Wrestling With Problems Never Ends

Many, many years ago I was reading a Saturday morning Tuscaloosa News and noticed that a “correspondent” – buzz word for “paying someone a pittance to cover high school football games because we don’t have enough staff to do it” – had done an excellent job in his report.

Not long after that, I had hired Tommy Deas to help in my coverage of Alabama sports. Deas is now the executive sports editor at the Tuscaloosa News and he’s also the big brother of Jay Deas, who is the co-manager/trainer of the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Tuscaloosa’s Deontay Wilder.

Back in the 1980s, when Tommy was working with us, I knew that he had extreme interest in and knowledge of boxing. I also knew that The University of Alabama once upon a time had a boxing team and that a star member of that squad was George Wallace, who at the time was serving yet another term as governor of the state.

We made arrangements for Tommy to go to Montgomery and interview Gov. Wallace about his days as an Alabama boxer. The governor was kind enough to provide a photo of him clobbering an LSU boxer. Wallace told Deas that at the time boxing was Alabama’s third most popular sport, behind football and baseball.

Today, as far as I know, there is no college boxing.

That is not the only sport that Alabama has dropped. In the late 1960s, Coach Paul Bryant had added a young assistant football coach, Jim Tanara, who had played football at UT-Chattanooga. Tanara had also been a high school and college wrestler. As director of athletics, Bryant also wanted to expand and improve all sports. He had done that in part by using his football staff to coach other sports.

Gene Stallings and Steve Sloan were Alabama golf coaches along with being assistant football coaches. Hayden Riley was head basketball coach (and later head baseball coach) in addition to his main duties of football recruiter.

And Alabama started a wrestling program with Tanara as head coach. It turned out to be a very good program, rising to among the best in the Southeastern Conference. It started in the 1968-69 season and ended in 1978-79, primarily because there were not enough SEC teams participating.

Two notable football players participated in wrestling. John Hannah was one of the good heavyweights and Jim Krapf, who had been a high school star in wrestling, was the best heavyweight in the SEC.

In those days we had a small sports information staff and everyone had to double up and triple up and more on sports coverage. Wrestling was one of the sports that I worked, which meant that I produced a very slim “media guide” that was really just a pamphlet, and wrote and distributed pre- and post-match stories. I was also the announcer at wrestling meets for the few hundred spectators.

The difficulty in announcing was the microphone, which was extremely sensitive, and would pick up sound even when supposedly cut off.

In those heady days of the C.M. Newton basketball team, tickets were at a premium for the big games, and that included the Auburn game. During the NCAA meetings in January, when the athletics department big wheels (Coach Bryant and his associate AD, Sam Bailey), were out of the office, I had a parade of men march into my office. They included The University president’s top two aides and the Memorial (now Coleman) Coliseum building manager.

It seemed that the president had received word that a number of state legislators – the men who voted funds for education – wanted to attend the sold-out Alabama-Auburn basketball game. They, of course, would expect good seats, of which none were available.

The plan, then, was to erect a platform along the wall at the west end of the court. It seemed I was the highest-ranking person in the athletics department in town and I had to make a decision as to whether to allow it. Who was I to turn down the president of The University?

And so the platform was erected.

Before that basketball game, though, Bama was hosting a wrestling match. I was announcing with the ultra-sensitive microphone at my left elbow. At some point, I felt a large presence over my left shoulder. Coach Bailey.

“What the %@#$%& $@&%#! is that?” he said, pointing to the platform. I wasn’t the only one who heard the question. It blared out over the loudspeakers.

It is my primary memory of covering Alabama wrestling.

I bring that up because this year at the Middle Tennessee State football game on Sept. 12, former Alabama wrestlers will be recognized as they have a reunion weekend.

After I left Alabama, I managed to irritate Coach Bailey again. Fortunately, I had a very good relationship with him, and my foibles were forgiven.

I had decided to write an April Fool column in ’BAMA Magazine and “reported” on the plan to add a hockey team. It would involve taking out a number of prime seats in Coleman Coliseum to make room for the hockey rink. It was quite clear that it was an April Fool story, but a few people who had those good seats for basketball were upset enough to call Coach Bailey…who called me

As best I remember he began along familiar lines: “What the %@#$%& $@&%#!...”


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