Gary McCall was a name I heard growing up through my dad and uncles every year at the dinner table during Christmas. Discussion of all things wrestling was an inadvertent family tradition of sorts for the Swaff’s. When they discussed guys they respected and looked up to, it was almost as if they depicted these individuals as larger than life…celebrities, if you will. With that said, whenever I notice that someone I grew up hearing about and looking up to like Gary McCall joins and interacts on The Pin Doctors social media, it gives me a surreal feeling. I can’t quite pinpoint what that feeling is, but I do know that I love seeing it. And Gary’s presence has been so positive and personable in regards to every topic or individual that is mentioned on The Pin Doctors and I just couldn’t be anymore impressed by how cool he is. On and off the mat, Gary McCall is one of the best wrestlers to go through the state of Iowa. Just an absolutely wonderful person and I’m honored to put this article together for him.
This is a story that I wrote and posted just on Facebook a couple months ago. It chronicles a true story about Gary McCall that could inspire anyone to never give up at anything:
Here is an inspirational story for ya. In 1984, Gary McCall of Cedar Rapids Washington was beaten in the semifinals at districts, 8-3 by Joe Whitters of Prairie. He needed a break to even qualify for state. To qualify, Gary first had to win his 3rd and 4th place match and hope for Whitters to defeat Rich Deutsch from Cedar Rapids Kennedy to set up a wrestle back match for true 2nd between McCall and Deutsch.
Gary McCall: “Right after the semifinals loss, I thought, ‘oh no, I blew it,’ but I went into the locker room and coach Hal Turner told me to not give up and that I still had a chance.”
And he did get that chance. Whitters defeated Deutsch, 3-2, McCall won his 3rd place match and then defeated Deutsch 4-0 to earn true 2nd and qualify for state.
To make things sweeter, McCall ended up WINNING state that year and then repeated in 1985. He was recruited by Iowa State, who he became a 3X AA for in 1988-1990.
Had McCall hung his head and given up hope at districts, who knows what would have happened with the rest of his career. He wouldn’t have qualified in 1984 to start, Iowa State may not have recruited him, his confidence may have been halted going into the 1985 season and who knows how that could have affected him that year… But things worked out for him due to an optimistic coaching approach by Hal Turner as well as Gary’s ability to be coachable and mentally tough.
So to all of you upcoming wrestlers out there, if you feel that a goal may have become out of reach following a setback, get your chin up, for you never know what could happen. Gary McCall is proof of this.
INTERVIEW WITH GARY MCCALL:
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
– CR McKinley Jr High and CR Washington. No clubs. I did work at Lisbon, CR Jefferson and CR Prairie each year in the summer, Xmas break and week of state tourney.
What year did you graduate?
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
– My older brother Tyrone (5th in state) and my cousins Chuck Jones(2nd & 1st in state) and Glenn Jones (3rd & 1st in state).
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
– I didn’t start competing in wrestling until 6th grade. No rivals.
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
– 9th graders weren’t allowed to wrestle varsity at CR Public Schools back then. Sophomore (State qualifier), Junior (state champ) senior (state champ).
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
– Junior yr I was #4 rate in state & #1 seed at districts. Lost in the Semi’s and had to wrestle back for true 2nd, but needed the guy I lost to beat the #2 seed in the finals. Well, he won and I won true 2nd then when on to upset the #1 seed Steve Waddle and defending state champ Mike Guthrie to win the 1984 state title.
Tore both of my groins at the beginning of my sophomore yr @ ISU and had redshirt that year. Then tore them again my senior (126 lb. weight class)after starting the season 13-0, ranked 3rd in the nation, just beat Terry Brands from Iowa at the Wisconsin open. Out for 2 months, then Dan Knight and I decided to switch weights. I went down to 118lbs and he went up to 126. At 118 I lost 13 straight matches, finished the Big 8 in 5th place and made it to NCAA’s on a wildcard (returning 2x all-American). I went into nationals unseeded with a losing record and ended up beating returning all-American Steve Martin(Iowa) 1st rd, then went on to upset #1 seed Jeff Thieler of (NC) in the quarter finals. Lost in the semifinals to Jack Griffith (Northwestern), then wrestled back to Ken Chertow and beat the #1 seed again for 3rd place! At the time it was the 1st time an unseeded wrestler defeated the #1 seed twice at the NCAA’s. It was a great ending to a rough season and to my wrestling career!
How would you describe your wrestling style?
– Constant leg attacks with inside tie and moving my opponent’s head. None stop movement on my feet and in the mat.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
– Mike Guthrie (1984) and John Moore (Marshalltown) 1985
Who was your most influential coach?
– Ed Banach (college)
– Hal Turner (high school)
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
– High school team was not very competitive.
– In college we competed for National championship every year.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
– My cousins Chuck & Glenn Jones and Nate Carr
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
– Tim Kreiger (Mason City)
Are there any wrestlers you’ve seen, past or present that you would compare your style to?
– Steve Hamilton, Eric Akin and Dwight Hinson
What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?
– Barry Davis vs Spencer Lee
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
– Mark Schwab Osage
– Tim Kreiger
– Mike Guthrie
– Mike Van Arsdale
– Steve and Dan Knight
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
– David Carr
– Spencer Lee
– David Taylor
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
R&B, Hip Hop -Rap, Jazz
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Getting pinned by Jack Griffith in Semifinals of NCAA 1999.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
– I’d change absolutely nothing. My wrestling career made me the man I am today. I learn how use my wrestling experience to succeed in business and in life. Success is not about winning, but about working hard and enjoying the journey.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
-Winning the 1984 state championship!
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
– Mark Schwab
– Steve Waddell
– Steve Martin
– Terry and Tom Brands
– Jason Kelber
– Kendall Cross
– Ken Chertow
– JJ Stokes (NC State)
– Jim Martin (Penn State)
– Duane Martin (UNI)
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
– During the season and Spring and Summer only.
When you were a Junior in HS, you had a scare at districts to where you were almost eliminated and almost didn’t get the chance to wrestle at state. But you overcame that and then WON state a couple weeks later. Describe this experience. Do you i think if you didn’t qualify that it may have affected the next year for you in terms of confidence?
– It was crazy. We had 4 guys at my weight that were ranked or was ranked that year in our districts. Joe Whittier was my toughest competitor that year and he was seed 4th. It was probably 2nd most devastating loss of my career. I remember my coach telling after my loss to just focus on the things I can control and dominate your next opponent and cheer like hell for Joe! Joe was probably the 3rd toughest opponent I wrestled that year. He was big and tall and could ride and turn you. But I think he was cutting too much weight for 112. If I would’ve not qualified for state think it would have made me work even harder. But I never look back at things like that. I’m a man of faith and things happen for a reason.
How do we make the sport of wrestling more appealing to the African American community?
– Growing up I never saw wrestling as a black/white thing. I saw it as an opportunity to compete thing. If my cousin didn’t wrestle and if Jane Boyd Community Center in CR didn’t provide me the opportunity as a kid to try it, I don’t think I would have considered wrestling. I feel local youth clubs have a responsibility to reach outside their comfort zone and into the minority and financially disadvantaged communities and introduce them to our sport. They will find out it will make there entire club and community better.
Akeem Carter mentioned something interesting to me that he experienced more racism in his life before he got into wrestling…. And when he became a part of a wrestling team, it was the first time he felt a sense of unity amongst everyone on the team regardless of culture. Have you had any similar experiences? Do you feel wrestling is a good sport to promote peace?
– OMG! I agree with him. I learned so much about life being apart of a wrestling team. As a team you sacrifice so much together that you learn to appreciate one another just for who they are and not what color they are, what they wear, etc. You become a band of brothers who come from different communities and experiences. Like I said earlier, wrestling helped mold me into the man I am today!
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
-Very well. When it come to winning it’s still the basic techniques that win you championships!
Did you wrestle after high school?
– I had a full ride scholarship at LSU, but they dropped wrestling before I was able to attend. So I followed Kevin Jackson to ISU. 3-x All-American and Team Captain.
What other sports did you play?
– Football and track.
What are your favorite sports teams?
College Sports – ISU and Alabama
Pro level – Cowboys, Laker, Cubs, Yankees
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
– Some include; fitness training, biking, going to sporting events and traveling.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
It is a great feeling. I owe the sport of wrestling a lot and I love sharing it with young people.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It taught me how to set goals. Work ethic. Over come adversity. Help others.
What do you do now?
I’m a salesman for RMH Systems. I sell Robots automation and material handling equipment 28 years.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I’m not currently coaching (but hoping to this year). I’m on the Board of Cyclones RTC wrestling club.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
– Dream big! Set you goals high! Come to practice ready to work and learn! And be a good teammate!
– Also learn to use what you’ve learned from wrestling in your daily life, not only for your self but help others.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
– Absolutely not! 😂😂
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
– The cousins Chuck & Glynn Jones & my brother Tyrone for introducing me to wrestling.
– Mark Schwab, Mike Guthrie (RIP), Steve Waddell, John Moore, Kevin Tann, Jason Kelber, Kendall Cross, Tom&Terry Brands, Dan & Steve Knight, and Jeff Gibbons.
– All my CR Wash and ISU teammates!
– High school coaches Hal Turner and Dick Briggs
– ISU coaches Les Anderson (RIP), Ed Banach & Jim Gibbons
– My ISU big brothers Kevin Jackson, Stewart Carter, Bill Tate, Larry Jackson, Michael Carr and Mike Van Arsdale.
– my Mom (RIP) who helped instill in me that “You can achieve all things through Christ, who strengthens me”.❤️
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
– I was assistant high wrestling coach at 3 different IA high schools: DM East for Larry Jackson, CB Lewis Central for Keith Massey (Part of 2 state championship team and State Assistant Coach of the Year), DM Saydel for John Crippen and Jon Garvin. Helped TJ Moen become the 1st and only 2x State Champ in Saydel history.
– Made a rap song for one of my Saydel wrestlers, Nate Jones, to get him to loosen up before competitions! 😂😂😂
Great article about Gary and the adversity that he went through to reach his goals. I got to witness some of it first hand and it definitely made me a better person and wrestler!
Impressed with the depth of Josh’s story. Gary McCall was certainly one of the great high school and collegiate wrestlers from Cedar Rapids. As a ninth grader at McKinley Jr. High, Gary did not place in the city tournament. His commitment and dedication should be a reminder to all young athletes.