The season is almost upon us. For many that will mean long car rides, long days in the gym and, if you’re anything like me, a severe case of wrestling fever. To help fill the downtime and sate your hunger for all things wrestling, here are five books that every wrestling fan should read. There are plenty more, of course, but if you haven’t yet consumed these tomes, you owe it to yourself to do so.
The History of Collegiate Wrestling by Jairus K. Hammond, updated by Jamie Moffatt.
If you are a college wrestling fan that is somehow not aware of this book, or does not yet own a copy, you must check it out. From the home-and-home dual meets between Yale and Columbia in March of 1903 through the 2014 NCAA tournament, you will not find a more complete history of college wrestling in the United States. On their own, the stories of each season would be more than enough to put this book on the list, especially with so many pictures and details that may have otherwise been lost to history. However, in addition to all that, the book includes feature stories from a who’s who in wrestling writing bringing the rich history of the sport to life. You can pick up a digital copy of this book for $14.99 with proceeds helping the non-profit National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum.
Cowboy Up by Kim D. Parrish
Going into the 2004-05 season the Oklahoma State Cowboys were two-time defending national champions. Author Kim D. Parrish followed the team throughout the season as they went for their third title in a row. This book gives an interesting account of what it’s like inside one of the best wrestling programs in the country and how unrelenting college wrestling is at the highest level. Even if you aren’t a Cowboy fan, the coaching insights from John Smith, the trials and tribulations that the wrestlers go through, and the difficult decisions that must be made as the year moves along make this an intriguing and useful book for anyone involved in wrestling. We know what the outcome ultimately was, but the story of how they got there is remarkable.
Four Days to Glory by Mark Kreidler
Wrestling in Iowa runs much deeper than the exploits of their college teams. This book delves into the soul of Iowa wrestling as the author follows Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere as they try to become four-time Iowa high school state champions. It gives an interesting look at how different communities approach the sport and how much pressure these young athletes can be under. It also does an excellent job of reminding us that these are just kids with families, friends and a world outside of wrestling. At the same time, it is clear just how much wrestling means to the kids, the coaches, the parents and the communities involved. If you love wrestling, this is a story you’ll enjoy.
A Distant Flame by Jack VanBebber
VanBebber was a three-time national champion for Oklahoma State and a 1932 Olympic gold medalist. He tells his story about growing up during the Great Depression and overcoming tremendous challenges to become one of the initial inductees into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Wrestling, and life, were much different in VanBebber’s time, but the overall importance of perseverance, determination and toughness are the same now as they were then. Taking the trip back in time is fascinating. Learning about the early days of our sport from a man who was there is invaluable. This one can be a little bit hard to find, but if you can get your hands on a copy it is worth it.
A Season On The Mat by Nolan Zavoral
Almost a decade before Cowboy Up, Nolan Zavoral got similar access to the Iowa Hawkeyes under legendary coach Dan Gable as they approached the 1996-97 season. That season, of course, would be Gable’s last as the head man. Despite the record-breaking performance of this team at the 1997 NCAA tournament, this was not an easy season for Iowa and the story of a physically broken down Gable coaxing one last spectacular performance from his charges shows us much about what makes the man so great. This is at once a book about Dan Gable and about the 1996-97 Iowa Hawkeyes with both parts being incredibly insightful. Whether you love or hate Iowa, you’ll be enthralled by the story of one of college sports all-time greatest dynasties.