Four Days to Glory: Wrestling with the Soul of the American Heartland

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Overview

Somewhere beyond the circle of money, glitz, drugs and controversy that characterizes professional sports in America, there exists the remnants of the ideal. In Iowa, that ideal survives in the form of high school wrestling, a way of transforming the local virtues--modesty, privation, hard work--into sporting glory. To be a wrestling champion in Iowa is to achieve greatness--individual glory where the only back to pat is your own.

For Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere, though, the ...

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Four Days to Glory: The Heart of America, Flat on Its Back

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Overview

Somewhere beyond the circle of money, glitz, drugs and controversy that characterizes professional sports in America, there exists the remnants of the ideal. In Iowa, that ideal survives in the form of high school wrestling, a way of transforming the local virtues--modesty, privation, hard work--into sporting glory. To be a wrestling champion in Iowa is to achieve greatness--individual glory where the only back to pat is your own.

For Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere, though, the stakes have been raised. Already three-time state champions in differing weight classes, each boy has a chance in his senior year of high school to do something historic--to become a "four-timer," joining the most elite group in the sport and essentially ensuring his status as an Iowa wrestling deity. For Jay, a ferocious competitor who feeds off criticism and doubt, a victory would mean vindication over the great mass of skeptics waiting for him to fail. Dan, the kid from a farm near the tiny town of Coggon (population 710), carries other burdens. For his community, for the hard-driving coach who doubles as his father, and for his own triumph over his personal demons, another title is the only acceptable outcome.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Sandomir
In their own way, Mr. Kreidler’s portraits are as incisive as those in Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, which offered a similar look into the world of Texas high-school football.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Sportswriter Kreidler, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, immerses himself in "the largest event of its kind in the United States," the Iowa State High School Wrestling Tournament, and the result is a deeply insightful look into how young athletes and their families prepare for and participate in a yearly, four-day event where "Fathers and sons, coaches and wrestlers locked in screaming matches are as commonplace as injury timeouts." But this is no expose: Kreidler paints a highly sympathetic portrait of the struggles of two smalltown seniors to become the 15th and 16th four-time state champions in Iowa's history. One is motivated by the doubts raised about his abilities by Iowa wrestling fans, while the other struggles with a family history of depression. In Kreidler's final stunning account of how both teens deal with the "recurring emotional whiplash" of the tournament itself, he more than proves his contention: "The really great ones, deep down, just don't give a damn" about doubts and struggles external to the sport itself. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School - In most of the country, wrestling is a dying sport. However, in Iowa, thousands still turn out for the State Championships and the sport captures attention, particularly when a chance at greatness presents itself. In 2005, two young men had the opportunity to become only the 15th and 16th wrestlers to be four-time champions in the long history of the state tournament. Jay Borschel and Dan LeClere had known one another since childhood, and as seniors in high school faced similar pressures and roadblocks to establishing their legacies. Kreidler introduces readers to their world, if not their hearts and minds. Wrestling, a sport of deprivation that thrives on an ethos of pain, is a difficult form of athletic prowess to understand, and at times LeClere and Borschel are the embodiment of the difficulty of understanding the passion and commitment that it demands. They are enigmas. But the world of Iowa wrestling and the communities that embrace it are painted both in their glory and in the head-shaking dismay that the sport can induce. Teen wrestlers will appreciate a book that speaks to them and respectfully about them, and sports fans may find a new area to appreciate.-Mary Ann Harlan, Eureka High School, CA

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615533374
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Kreidler is an award-winning journalist and author of the acclaimed Four Days to Glory: Wrestling with the Soul of the American Heartland. A regular contributor to ESPN television, ESPN.com, and ESPN: The Magazine, he lives in northern California.

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Read an Excerpt

Four Days to Glory

Wrestling with the Soul of the American Heartland
By Mark Kreidler

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Mark Kreidler
All right reserved.



Chapter One

Locating the Enemy

Jay doesn't plan on his headgear ricocheting across the wrestling mat and spiking against one of his teammates' legs, but he won't be racing over to do anything about it, either. You can hear the slap of plastic on skin from across the gym when it makes contact, but since the teammate caught in the crossfire is both an underclassman and a varsity wrestler in the state of Iowa, he does not so much as throw Jay a look. The boy instead sits there in his chair alongside the mat, hunkered down, the hood of his sweat top pulled around his head to shadow his face. He does not move. There is, his posture suggests, no sting from the spiked headgear, no red mark on his leg from the point of contact. Nothing has happened. And Jay need not apologize for--well, for what is essentially nothing.

But Jay means it, of course--not the ricochet, but the rest of it. He wants his disgust fully visible to anyone inside the gym, which is why he yanks off the equipment and fires it downward in the first place. Let there be no question about his mood after another forfeit. He has sat with the rest of the Linn-Mar team on a yellow-and-black school bus for two solid hours while it shuddered and skidded along the icy rural roadways from Marion to Dubuque, and has done it because he desperately wants the moment that now eludes him.He wants to get out there and beat somebody to death. He wants to wrestle. He needs it. There's no sense in pretending anything else.

This quest is impossible without getting in his work, and that's the thing. Jay cannot become a four-time state champion unless he is in the best shape of his life when the time comes to go for it, and now, in January of 2005, that time is barely a month away and Jay cannot get a freaking match. Opponents run from him, even when they're on the mat. Coaches try to wrestle around him. They all know about Jay Borschel. They'd sooner forfeit the weight category than waste one of their decent wrestlers in a match they figure Jay will win easily. And so they run.

From his place in the bleachers above the gymnasium floor, Jay's father, Jim, sees the forfeit signal and suddenly has had all he can take. "Oh, come ON, coach!" he bellows over the heads of the other Linn-Mar parents and fans, his foghorn voice easily carrying the distance across to the Hempstead High coach, Chuck Hass. Hass never moves, never glances up; he keeps his gaze fixed upon the mat itself. He knows what he's doing.

Hass has just finished ducking Jay by moving away from him a good 171-pound wrestler, a boy named Dan Chmelar, who is ranked among the top ten in the state in Class 3A. But 171 is Jay Borschel's weight, or at least his current weight; in the past, Jay has won state titles at 103, 125 and 152 pounds. Jay already defeated Chmelar once this season, and it wasn't close. Sending Chmelar out there again would have been, for Hass, a points sacrifice straight down the line. The smart move was to skip Jay, concede the forfeit at 171, and save Chmelar for a better matchup, even though it would mean asking him to wrestle at a heavier weight.

And that's exactly what Hass has just done. As soon as Linn-Mar coach Doug Streicher made his move to send Jay to the mat, the avoidance plan went into effect. From the Hempstead side came no activity, no one rising from his chair or loosening up or pulling off his sweats. After checking in at the officials' table, Jay had walked out to center mat, popped from side to side on the balls of his toes and cranked his head from shoulder to shoulder, waiting for the opponent who was not coming. After a few seconds, Jay had seen that his pre-match suspicions were realized--that he would stand alone. After a few more seconds of inactivity from Hempstead, the referee had raised Jay's hand to signal the forfeit.

After the match, Chuck Hass says that as soon as he won the coin flip that forced Streicher to send out his wrestler first, he knew he wasn't going to be letting any of his kids face Jay. "Everybody knows Jay's the hammer," Hass says. "He's going to beat whoever you send out there--and we've got a good kid at that weight. I'd rather take my chances that Dan can get me points at 189 than just give them away against Jay.

"I know it frustrates Jay," the coach says. "We've got a kid at 119 pounds who goes through the same thing. In fact, I think Linn-Mar forfeited to him last year. It's just a part of the game."

And it is the right move for Hass's team. Chmelar shifts to 189 pounds, since wrestlers are allowed to move up in weight classes without penalty, and he wins a decision over the Linn-Mar wrestler there. Hempstead's usual 189-pounder, Justin Whitty, subsequently goes up to 215 pounds and wins a major decision. Those two victories are worth a combined 7 points for Hempstead, and the Mustangs ultimately win by 4, 31 to 27. Linn-Mar, meanwhile, gets the same number of points (6) at Jay's weight for the forfeit as it would have received for a pin, but is denied the emotional lift that comes with seeing Jay manhandle someone from the other team. The Lions get the forfeit, but not the blood.

And Jay? He gets no closer. No closer to the dream at all.

"That's awful!" Jim Borschel thunders, turning away from the mat in disgust. Jay's mother, Carol, who isn't apt to sit still under the best of circumstances, is unable to contain herself any longer; she pops up . . .

Continues...

Excerpted from Four Days to Glory by Mark Kreidler Copyright © 2007 by Mark Kreidler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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