CEDAR RAPIDS — Many consider the holidays the season of giving, but Jim Brown shares his love for the sport of wrestling year-round.
Brown is attempting to give the gift of wrestling this March 5-6, hatching the “Ticket For Kids” drive to give youths an opportunity to see the NCAA Division III wrestling tournament here at the U.S. Cellular Center by raising money for tickets to the championship event.
“Kids who aren’t exposed to what wrestling really is have a misconception about what it is,” Brown said. “So, if a kid’s going to their first meet they have to see some action. They’ve got to see some excitement.”
Brown considers Saturday morning of Division III national tournament the most thrilling. Wrestlers have All-American honors notched, so they open up and wrestling a less conservative style.
“There’s a lot of rolling around on the mat,” Brown said. “There’s kids going for throws you don’t see Division I wrestlers try.
“I want to give kids a taste of how fun and exciting the sport can be.”
The goal is to raise at least $10,000 for 1,000 tickets to the final day’s early session. Tough economic times have led to numerous denials and some ignored requests. But, Brown, the owner of Direct Marketing Solutions in Cedar Rapids, had raised about $4,500 at the start of the week, only $500 short of his goal at this time. His drive sounds like that of the competitors he loves to watch.
“I’ve got to get more aggressive and work harder,” Brown said about reaching his fundraising goal. “I have to do a better job of getting people to understand what getting those kids down there can mean to the sport.”
The focus is to distribute the tickets through schools and youth organizations in the region, including parts of Illinois and Minnesota. The tickets are
He has actively courted both individual and corporate sponsors. Cedar Rapids Marriott boosted his totals with a recent gift of $2,000. He said personal donations average between $25 to $30, ranging from $10 to $100.
“I’m going to do a much broader appeal here in a couple weeks out in the wrestling world,” said Brown, noting his ultimate goal would be making Cedar Rapids a regular host to large wrestling events like World Team Trials and international duals similar to the USA vs. Russia meet held last month at Cornell in Mount Vernon.
Brown was introduced to the world of wrestling as a youth in Davenport, but never competed in high school. He became hooked watching Dan Gable wrestle in Ames one night during the 1969-70 season. Brown, who also credits Iowa Public Television’s wrestling telecasts for adding to his love for the sport, has had season tickets to University of Iowa duals for more than 20 years, but his love extends to all levels and forms of wrestling, which is evident in his weekly and well-respected blog called, “The View from Section GG.”
He’s a selfless promoter of a sport he applauds for the requirement of work ethic, dedication and sacrifice.
“I got to thinking what can one fan contribute at all,” Brown said. “I just came up with ideas. I found the wrestling community can be incredibly supportive of any idea you come up with that will help the sport.”
Cornell Coach Mike Duroe remembered Brown approaching him with the ticket idea at the conclusion of the 2009 championships. He followed up in the fall, receiving permission from the NCAA in October.
“This guy’s a patriot for wrestling. He does an awful lot for the sport,” Cornell Coach Mike Duroe said. “I think it’s a phenomenal thing to bring in more fans.”
Iowa Conference Commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen and Coe and Cornell athletic directors John Chandler and John Cochrane were contacted by Brown. Yrigoyen said they did the leg work for him with the NCAA, proposing it to Assistant Director of Championships for Division III, Anthony Holman, during a site visit in September.
“We got the blessing from the NCAA and Jim has run with it,” Yrigoyen said. “Apparently, he’s had some decent success.”
Success didn’t seem a lock to Yrigoyen when first contacted, but after reading Brown’s blog, he quickly gained confidence.
“Not knowing Jim at all, I guess I did look at it with a little bit of skepticism and that overzealous fan aspect,” said Yrigoyen. “I have little doubt that, after reading some of his stuff, he wasn’t going to put an honest effort into making it happen.”
They gave Brown specific guidelines on what he can do raising money. The NCAA combed through the details before giving permission.
“There are rules about extra benefits and making sure some of his stuff doesn’t go to prospects,” Yrigoyen said. “It was clear Jim had in mind a younger fan group, which will then help you stay away from any NCAA implications.”
Intentions are solely to promote the sport as a fan, and this isn’t Brown’s first effort. He hosted a social for fans during this event the last two years,
“He’s trying to create avenues for the sport to be more visible,” Duroe said. “It means a lot here in Eastern Iowa, but it means a lot on the national level, too.”
Duroe said it’s nearly impossible to gauge the impact the gesture will have on the kids or the sport. Once the fuse is lit, however, it could result in sparking a kid to become a major contributor to wrestling.
“You never know who is going to be the next star,” said Duroe, recalling wrestling stars like Troy and Terry Steiner, Jim and Bill Scherr and Brandon Slay attend clinics as youths. “Just getting a kid excited about something could lead to greatness for that individual (and the sport).”