstars like Josh Koscheck and Gregor Gillespie (or perhaps from those promotional posters of Edinboro wrestlers wearing traditional Scottish kilts), The Fighting Scots of Edinboro is a story worthy of your attention.
The Fighting Scots of Edinboro is available for purchase from major online booksellers such as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, or direct from the publisher at www.reedypress.com.