KATHLEEN -- Veterans served as an appropriate location for the elite wrestlers in the area to congregate for a camp under the tutelage of veteran wrestlers and coaches Dan Gable, Mark Ironside and Pablo Ubasa Jr.
The Dan Gable Wrestling Camp held this month included 52 students, mostly in grades six through 12 and was an invite-only camp featuring state champions, state placers from the high school ranks and state champions and placers from Georgia USA Wrestling, which is middle school down.
“We didn’t want any beginners here; we wanted some established, elite guys,” said Michael Malcom, the wrestling coach at Veterans who organized the event.
And the elite wrestlers were in elite territory. Gable, considered the greatest amateur wrestler in history, boasted a record of 181-1 during his high school and collegiate careers before wrestling in world championships and the Olympics.
Gable won the 1972 Munich Olympics gold medal in his weight class, where, throughout qualifying and competition, he outscored opponents 130-1. After serving as the assistant for four years, Gable became the head wrestling coach at Iowa in 1976 and remained in place until 1997. In 21 years, the Hawkeyes won 15 national championships and registered a winning percentage of .932.
The relationship between Veterans and Gable began after a wrestler on the team, Christian Hughes, attended an Iowa wrestling camp. He enjoyed the experience, and because Gable was a previous coach there and knew the staff, Hughes asked Gable and others to run a clinic at Veterans.
Gable spoke to the team at a banquet last season and agreed to the idea of running a camp. For the wrestlers, learning from arguably the greatest teacher in the country is a priceless experience.
“You can’t put that into words,” Malcom said. “For someone as important as he is in this sport to get out there and do that is tremendous to these kids. He is the Michael Jordan of wrestling, and all of these kids look at him like that.”
And Gable brought some friends. Ubasa wrestled under Gable at Iowa in the early 1990s and now runs coaching clinics himself. He taught all four days at the camp “just to promote wrestling.” Ironside, who wrestled from 1995-98, was a two-time national champion and a four-time Big Ten champion.
While Ubasa respects Gable, he said his fear of the great wrestling coach still lives within him today.
Ubasa said his experience being taught and trained by Gable was “scary,” responding before the question could even be finished.
“Like, I’m 46 now, and he told me he wanted to put me through a workout, and I was still scared like I was 18,” Ubasa said. “I still get scared. He just broke you so many times, or tried to break you; it’s kind of in the back of your head. Some guys like it; I don’t.”
Although he might try to avoid being Gable’s student, Ubasa acknowledged his relationship with his former coach and the wrestling knowledge he gained has been invaluable to his career as a coach. He called himself a better coach than a wrestler, and his teaching philosophy follows the “Gable way.”
“All of his records speak for themselves, and all of the stuff that I learned wrestling under him worked,” Ubasa said. “From college through coaching, and it’s not just wrestling -- it’s life, too. He’s not a coach who just thinks about wrestling, it’s about growing.”
Gable shared the same sentiment about Ubasa and Ironside; he trusted them to handle the first three days of the camp before he arrived Tuesday afternoon.
“They both wrestled for me, but they both have an extended history with me,” Gable said. “They really show a lot of the same principles, techniques, tactics, and strategies I helped teach them.”
Those techniques and strategies were simply called “Gableisms.”
“I think it’s mostly about a lot of strong positions. How to carry your weight, how to move your opponent’s weight,” Gable said of the ideals he tried to teach the kids during the camp. “How to make a wrestling match hard on your opponent. It’s never going to be easy on you, as well, but it’s a lot easier when you’re successful mentally.”
Malcom noted how much he and his staff learned from the clinic, including several little techniques and details he called “game-changers” -- aspects he will include in the practice regiment when practices resume.
Jeffrey Chase Gordon, a senior wrestler at Veterans, called the trio “phenomenal teachers.”
“I learned so much I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much I learned. Overall, it was just great,” Gordon said.
Another Veterans wrestler, sophomore Connor Ware, met Gable two times before the camp and spoke of Gable’s detailed teaching style.
“He teaches us, but he doesn’t just get into things like everyone else does; he gets a lot more in-depth,” Ware said. “He teaches the little things and how to get those right. He’s just really good on that.”
Malcom, Gordon and Ware agreed the camp and Gable’s teachings will be implemented into their game plan this year, and they hope to reap the benefits.
For Gable, after winning gold medals, high school state championships, NCAA championships and world championships, his favorite wrestling memory does not come on the mat -- rather, he reminisces of the days off the mat as a coach.
“I have a little bit of control over them, but it’s not me; it’s them. That’s probably more satisfactory to me,” Gable said. “I don’t think it was so much my athletes, but the people that loved them -- like their families and fans -- that we gave such a rewarding time to.”
Now taking more of a role as a leader and teacher, Gable still finds a true passion in bestowing his wisdom upon wrestlers at camps and witnessing the success of others.
“You have to do things correctly if you want to have good performance on the mat,” Gable said. “(Wrestling) is a great life lesson-teacher.”