Dream Team still winning
In April, the storied 1947 wrestling team was the first team inducted into the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame. That team was also the subject of “The Dream Team of 1947.” Arno Niemand’s account of Cornell’s legendary championship team follows the incredible season that resulted in an athletic feat that has never been repeated.
Here’s a glimpse of the ’47 team chemistry from Niemand’s book:
Coaches will tell you that team chemistry is hard to predict. On the face of it, one would not have predicted that a blend of true freshmen and war veterans, most of whom were also freshmen, would make for a unified whole. Their ages ranged from the Waterloo High trio, who were 18, to Al Partin, who was 24. However, the team coalesced in this instance because of several factors: Scott was a great mentor for the younger men. The veterans were glad to be at Cornell under the GI Bill, and they were focused—on wrestling and on obtaining their degrees in four years time. All but one of the team members were members of the same fraternity, Delta Phi Rho, commonly known as the Delts. And everyone recognized how talented the young Waterloo trio were. Lowell Lange said that the thought of losing never crossed their minds.
Coach [Paul] Scott was not known to be a technician in the manner of his competitor coaches Dave McCuskey and Art Griffith, who were keen students of the advantages in technique. This is not to say his boys were not well trained. Scott ran a hard two-hour practice. This included a 15-20 minute session with his top men, grouped by weight class, starting on their feet against opponents who would rotate in one-minute intervals. Lowell Lange said it was the hardest drill he ever experienced, a sentiment shared by Al Partin.
Scott admitted that he never really laid down any training rules. “I know [Dick] Hauser and [Leo] Thomsen both smoked,” said Scott, “but it didn’t bother me as long as they won.” When Scott was asked by Hauser’s dad when he recruited him, “What are you going to do about Dick’s smoking” he replied, “As long as he can beat everybody in America, why would I complain about his smoking?” (It should be noted that this was an era when cigarette advertising was all-pervasive, and smoking was endorsed by celebrities, entertainers, and athletes alike. Indeed, the back cover of the 1948 U.S. Olympic Trials program featured baseball stars Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial in an ad for Chesterfields.)
Scott counted on his considerable motivational skills to bring out the most of each man. “I relate well to athletes, I could motivate them, instill confidence in them, and get them to put out everything they had.” Moreover, his wrestlers came to know that he felt genuine affection for them. “Oh yes, I loved all of them,” he said years later. “Yes, they were a wonderful bunch of guys. Yes, there are lots of stories to tell about those guys.”
Thus did Cornell College become the only private college, and with only 415 male students, certainly the smallest, to win the most elusive prize in collegiate wrestling, the NCAA team championship. Cornell College also became the first school outside the state of Oklahoma to win the team title since it was first awarded in 1934.
Cornell, scoring 32 points, was awarded the first-place trophy; Iowa Teachers took second with 19 points, and Oklahoma A&M was third with 15 points. Bill Koll was awarded the outstanding wrestler trophy. Art Griffith, the Oklahoma A&M coach, said, “I’ve coached and watched many of the best teams, but this Cornell bunch sure beats them all.”
Cornell won the championship with a well-balanced lineup that yielded two champions, one second and three third-place finishers out of the eight weight classes. Their aggressive style garnered an unheard-of 10 pin points out of a total of 18.
After the victory, (Paul) Scott was quoted in the local newspapers as saying, rather modestly, “We won the meet because we went out for pins and got them. In a meet like this where most of the boys are good, luck of the draw is important and we were fortunate in drawing opponents we could pin.”
The face of collegiate wrestling would never be the same. The win by Cornell and a second by Iowa Teachers represented a realignment among the powerhouses of college wrestling that would eventually result in a new equilibrium between the states of Oklahoma and Iowa.