There was no ribbon cutting, grand pageantry or champagne. Instead, the Friedman Wrestling Center was opened to the cheering of 1,100 alumni, friends and fans. Despite the ovations for the team and coaching staff, other thanks still needed to be given.
Sunday was a day to do just that.
Over 200 wrestling alumni and their families gathered at East Hill for the center’s inaugural match. Besides sharing memories of past seasons over a buffet brunch, those grapplers who returned were given a state-of-the-program address. Speakers included athletic director Andrew Noel, head coach Rob Koll and University President Hunter Rawlings III. Along with extolling the hard work of the Friedman family, Rawlings touched upon the significance of the event.
“Most universities in the country today are concerned about whether or not they can keep their wrestling program,” noted Rawlings. “Cornell is going the opposite direction — we’re opening a dedicated facility for wrestling.”
Rawlings, a devout wrestling fan since his youth, has been following the program since he first arrived in Ithaca. Citing it as his only reason to use the internet, the outgoing President also promised to work with his successor and bring him up to speed on collegiate wrestling.
“One of my first orders of business as the outgoing President is to make sure that the next President knows something about wrestling,” said Rawlings. “So far Jeff Lehman has talked ice hockey and crew, but we want to add wrestling to those, too.”
Those who helped make the facility possible were honored directly before the match. Friends and fans applauded for close to 10 minutes as alumni such as Arno Niemand ’56 and Stephen ’59 and Barbara ’59 Friedman were called down to the arena floor. Stephen Friedman, a Cornell wrestler is currently President George W. Bush’s top economic advisor.
Loren Keske, father of the late Karl Keske ’97 was also called forward. The center’s study area is named in honor of Keske, a former All-American.
In a surprise ceremony, the lobby of the building was dedicated to former grappling coach and current athletic director Andrew Noel. After a short speech, a small cardboard sign which read “electrical, do not touch” was removed to reveal Noel’s name.
“It’s a tremendous honor, one that I’m not quite sure I deserve,” said a surprised and modest Noel. “It was very generous and sweet of the people who have been supportive of our program over the past 20 – 30 years.”
While the dedication may have been a secret to Noel, it was made known ahead of time to many of his supporters and fans. Among those on hand for the brief ceremony was Cornell lacrosse coaching legend Richie Moran.
Alumni were also allowed to tour the facility shortly before the match. After taking in the 15,000 square foot arena, state-of-the-art fitness room and locker areas, most had only good things to say.
“It is an exciting day to see all of this come to fruition,” said Trip Rodgers ’95. “Some of us older guys just wonder how good we would have been if we had all of this support,” he added jokingly.
Two-time NCAA champion David Auble ’60 further punctuated the excitement generated by the event.
“I drove 700 miles to be here for this meet — that’s a 1,400-mile round trip, so that tells you there’s a lot of enthusiasm for what’s going on here,” he said.
While Auble and other alumni have traveled hundreds of miles, few have come further than Dave Wechsler ’60. One of the program’s alumni who was there from the beginning, Wechsler has been working to build a stand-alone facility for over a decade.
“Originally all we really wanted was a better space in Teagle Hall, but that wasn’t available to us,” said Wechsler.
According to Wechsler, other possibilities that were examined included annexing a different athletic facility and building on lands near the Reis Tennis Center. The current center wasn’t even conceived until the early 90’s.
“It just came up that since there were tug-a-wars for space, we figured out that maybe a whole new building would do,” said Wechsler.
Once the center had been decided on, a new obstacle was posed. Before the University broke ground on the project, it wanted the money for the facility upfront.
Wrestling alumni rose to the challenge, raising the funds and seeing the center through to completion.
“The alums at Cornell got together, put their money, wallets and heart all together and were able to come up with this facility,” said former wrestling captain, Dr. Walter Grote ’74.
“Of course it always helps to have the head economic advisor for the country onboard, too.”
Archived article by Sun Staff Writer