- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Begala still looks like a wrestler. His 5-feet 8-inch frame is wide and hard, and he weighs only 10 pounds over his college wrestling weight of 175. He is fanatic about physical fitness and practices it year round. He loves wrestling and believes it is the best sport in any college athletic program. At 54 he still looks 40. He has a heavy crop of steel-gray hair, a bull neck and a face with hard features. He almost always wears sports clothes because dress shirts that fit properly around his torso don't make it at the neck and biceps. He speaks in a soft, deliberate voice that makes strangers look twice to see if it really came from such a rugged facade.
Begala has often been accused of trying to set college athletics back 30 years with his outspoken criticism of athletic scholarships; of piling up scores and scheduling big name colleges to gain personal recognition; of making his wrestlers think they are supermen; even of hypnotizing his boys before a match. But no one has ever accused Begala of producing a poor or even so-so wrestling team.
Not everyone, however, will agree that KSU is a major wrestling power. It has been a while since Begala has been able to reschedule such major colleges as Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, or even Ohio State. But it's not because he hasn't tried.
"Sometimes when the big-name institutions know they're going to be loaded, they want to schedule us for a single match," Begala complains. "They don't want to take a chance on us getting even on the second go-round."
This season, as in the previous 29, Begala's training rules for his wrestlers are a bit unorthodox. No one is compelled to attend practice, and what a team member does off the mat is his own business. No one is ever cut from the squad for lack of ability and as a result practices are limited to two hours and arranged in shifts. Begala takes credit for beating the do-it-yourself craze by quite a number of years.
At the first practice, he makes his only demand on his candidates and lettermen—that they listen and believe what he is about to say. Then he says it. "If you want to wrestle, I'll show you how. If you want to be a champion, I'll also show you how. But that's all I'll do for you. You'll have to take it from there."
And his wrestlers do. In the Mid-American Conference, Joe's boys are known as the hardest workers in the league.
Begala has never hand-picked a lineup for a match. Who will wrestle at what weight is decided the Tuesday before each contest. It is a day when any squad member can lay claim to being No. 1 in his weight division. All he has to do is prove it. "It's a day the starters dread and the second-stringers look forward to," Begala claims. The competition has resulted in as many as three boys alternating in the same weight division during the season.
Carrying much of the load for this year's Kent State team is Jergen Begala, team captain, conference light-heavyweight champion and Joe's oldest son. He is a good student, mainly because he is afraid not to be. A few years ago another team captain, who was also an AAU titleholder, slipped scholastically to the point where his admittance to medical school was doubtful. Upon learning of the situation, Begala immediately dismissed the captain from the team, despite his protests. Even with a year of eligibility remaining, the ex-captain never rejoined the team. But he did go to medical school.
More than 3,000 fans showed up in Kent State's Memorial gymnasium early last month to see Joe get his 224th win at the expense of Miami ( Ohio) University—a victory that broke the mark set by the late William (Billy) Sheridan, whose Lehigh teams won 223 matches. Few fans thought Begala, with an inexperienced squad, would break the record this year. One of the first fans to pump Begala's hand after the victory said, "Joe, I never thought you'd do it." Joe was annoyed, having never doubted that he would.