Two weeks after visiting the New York Stock Exchange with the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team and ringing The Closing Bell, Bobby Douglas was playing a game of “Beat the Streets” back in the Midwest.
“Listen to the instruction,” he implored youngsters during a warm-up session to launch a two-day wrestling clinic Friday at Shepard High School in Palos Heights.
Douglas is a 70-year-old two-time former Olympian (1964, 1968), World silver and bronze wrestling medalist and a two-time former Olympic wrestling coach (1992, 2004). He still is fit as a fiddle.
And he is preparing himself these days to meet an opponent every bit as tough as the Russians.
“We’re competing with the gangs,” Douglas said. “We’re going to beat the gangs. And that’s how we’re going to ‘Beat the Streets.’ We’re going to outrecruit them.
“We’re going to give the kids a future. And we’re going to do things that are going to make them appreciate what they have now and the importance of athletics and sports and all the things that go along with that.
“These kids that are in athletics are usually around the right type of people. I believe in the right time, the right place, the right people and the right attitude and you get the right results.”
If it looked like Douglas was having just as much fun at Shepard as he had at The Grapple in the Big Apple (the United Stated defeated Russia 4-3 on June 7), then there was good reason. He has come full circle in his life.
His grandparents raised him in a poor coal-mining community in eastern Ohio. He found wrestling. And he became a trailblazer for black athletes and coaches in the sport during a meteoric rise that saw him climb from a Bridgeport state champ to the top of the wrestling mountain.
Douglas defeated Dan Gable 11-1 in a freestyle match during the Olympic Trails in Ames, Iowa, in 1968.
When he stopped wrestling, he turned to coaching. He built Arizona State into a collegiate powerhouse and led the Sun Devils to the only NCAA title ever won by a school west of the Rocky Mountains. He went on to Iowa State and coached Cael Sanderson to a gold medial in the 185-pound weight class at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Douglas still lives in Ames with his wife, Jackie. His story in chronicled by Craig Sesker in the book “Bobby Douglas: Life and Legacy of an American Wrestling Legend.”
He is happy to talk about his roots, just as many of the best wrestlers in U.S. history are happy to talk about his influence on them, the list of Who’s Who running the gamut from Gable and Sanderson, to Dave Schultz and John Smith, Kevin Jackson and Bruce Baumgartner, Kenny Monday and Zeke Jones.
“It goes right to the core of where I came from, my high school coach (George Kovalick), I’m just following in his footsteps,” Douglas said. “I had a great high school coach. I had great college coaches (at West Liberty University, Wheeling, W.Va.) and I’ve been around great coaches.
“It’s time for me to give back. I don’t have a whole lot of time left. But what time I do have I’m going to try and impart what knowledge I have on these kids.”
Brothers Bring Wrestling Legend to Town
Nick Passolano has witnessed Douglas work his magic first-hand. Back in the day, Passolano was a standout wrestler at Providence Catholic High School. He went on to become a four-time NCAA qualifier at Iowa State.
Passolano said Douglas once told him he was the slowest recruit he ever signed with the Cyclones—the result of two bum knees he tore up while wrestling with the Celtics.
Passolano showed a willingness to work. And that struck a chord with Douglas.
Nick is married now and the father of a 2-year-old girl. He works as an underwriter for Nationwide Insurance and coaches wrestling at Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Bobby is not just a great coach,” Passolano said. “He’s a great mentor and father figure, somebody I really looked up to leaving home and really starting my new life (after attending Providence).
“I learned a little wrestling technique but so many more life lessons that he was able to teach me. I call him today. We still keep in touch. It’s more about, ‘How’s your family doing? How are you doing? How’s your career?’ He prepares you for life after wrestling.”
Douglas’ appearance at Shepard was made possible by the Passolano brothers. Nick drove his old coach over from Iowa. Dom Passolano coaches football at Shepard and recently launched the Astro Wrestling Club.
“We started the kids wrestling program here at Shepard, and we wanted to promote the sport within the area,” Dom Passolano said. “The head wrestling coach here—Scott Richardson—he coached my brother at Providence. And we were trying to bring attention to the sport, and I talked to Nick. He was like, ‘Let’s get coach Douglas in.' Coach Douglas is an ambassador for the sport.
“He’s very giving and wants to spread and advance the sport and get kids involved. He knows what it can do for kids from all different types of communities—it's wrestling as an outlet for kids.”
Douglas said the mission of the “Beat the Streets” program is to expand and develop wrestling in inner-city and metropolitan areas from the youth through the Olympic level. While anchored in New York City now, Douglas noted the program traces its roots to the old Mayor Daly Organization in Chicago and the Southland’s Harvey Twisters wrestling club.
“The problem that we have is our kids are starting to learn how to wrestle Olympic-style when they get out of college,” Douglas said. “We want to start them in grade school like the rest of the world.
“And this is where we’re starting—right here. We’re going to do these clinics all over America. And, by the Year 2020, we’ll dominate the Olympics again.”
Take it from the man who promises to Beat the Streets.