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#TGW: Wrestling Returns

Oct. 14, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

   Jim Pond and Billy Saville are looking forward to a pending reunion of sorts at Georgia Tech and the chance to visit their former head coach, but they don’t sound like they want to wrestle Lowell Lange any more — even though he’s 87.

   At least if Lange gets them on a mat, they’ll go at it in a far more grand atmosphere than when they wrestled for the Yellow Jackets.

   Pond and Saville, who are in Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame, will attend the NWCA All-Star Classic in McCamish Pavilion on Nov. 1 as the nation’s top returning collegiate wrestlers – including four defending national champions – compete in preseason matches televised live on ESPNU (5-7 p.m.).

   This will be a big step up for the sport at Tech, which last had an NCAA-sanctioned wrestling program in 1989.

   In Pond’s day (1963-’67) the Jackets usually competed in the Heisman Gym (http://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/1791). It was demolished in 1994 to make way for the north stands in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

   During practice, Lange (http://iowawrestlinghalloffame.com/inductees/lowell-lange.html) roughed up just about everyone – even Pond, who in ’66 became Tech’s only wrestling All-American when he was sixth at the NCAA championships.

   “The toughest man I ever met in my life. I wrestled him many times over four years, and in four years I scored four points on him and those four points were scored when he let me up so he could take me down again,” said Pond, who will travel from Oregon to attend the Classic.

   “He broke my nose more times than I could remember. Everything on his body was hard. I’ve been on the mat with some tough guys . . . nobody was even close to being as tough as Lowell Lange.”

   The All-Star Classic, formerly known as the East-West Classic, is begin staged by the Atlanta Chapter of Wrestlers in Business, a networking group comprised of former college wrestlers now in business who promote the sport at every level,

    Saville, who last competed for Tech in ’71, won’t have to travel far. He lives in Atlanta, where he’s a trust department sales manager for Regions Bank, and has officiated high school wrestling for 42 years.

  Classic organizers have asked him to pick up Lange in Canton, and bring him along for the ride. The three-time college national champion, who is in the Iowa and National Wrestling Halls of Fames, is one of dozens of legends of the sport invited.

   “Nobody on our team could beat him,” Saville said. “He’s an amazing story, part of the Cornell College of Iowa dream team that is still the smallest school to win an NCAA championship (in 1947).

   “He probably would have been the first four-time NCAA champion if not for an automobile accident when he was a sophomore. He could do anything, an amazing athlete.”

   Wrestling was first an NCAA-sanctioned sport at Tech in 1948, the year Lange was injured at Cornell and a year before he went unscored upon in the NCAAs, but the sport went through some dark periods.

   He resurrected the program in ’64, one year after Pond had transferred to Tech.

   “I went to North Fulton High School, which isn’t there now,” he said. “I’d won the state as a senior and didn’t have any points scored against me. I went to Oklahoma to wrestle and play football.

   “I didn’t like playing football so much, and transferred back to Tech because I wanted to be at an engineering school, and because the program at Oklahoma was so tough it would have been tough for me to see action. It was the fall of ’63 and Tech didn’t have a team but they were going to so that was a redshirt year.”

   Saville graduated from the old Briarcliff High School in ’67, as Pond was graduating from Tech with a degree in industrial engineering.

   They both remain close to the sport.

   Pond, who in 2005 was inducted into the Oregon State University Academy of Distinguished Engineers (http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/james-pond-jr-2005-academy-distinguished-engineers), spent time coaching at the amateur and college levels, and for 18 years has been president of the Oregon chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

   Wrestling did not enjoy much traction at Tech and the sport has ebbed particularly over the decades in the Southeast, yet its loyalists are robust as Pond proves: “[The downsizing of the sport at the college level] has been a difficult thing for those of us who know what a character builder wrestling is, and what a problem solver it can be.”

   Saville continues to spend time on mats nicer than the ones he and his teammates practiced upon.  By his time, Tech was practicing in a building across the I-75/I-85 Connector from campus, near The Varsity.

   “It just becomes a part of your character,” he said. “Most of my character traits were built through wrestling. I have never wanted to leave. It’s made who I am. I’ve been able to keep my body in good enough position to get down and up on the mat, to keep officiating.”

   Tech is benefiting from the Classic, which is renting McCamish Pavilion somewhat like Bobby Dodd Stadium was leased last summer for the Rolling Stones concert.

   The Atlanta chapter of WIB also plans to make a contribution to the Tech wrestling club, and to the women’s basketball program as head coach MaChelle Joseph agreed to re-schedule her squad’s scrimmage to make way for the Classic.

  A youth clinic will be held from 9-12 a.m., and more than 50 legends of the sport have committed to attend (not necessarily participate in the clinic).

   The main event will feature two-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State (and his coach, six-time world and Olympic champion John Smith), and defending champs Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State), Cody Brewer (Oklahoma) and Isaiah Martinez (Illinois).

   Before that, several exhibitions including local wrestlers – men and women — are planned beginning at 3:30. This will be the first time the Classic has staged south of Virginia since ‘95, when it was at the University of North Carolina.

   In recent years, college programs have started in Georgia at Shorter University, Truett-McConnell, Brewton Parker, Life University and Emmanuel College.

   The only time wrestling was bigger locally was when the Olympics were in Atlanta in ’96.

   “I’m real excited about the Classic. We have not had this caliber of wrestling in Atlanta, ever,” Saville said. “To have it on ESPNU is something else. I think we’ll have a good crowd.”

   Pond is bringing his wife across the country to attend, “It’s just an amazing feat to get that event to Atlanta, and I think it will help wrestling in the state,” he said. “Georgia wrestling has improved many, many times over since I left it in 1962.”

   For a look at the lineup and more information: www.theallstarclassic.com

      

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