Late last Saturday night at Princeton University, the 10 individual winners of NCAA wrestling titles were patiently posing for the traditional photographs when one of the victors—heavyweight champ Lou Banach of Iowa—suddenly became bored with all the formality. So he slipped behind the unsuspecting 177-pound winner, his twin brother Ed, and threw him to the mat. What ensued was a rowdy rollabout punctuated by great laughter. Said the twins' adoptive father, Alan Tooley, "Energy has always poured out from those two."
The horseplay was a celebration by two 21-year-old college sophomores whose lives had started in a very unpromising manner. The twins are two of 14 Banach (rhymes with panic) children. When they were two years old, the family house in Newton, N.J., burned down. "The only thing I can remember," says Ed, "is a lot of smoke and me sitting underneath a tree watching our house burn, cuddled up in a blanket next to Louie."
Their father surveyed the charred wreckage and disappeared; their mother had a nervous breakdown. The 14 children were sent to foster homes. Tooley and his wife, Stephanie, first took older brother Steve (also an Iowa wrestler) when he was five. Then there was trouble keeping Ed and Lou placed, and the Tooleys agreed to take the boys—age four—for just a few weeks. Happily, it was love from the start, and the twins stayed, growing up mostly in Port Jervis, N.Y. Still, the unsettled early years left scars. Says Ed, "We learned right away to trust each other and fend for ourselves."
And fend for Iowa. The Banach boys were the cornerstones of the school's sixth NCAA team championship in seven years—and its fourth straight. This year the Hawkeyes clearly established themselves as a dynasty. They won the Big Ten title for a record eighth straight time, with a record seven individual conference champs, and they have nine All-Americas. Gary Kurdelmeier, Iowa's former coach and now assistant athletic director, says, "This is the finest college wrestling team in history. You pick an all-star team, I'll take the Iowa team and it would be about a toss-up."
March 23, 1981
So dominant was Iowa at Princeton that it had the team title pinned down before the Saturday night finals. The Hawkeyes finished with a record 129.75 points, along with two firsts, three seconds, one fifth and three sevenths. All of which was enormously irksome to the college wrestling fraternity. Stan Abel, coach of runner-up Oklahoma, groused that Iowa "sure gets a lot of good calls just because they're Iowa." When Oklahoma State Coach Tommy Chesboro was asked what the Iowa landslide meant, he responded: "Nothin'."
Don't believe it.
An Iowa wrestler's idea of a great time is to sweat more today than yesterday. When Iowa Coach Dan Gable—winner of 100 consecutive college matches when he wrestled at Iowa State (his high school and college mark was 181-1-0) and an Olympic gold medalist in Munich—says there will be an optional practice or no practice, the whole team shows up to practice. Kurdelmeier got wrestling rolling at Iowa City, but the most important event in Hawkeye wrestling history was Gable's arrival as Kurdelmeier's assistant in 1973. Gable took over the head job in 1977 and Iowa took off. Not since Oklahoma State ripped off 14 NCAA titles (1928 through 1946), then added five more (1954 through 1959), has one school taken command like Iowa. Abel and others insist that next year will be different—and Oklahoma and Iowa State do look extremely tough for 1981-82—but that kind of talk is heard every year, and sounds a bit like whistling past the cemetery.
At Princeton, Gable was disappointed that his wrestlers won only two individual titles, especially after five of them gained places in the finals. But this only underscored how rugged the Hawkeyes are from top to bottom.
For Ed Banach, it was his second NCAA championship in two tries. His goal: he wants to be the first wrestler ever to win four NCAA titles; 30 have won three. Ed first mentioned this dream when he was a high school junior in Port Jervis. His father didn't blink. "Have at it," said Tooley. Before Ed's championship match with Clarion's Charlie Heller. Gable warned, "If you don't win tonight, your dream is shattered." Thus psyched, Ed raced onto the mat and took control with a takedown, a reversal and—bingo!—there was Heller studying the ceiling lighting arrangement. The fall was recorded at 4:15.
Brother Lou is a wrestler of a different stripe. When Iowa was recruiting the class of '83, Gable says all his spies told him, "Ed is the one you want." But Dan found that while Ed had desire, Lou had more natural ability. Last season, however, Lou quit the team, claiming that he wasn't adjusting to big-time wrestling and needed "time to grow." Gable was not charmed. Still, when Lou asked to return this season, Gable said yes, explaining, "I give up on very few kids."
It was a fortunate decision. Lou, who weighs 220 pounds, has splendid maneuverability in a weight class known for pushing, shoving, leaning and boredom. Gable told Lou before his final match, "You're not going to have any problem." Correct. The first to sense this was Lou's opponent, the 265-pound No. 1 seed, Bruce Baumgartner of Indiana State. After messing about for the first period, Banach dominated in the second, scoring six points on a smooth reversal, some stalling penalties against Baumgartner and a near fall. Then, only 45 seconds into the final period, Banach wrapped his opponent in an unyielding cradle and Baumgartner was history.
An elated Lou said, "I picked him up on a single leg, and when he went down, he hit the mat hard. Then I noticed something."
"That he didn't want to get up. He was gassin'. But I really proved something."
"That I can wrestle with the big guys."
Although things have gone well for the Banachs at Iowa, they have been awful for Mike DeAnna, who five years ago was the country's best high school wrestler. Recruiters particularly liked the 83-0 record he racked up in his sophomore, junior and senior years in Bay Village, a Cleveland suburb. There was talk—probably too much talk—that De-Anna would be the first to win four NCAA titles.
But DeAnna met trouble. He hurt his knee as a freshman in the Big Ten championships and ended up third in the nationals. As a sophomore in 1978-79, he frequently looked out of shape, arousing the ire of red-hot Iowa wrestling devotees, and finished sixth in the NCAAs. Then, as a junior, his lack of stamina was attributed to hypoglycemia, a sugar deficiency in the blood. A diet change perked DeAnna up, but he finished only second in the NCAAs.
Then came the nightmare of 1979-80. First, DeAnna had knee surgery in October. Next, a rare malignant growth was discovered on his left forearm. His mother, Jeannette, recalls, "The doctors said if it got into the blood, he'd have a year to live." On Dec. 5, 1979 DeAnna underwent 3½ hours of surgery in Iowa City. It was successful.
DeAnna was philosophic about his cancer. He says, "I thought, 'Well, I've had a good time. If I die, I die.' " As for his wrestling, he admits, "I'd like to be going for my fourth NCAA championship. I was thinking about that last night. I could be, I should be—but I'm not. I still haven't won my first one." Now he never will. DeAnna turned in a strangely flat performance ("His body didn't move," says Gable) and was dusted by Oklahoma's Mark Schultz, 10-4.
The Hawkeyes were also disappointed by the defeat of their 134-pounder, Randy Lewis, who twice had won NCAA titles. But Lewis had severely damaged his elbow before the tournament. Still, Lewis—and Gable—gave everyone a lesson in what competition really means in his quarterfinal match with Iowa State's Jim Gibbons, the man who had injured Lewis earlier in the season. During the match, Gibbons was assessed a penalty point for slamming Lewis to the mat improperly; Lewis could have declined to continue, and he would have won by forfeit. But when someone suggested that to Gable, the coach sniffed, "We don't win that way." Lewis went on—and lost to Gibbons, 13-6.
But other schools had more disappointments than Iowa. Oklahoma, which came in with serious hopes of challenging Iowa, was blitzed early. The Sooners won two titles, Andre Metzger (142) and Mark Schultz (167), but a heavy favorite, Mark's brother, Dave, lost in the 158-pound finals. Dave is intent on international competition and doesn't exactly mouth the stuff of which OU recruiting brochures are made. Even before Dave lost, he was saying, "You've got to be crazy to wrestle. Everybody knows there's no money in it, and the way Title IX is going, there probably won't be any wrestling either. Plus, I don't like school. I'm just going along, making a little progress toward a degree. I guess I'm just a flake." Says one teammate, "He's a flake."
The winner of the outstanding wrestler award was Syracuse's Gene Mills, who admits that a guy who wrestles has "something loose upstairs." Mills, who won at 118 for the second time, was easily the most exciting performer in Princeton. His many admirers call him "Mean Gene the Pinning Machine," and he lived up to his reputation by pinning four of his five NCAA opponents.
Energy has always poured out of Gene Mills, too.