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Jeff Byers: Tim Curley, Gov. Corbett and Other Random Thoughts Before NCAA Wrestling Championships

by on March 10, 2012 6:30 AM

It is a good thing that Penn State wrestling has Cael Sanderson and not some of the message board posters at its helm.

Sanderson stoked his team’s confidence and enthusiasm by smiling and telling them he could “hardly wait to see how you respond” after a subpar round last Saturday night at the Big Ten championships. To read some of the comments on the message board, the team had already assured itself of no better than third place and had presented itself as an embarrassment to the university and its fans.

For the record, Penn State now knows what embarrassment is, and losing a couple of wrestling matches at a tournament is NOT it. Well, Cael’s boys responded and despite embarrassing a few of its fans, the Big Ten champs will send nine guys to St. Louis. And just for grins and giggles, they are going to see if they can compete for a second-consecutive national title.

Officials in any sport, wrestling certainly included, do not get paid enough to deal with coaches, athletes, fans and yes, broadcasters. It is a difficult job requiring much interpretation and judgment. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget that these are people just doing the best they can to provide a safe, fair environment for competition to take place.

Here’s a big thank you to the individuals who take on this responsibility out of a love for the sport and a sense of duty to the participants. Now, let’s make sure you make all the right calls, especially in the Penn State matches.

I think it’s great that Gov. Corbett has again espoused his opinion that Joe Paterno should have done more and followed up with the powers that be regarding the allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Corbett has said he believes Sandusky is guilty. If that’s the case, how exactly does he justify letting an alleged child predator walk around free for two-and-a-half years while Corbett runs for governor? Talk about not following up!

While I am obviously pulling for all of the Penn State wrestlers to have success in St. Louis, I think some special attention needs to be placed on Frank Molinaro. He has a chance to put the finishing touches on one of the great careers in Penn State history.

This is a young man who had serious doubts about whether he could fit into the starting lineup as a freshman. Now, he is on the brink of becoming just the fifth four-time All-American in school history. Molinaro has developed into a great leader and has dedicated himself to doing everything right and giving himself the best chance he can to go out and win that elusive individual title.

There is nobody who is more prepared to win the title, and it would be a fitting end to a truly remarkable journey.

I will be writing a personal note to Tim Curley this weekend. Penn State’s longtime athletic director has endured quite a year with the passing of his mother and of his friend, Joe Paterno, not to mention battling lung cancer and dealing with legal issues arising from the Sandusky investigation.

I won’t pretend that I agreed with all of Tim’s decisions over the years, but I think when you look at the coaches that he hired, the athletic facilities that the university has and will have because of his work, not to mention the culture and tradition that created a true family in the Penn State athletic community, Curley’s legacy is pretty impressive.

His leadership is missed and would serve the university well again. Here’s hoping the decency and enthusiasm -- the genuine care and concern he had for all of his coaches and athletes -- is being returned by the university and its leadership.

Sports teaches many lessons and those of us in sports media like to talk all of the time about the life lessons taught here. One of those that might be most valuable is that life is not always fair. If it was, Bryan Pearsall would be joining his teammates in St. Louis.

Bryan did not get an at-large bid, and by the numbers and criteria, it was probably the right decision. But the young man got the very most out of his ability this year and did everything in his power to achieve his goals. At the end of the day, Pearsall’s performance at the Big Ten tournament might have been the most rewarding (he went 3-2 and closed the gap considerably from regular season matches in his two losses).

At the end of the day, all any of us can do is our best, and sometimes that’s not good enough. But Bryan can hold his head high knowing he gave it everything he had.

St. Louis is a great venue for the NCAA championships. The folks there just know how to run the tournament, the facility is great and the location is good.

I, for one, do miss the days of the tournament being held in on-campus locations, though. If the tournament is going to shy away from that, here’s hoping they either pick a couple of cities (like St. Louis and Philadelphia) to alternate between or at the very least, pick more accessible and spacious venues than Des Moines, Iowa, which is where the championships will be held next year.

There are few things in life I enjoy more than the NCAA wrestling championships. The camaraderie of former wrestlers and their fans is unique. The sections of fans from the various schools, the entire arena erupting over a spectacular move or a big upset in the early rounds -- it all makes for compelling sports theatre.

It is a weekend where dreams will be realized and shattered, where legacies will be solidified or altered and where 330 young men will have the opportunity to compete on the sport’s biggest stage.

Here’s hoping that the NWCA (National Wrestling Coaches Association) doesn’t get overzealous in its attempts to grow the sport by changing the NCAA tournament. There is a reason the coaches, athletes and fans have this weekend circled on the calendar every year, and there is no reason to try to fix something that is not broken.



Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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