Beach Blog 2019: Chapter 9: State Leaders

By Rusty Davidson, Associated Styles Committee | Aug. 06, 2019, 2:15 p.m. (ET)

August 14 - Chapter 9: State Leaders 

Thanks for letting me skip a day. I got into Albuquerque Monday night, right at midnight. My plane for Denver, was eight o’clock Tuesday morning. I spent Tuesday, sort of unwinding. I got a chance to watch my own kid coach, and I got a chance to sing my granddaughter to sleep.

Back at it, today. First, CONGRATULATIONS to our Junior World FS Men. What a wonderful performance ! That makes it all the more fun to be around USA Wrestling’s State Leaders.

This Annual get-together allows State Chairs and their designees to re-visit the organization’s triumphs and shortcomings, over the last membership year (September – August). It’s fair to say that 2018 – 2019 has been a great year.

Looking into the future, the Leaders will discuss proposals. Thursday night, the State Chairs will convene to pass those recommendations that stand the test. On Friday, those will be presented to USA Wrestling’s Board of Directors for final approval.

As I’ve mentioned, our Associated Styles have had an exceptional year of growth. In addition to our Beach Wrestling success, Grappling has gained a strong foothold in USAW. Our Grapplers compete in the upcoming World Championship, in Nur Sultan, the two days immediately following the Championships for Olympic Styles.

We still have one more event in the World Series of Beach Wrestling… Zagreb. I know Gary will run an article, but here’s your head start. Any, and all, Senior athletes can still enter this event, scheduled for SEPTEMBER 7TH AND 8TH. Airfare to Zagreb is quite reasonable. The hospitality in Croatia is absolutely first class, and it’s a gorgeous place !

If that doesn’t motivate you enough, the opportunity to win cash prizes will ! By the way, Legitimate UWW Juniors-aged athletes are welcome to compete, with UWW Medical And Parental Release forms.

If you, or one of yours, has that spirit of adventure, and some decent technique and tactic, please contact Gary Abbott at USA Wrestling. I will also be thrilled to help, should you need.

August 12 - Chapter 8: Gratitude: 

Travel days always give us the chance to celebrate small victories.  We had a ride to the Odessa airport at 4:30am, Odessa time. Both flights, Odessa to Kiev, Kiev to JFK, were on time.  We all saw our checked bags, in New York.  Seems like tonight’s flights are on time. Things are good.

Sitting near my gate, here at JFK, it occurs to me just how many people and events I have to be grateful for.  Just the notion that UWW and USAW are growing Beach Wrestling, and including me in the process, is something I am eternally thankful for.  I feel like we’re making a difference for our sport, and the youth of the world who deserve to love it like we do.

I appreciate John Wesendunk, who has shared his family with USA Wrestling for thirty-some years.  I first met John, when Diana (Betanzo) made our 1992 World Team.  Seeing Grandpa in the mix, now that Diana’s kids (Kristal and Mark) are competing, validates a lot of what we brag about.  Wrestling really does build good families!

Thank you to Michael Box, Timmy’s Dad, for being such a level-headed, easy-to-work-with Dad.  Seeing the relationships that so many of our Senior level athletes have with parents, reminds me about even more of Wrestling’s bragging rights.

I appreciate Molly Grabowski, not only for sharing her two with us (Phoebe and Caspian), but for chipping in with photography and updates for Gary, Mike and our Media Department.

Thank You to Elana Elor, another of those mellow, easy-to-work-with parents.  I enjoy watching (World Champion) Amit interact with her Mom.  Good parents are bringing good kids to wrestling, and I see wrestling answering the call.

I appreciate Coach Valentin Kalica (Amit’s personal coach), for his enthusiasm about Beach Wrestling.  We had a chance to visit, a little, on the plane.  Coach K has always incorporated the beach, in his training plans.  (Valentin has been in the corner with some pretty good kids !)  To have noteworthy Coaching leaders, like Valentin, encouraging the growth of Beach competition and training is vital.  It makes it a little easier for USAW’s Board and Staff to devote time, effort, and a few dollars to the program’s development.

My sincere appreciation is due the Ukrainian Beach Wrestling Federation, for a wonderful event.  These folks, a relatively small group of dedicated volunteers, literally did all they could with all they had.

Thanks to Gary Abbott, for keeping his foot on the gas, working to promote Beach Wrestling and all ‘Associated’ Styles.  Thanks to Ed Duncan, Associated Styles Chair, for persistent and insightful leadership.  Thanks to Rich Bender, for an open-minded, open-spirited perspective, during our June Associated Styles Summit.

August 11- Chapter 7: Amit Alor

Did I mention good things happening to good people? Amit Elor is a World Champion!

A Bronze Medalist in the Cadet Women’s Freestyle World Championship, just a few days ago, Amit, her Mom and her Coach, made the choice to stay in eastern Europe for a while longer and try the Beach. It worked out well.

Elor dominated the +50kg weight class. She has a crisp, explosive offense. In her final match, versus Ukraine’s Anna Fomitska, Amit’s push-the-pace style got her in trouble, early. The current rules of International Beach Wrestling reward passivity and discourage risk (I’m reserving my foul comments on this… for now).

Down 0-2, both points resulting from Elor’s own offensive attacks, she locked up Fomitska and planted her for three. “That was kind of a wake-up call,” Amit said. “I was thinking, one more point and it’s over. I had to figure things out.” She did!

With the addition of Phoebe Grabowski’s fourth place finish, the United States placed third in the team race. Host country Ukraine won it, with Turkey in second.

Phoebe’s brother, Caspian brings home Bronze in the Cadet Men’s +70 class. Kristal Betanzo added another Bronze in the Junior Women’s 50kg class.

I have a ton of ‘Thank You’ to add, but they’re gonna’ have to wait for New York. I’m gonna’ follow “Rule Number One, “Pack Before You Party”. The Betanzo Clan and I leave the hotel at 4:30am.

My ‘Party’ will consist of a quiet dinner with Greek Referee, and lifelong friend, Stilianos Kanidis. Besides being solid, on the mat, Kanidis is one of the most gentle people I’ve encountered. I’m lucky like that ! Ciao

Note: Action image above of Amit Elor by Molly Grabowski.

August 10th – Chapter 6: Timmy Box

I know it sounds cliché, but It’s really nice to see good things happen to good people. Timmy Box is “Good People”.

A good thing happened to Timmy Box, today. He became Silver Medalist, at 70kg, in Stop Number III of UWW’s Beach Wrestling World Series. This is the second American medal, in the weight class. Reece Humphrey won Bronze, in Rio de Janeiro, last May.

Both Americans lost to the same guy, Semen Radulov of Ukraine. Radulov won a controversial semi-final, versus Humphrey, in May. Box dominated his pool to meet Radulov in the final, today.

Down early, 0-2, Box made some very shrewd technical adjustments, and closed the gap to 1-2. Radulov, a very dynamic technician, scored late to make the final score 1-3. “He’s (Radulov) really funky,” Box commented. “He’ s smart and took advantage of my offense. This is my first international experience, on the sand, so I just had to figure some things out. The guy’s good, and I hope I get to see him again. I feel like I can beat him”.

I really enjoyed getting to spend some time with Timmy and his Dad, Mike. Timmy’s one of those guys that’s just fun to watch. He’s aggressive and likes the fight. But, he’s also one of those ‘cerebral’ wrestlers. You can see him designing the art while he’s painting.

Turns out Timmy and I have a New Mexico connection. Did I mention Wrestling Makes the World Small ? Box finished his NCAA career at Northern Colorado, where he was roommates with New Mexico’s Rico Montoya. Rico is another one of those cerebral guys… smart and a half !

OK… one more Good People story. Diana Betanzo is an accomplished veteran athlete. She’s a sound and solid Coach. Diana Betanzo is a hell of a good Mom.

Diana’s daughter, Kristal, competes tomorrow in the Junior World Championship. Kristal was a World Team Trials Champion, in April, at the senior level. Diana competed in those trials, too. Since then, mother and daughter have intensified their training together.

Diana competed here. Both, she and Kristal are entered in the World Series finale, next month, in Croatia. Diana will compete in the No-Gi Grappling World Championship, in Nur Sultan. She will accompany Kristal to Qatar’s World Beach Games, in October.

Diana was successful, as a youngster. She was a member of our 1992 World Team. Now, in the twilight of her competitive career, and the early stages of her coaching career, Diana’s one of those ‘Walk Her Talk’ role models. Good athlete… Great Mom.

Gotta’ catch the bus to our awards banquet. Ciao

August 9th: Chapter 5: Rained Out

I couldn’t help thinking of a few great friends, in the USAW Beach Wrestling Community, today. Among them are Ed Duncan, Gary Abbott and, of course Eva.

We got Rained Out, today ! We transferred, hotel to beach, at 12:30 and had lunch at a beautiful beach club. Organizers really outdid themselves.

We saw it coming in… really dark sky, to the southwest. We began to migrate toward the competition area, for a three o’clock start, when the wind hit. All of the Medical, Production and Technology tents, along with the temporary shelters for athletes, went the way of Dorothy and Toto!

The sky opened. Everyone huddled in the two, more substantial tents. As the lightning increased, the folks in the all-metal, covered grandstand joined us. We waited.

It absolutely poured for 40 minutes. We heard the announcement that our new start time was 4:00. Nope, round two of the rain began… just as heavy as the first.

The reason I mentioned Eva, Gary and Ed is that we all participated in the “Monsoon Nationals”, 2018, in Carolina Beach. Being a one-day event, that National Championship didn’t have the luxury of a tomorrow. We toughed it out… 220 athletes on four circles, in five hours, with a total of seven inches of rainfall, in gale-force winds. Beach Wrestling in North Carolina ain’t for sissies !

The Saturday forecast, here in Odessa, looks pretty good. We’ll start at ten, in the morning, and push it through.

Diana Betanzo (CA) has three bouts, in the morning session, beginning with Ukraine’s Halyna Kovalska. Timmy Box (CA) will wrestle three different Norwegians, in his half of the bracket, beginning with Marius Male.

World Series III concludes tomorrow (Saturday) evening. Weigh-Ins for the Cadet and Junior World Championship are Sunday morning. The U.S. will field four competitors.

Stay dry, my friends. Ciao

August 8th - Chapter 4: Setting Up

A couple of things are true. First, it really doesn’t take much to put together a Local or State Beach Wrestling Event. You need some clean Sand and some Kids. Everything else is cake-icing.

If I sound like I’m recruiting, it’s because I am! One of the items we will discuss, at next week’s State Leaders’ Summit, will be the roll out of our Beach Wrestling Tour of America. Our Associated Styles Committee has been working, all summer, on a plan to bring this exciting dynamic to American Wrestlers… all of them !

Water is optional! I say that, because my own beloved New Mexico hosted the very first Beach Wrestling National Championship (2003). We held ours on the banks of the Pecos River, in a beautiful park. Being seaside is a pleasant bonus, but it’s not necessary. Many rivers, lakes, reservoirs have nice ‘Beach”. Metropolitan organizers find clean sand and pleasant family environment in local Sport Bars who feature Beach Volleyball.

The second thing that’s true is that setting a World Series Beach Championship is a painstaking venture. Our Ukrainian hosts were able to secure a beautiful area of Black Sea Coast. The area is dedicated the Ukrainian Beach Games. Existing infrastructure lends itself, well, to the needs of Athletes and spectators.

A team of local wrestlers and trade specialists worked an eleven-hour day, today. They go a heavy grandstand, several tents, sound, electricity, porta-potties and the competition rings installed. It’s a kick, watching local specialists showing off the little ‘Tricks of Their Trade’, when it comes to building on and around sand and water !

A second team spent the same eleven hours, and were still at it after dark. These are the ‘IT’, production and marketing specialists from United World Wrestling. What an amazing crew! These guys travel almost 300 days a year, setting up and tearing down wrestling events. They are the best of the best.

I have watched this team, over the last several years, develop a unique skill set for Beach Wrestling. There are lots of components, to a wrestling event, that we take for granted inside an arena, gym or event center. Making big-screen scoreboards, HD video and digital tournament management work… on the Beach, in the sun… has some tricks to it.

This afternoon, we had our Referees’ Conference and Technical Meeting for Team Leaders. No big shakes. Current leadership still insists on this ridiculous application of ‘Losing a Point for Touching a Knee.’ That issue is a major crusade, for me, as we work to develop this style. And, that… is a story for another day. Ciao.

August 7th - Chapter 3: Beach City

Seems like we have all arrived in Odessa.

The Grabowski family has some Ukrainian roots, so they’ve been in the country about a week. They arrived in Odessa, by train. The Betanzo clan, including Grandpa John, flew in a day ahead of me. Tim Box and Dad, Michael, flew in this afternoon. Amit Elor and her mom were in Bulgaria for the Cadet Worlds. They arrived this afternoon.

I flew in, right on time, this morning, and was met by Ana and a driver. Ana is a wonderful young woman, previously a flight attendant, whose conversational command of American English and general travel “Savvy” allow her to be super helpful! Turns out, Ana worked for Qatar Air, so she is already coaching us up a bit, for the World Beach Games, scheduled in Doha in October.

Ana and I waited, nearly two hours, for a couple of Kyrgyz athletes… who NEVER arrived. After an hour’s drive, through Odessa mid-day traffic, we arrived at Hotel Odessa OK. What I refer to as the “Typical” administrative circus was waiting for me!

I was met by organizers, at the table in the lobby, with a demand for seventy-six hundred Dollars. They were fired up because “The Americans haven’t paid us”. I told them that each of “The Americans” had pre-paid USA Wrestling who had, in turn, wired them the total. “Nyet !”

Round and round we went. Finally, after 5:00pm, local time (8:00am in Colorado Springs) we got through to Jamie (National Teams). Ironically, Jamie had been requesting an invoice from the Ukranian Federation for a month.

It seems like, as I get ready for sleep, that we did get Jamie an invoice, which she immediately answered. I think we’re OK. Supposedly, I can meet with organizers again, tomorrow at eleven, to find out for sure.

We will meet as a team tomorrow morning, as well. I’ll get you some photos and start introducing you to your 2019 USA Beach World Series Team. Ciao.

PHOTO ABOVE: Kristal Betanzo of California, second from right (Next to the good-looking Old Guy) is one of four U.S. women qualified for the World Beach Games. Betanzo will compete in the Junior World Championship on Sunday. This photo was from the Beach World Games Trials in Las Vegas in April.

August 6th…
I arrived at New York’s JFK, this morning, just before six. My flight, JFK to Kiev, doesn’t leave until 3:00pm. I had been really pondering that “…Make the World Small’ thing. I’ve decided that one big reason Wrestler’s connect is the spirit we bring to each experience.

In an effort to honor that spirit, I paid eight bucks to store my carry on and hopped on the airport train to Manhattan. With the few hours at my disposal, I was able to walk the area of the World Trade Center.

New York is one of those cities that makes me say, “Wow.” The last time I visited the Big Apple was for the 2016 NCAAs. I know there are lots of touristy things to see but, given my time limits, I chose the Trade Center and 911 Memorial. It’s something, I think, every American should seize the chance to visit.

Walking from the Fulton Street Station, I made Starbucks my first stop. I sipped my latte, as I walked through a Farmer’s Market, near the Memorial. Taking 20 minutes to stand, quietly, and recognize all the things this serene tribute means, and does, for us… individually and collectively… is a very special human experience.

After my brief meditation, I strolled through “Oculus”, the magnificent new mall, beneath the Trade Center. It’s split roof offers an imposing view of the new Tower.

Walking back to Fulton Street Station, I observed another significant NYC tradition. I grabbed a Slice, at Joe’s Pizza. Amazing !

Back at JFK, I’m gonna’ put the finishing touches on this Chapter with a photo. I’ll get it to Gary, at USAW, and he’ll get it to you. Tomorrow, Kiev, then Odessa. Ciao.

August 5th
… On the Blog, again! I’ve got the Red-eye, Albuquerque to JFK. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll go New York, to Kiev to Odessa. Ukrainians call Odessa “The Pearl of the Black Sea.” We’ll call it “Stop Number Three in United World Wrestling’s Beach World Series”.

What I find most exciting is the amount of Buy-In that Beach Wrestling is achieving throughout USA Wrestling. This event will mark the first time our nation has had entries in the Cadet’s and Junior’s World Championship. We will also have some Seniors competing for World Series money.

I’ll introduce you to our American Athletes, as we approach this weekend’s competition. But, first, I simply have to show you a couple more examples of one of my favorite mantras… “Wrestling Makes the World small!”

Throughout our spring, and qualification for many of these World events, I’ve gotten to know a young woman named Kristal Betanzo. Kristal is one of those “Tough-Guy Chicks” we all like to brag about. Hailing from Northern California, there are not many competitions Kristal doesn’t attend. She qualified to represent our nation in October’s World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar.

Here’s where Wrestling Makes the World Small. Kristal’s Mom, Diana (maiden name, Wesendunk) was one of the members of the U.S. 1992 Women’s World Team. Diana competed in Lyon, France.

As Diana’s kids have grown, she has established a presence in Northern California’s coaching pool. Always a ‘Gamer,’ Diana has decided to compete, herself, in Odessa.

I had the good fortune to be the Coach of the 1992 Women’s World Team and I have great memories of Diana’s drive and ethic as a kid. To be able to enjoy what she’s provided for her kids, through Wrestling, is one of those little ‘paydays’ coaches so often experience. Thank You!

OK… here’s another story, proving that Wrestling Makes the World Small. I have a former Athlete and Student who has recently opened a Brew-Pub, in our small town of Grants, New Mexico. Here’s the shameless plug: It’s called “Route 66 Junkyard Brewery”.

I have spent a couple of days each week, throughout the summer, helping out. Last Wednesday, my upcoming trip certainly a factor, I got a phone call while at work. The call was from Ed Duncan. Ed is North Carolina’s State Chair and the Chair of USA Wrestling’s ad-hoc Committee for the Associated Styles. He is also a member of UWW’s Beach Wrestling Commission.

Ed and I spoke for nearly an hour, as he drove to visit his brand new Grandson (Congratulations, Eve). Much of our conversation was in preparation for the upcoming State Leaders’ Summit, in Denver. We also discussed the Beach Wrestling Commission Meeting, coming up in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. Our conversation was productive.

Not half an hour later, I watched three people get out of their car and walk into the Brew-Pub. The big guy… I never even caught his name… explained that he and his wife and daughter were looking for a quick lunch.
As our food service was not open, yet, I made an effort to help decide between a Diner, with a variety of sandwiches, or our finest New Mexican cuisine. “Are you guys from around here ?”, I asked. “Or, are you on the road?”

“We’re from North Carolina”, the big guy answered.

Here it comes !

“Really, what part?” “We’re from a town, up in the northwest hills… Asheville.” “How ‘bout that”, I responded. “I don’t suppose you ever met a man named Ed Duncan?”

I watched the big guy’s eyes take a new interest. “Coach Ed ? Of course we know Coach Ed. Our son was a State Champion for Coach Ed!”

I filled the family in on just how it was that some guy in New Mexico knew Coach Ed. In fact, I explained, I had just been on the phone with him. I quickly got Ed back on the phone, and watched them catch up for a good 20 minutes. Then, off they drove, to the Diner with the sandwiches.

Wrestling Makes the World Small ! That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Ciao.