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Campbell: M'm! M'm! Good!
Craig Neff
June 27, 1983
The '81 world 180.5-pound champ, Chris Campbell has plans to put L.A. Olympic opponents in the soup
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June 27, 1983

Campbell: M'm! M'm! Good!

The '81 world 180.5-pound champ, Chris Campbell has plans to put L.A. Olympic opponents in the soup

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Campbell himself spent time picking fights on street corners until the day he met up with a youth league wrestler. "He was this little frail kid who was lipping off, so I thought I'd put him in his place," says Campbell. "He double-legged me and rolled me. I was shocked. I couldn't do a thing." Campbell took an immediate interest in wrestling.

Marjorie Lee was devoutly religious, first as a Baptist and later as a Jehovah's Witness, and she reared her son by strict church doctrine. Campbell's religious beliefs kept him away from competition until he was a high school junior; Jehovah's Witnesses believe that time spent in organized sports is better spent serving God. But Campbell kept in shape by going over to Union County College in neighboring Cranford each afternoon and practicing with the team there. "They had a few state champions," he recalls. "It probably was good for me." The following year he was back competing for Westfield High, no longer as committed to his religion.

After winning the New Jersey state 167-pound championship as a senior in 1973, Campbell thought himself ready for major college competition. But the Big Four—Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State—weren't interested in him. Further, says Iowa State Coach Harold Nichols, "For religious reasons his mother wouldn't even sign the information questionnaire we sent out. She wouldn't have signed a letter of intent either, and without that there would have been no guarantee he'd show up at school." Facing the choice of a scholarship offer from Montclair (N.J.) State, a similar bid from the University of Maryland and no college at all—his mother's preference—Campbell chose none of the above. He sold his 1962 Plymouth Valiant a few days after graduation for $95 and used the proceeds to buy a plane ticket to Iowa.

He arrived in Iowa City, where in July he would wrestle in a national high school tournament and, he hoped, impress a few coaches. Meanwhile he worked in an auto-parts factory scraping excess rubber off door handles for the minimum wage. "It was about 100 degrees in there, and the foremen didn't have the most enlightened ideas about human relations," Campbell says. Fortunately, he performed well in the July tournament, losing a 2-1 referee's decision in the finals to, ironically, a much-heralded Michigan recruit, Mark Johnson. Iowa offered Campbell a partial scholarship and a job cleaning the wrestling mats.

Now free to live as he pleased, Campbell went, in his words, "crazy for six years." That's how long it took him to earn his sociology degree, an unsurprising fact, considering his statement as a freshman that "I didn't come here to go to school, but to learn wrestling style and technique." That's also how many years he spent "discovering my morals. If I hadn't done something before or if there was something that seemed to conflict with my morals, I tried it. You name it. Everything."

After completing his eligibility in 1977, Campbell had to take a job in a bar to make a living, and his wrestling suffered. He placed fifth at the '77 world championships in Lausanne, Switzerland and lost to Peterson in the trials for the '78 world championship team.

Along the way he met Laura, a psych major at Iowa whose background was in total contrast to his own. She had grown up on a farm near tiny Fostoria, Iowa (pop. 125), getting straight A's in school and helping her family raise corn, soybeans and beef. However, Laura was a wrestling fan. "All my boyfriends had always been wrestlers," she says. "I wanted to be a wrestler myself, but as a woman I was denied the opportunity."

Campbell learned about denial of opportunity soon after he and Laura were married in March 1979. For reasons still unclear to him, the Hawkeye Wrestling Club—sort of an Iowa wrestlers' alumni association—wouldn't sponsor him while he trained. Needing work to support himself, his wife and Rachel (Laura's child from a previous marriage), he applied for jobs everywhere, but didn't find one until he finally signed on as a guard at Iowa Security and Medical Facility on the outskirts of Iowa City.

"They called it a mental hospital, but it was a prison," says Campbell. "They said they believed in behavior modification for criminals, which was a joke. They believed in humiliating and torturing human beings. They'd put guys in confinement without any clothing or blankets, so the guys would get very cold. It was the most depressing time of my life. The day I was going to quit, they fired me, which I considered the ultimate compliment."

Campbell next tried to join the Coralville, Iowa police force but was turned down despite having, he says, high test scores. He filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which found grounds for a racial discrimination suit. The case is still in litigation. Campbell meanwhile had had his fill of Greater Iowa City.

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