Vaudeville may be dead, but wrestling is alive and well, and the best act going is the soufflé-and-pancake routine of Terry Hall—a combination of moves he executes faster than one can say California State Polytechnic College at San Luis Obispo, which is where Hall is a senior.
Looking at the 5'2½", 118-pound Hall, one would think that if he had any act at all it might be balancing teacups. But when he peels off his warmup suit, takes out his four-tooth bridge and steps on the mat it's obvious where his true vocation lies.
Once on the mat Hall skitters behind his foe, hoists him and dumps him like a sack of flour. That's the soufflé. The pancake is just what it sounds like—the pin that concludes his performance.
"I like to wrestle rough and tough," Hall says. "I don't think you can use just moves and techniques. You have to get physical. When I do a soufflé I hear the crowd oooh and ahhh, and it gets to me, and I know that my next move will be even stronger. Against Michigan State [an SRO crowd of more than 4,000 turned out for the match at Cal Poly last month], the crowd got me up so much that I forgot how tired I was and kept right on going and won 30-4."
According to his coach, Vaughan Hitchcock, Hall is the most exciting wrestler in the land, and that includes Dan Gable, the Iowa State 142-pounder who has won a record 166 straight matches. "You can hear them bubble when Terry comes out," Hitchcock says, "because they know they're going to see something spectacular. The way he picks guys up and swings them around excites people. He's the fastest I've seen in 20 years of watching wrestling, and he's phenomenally strong. Why, he came within a gnat's eyebrow of making the Olympic team in 1968."
Winning has become a habit both for Hall, whose college record is 42-2-1, and for Cal Poly, which has been 107-22-1 since Hitchcock took over in 1962. Until then West Coast wrestling—and California's in particular—had been simply terrible. From 1962 on, however, the Cal Poly Mustangs haven't lost to a California school in 82 matches and for three of the past four years have been NCAA college-division champions. Moreover, last year Cal Poly beat out perennial champion Oklahoma State for fifth place in the NCAA university tournament. And a month ago the Mustangs became the first West Coast team ever to defeat powerful Oklahoma in Norman.
Hitchcock has performed these feats despite having arrived in San Luis Obispo at the worst possible time. Less than two years earlier 16 Cal Poly football players had been killed when their plane crashed on the way home from a game against Bowling Green, a disaster that almost put an end to all sports at the school. Says Hitchcock, "Last year was the first that any of our teams was allowed to fly to any event except the Nationals."
Being unable to fly was actually the least of Hitchcock's troubles. When he arrived in San Luis—locals never add the Obispo—about the most spirited activity was the unending controversy about whether the correct pronunciation was "Looie" or "Lewis."
It was some situation that Hitchcock walked into: almost total campus apathy toward sports, an underfinanced athletic program, a workload that put him in charge of the entire intramural program and a full schedule of PE classes. But he has brought the same measure of success to Cal Poly that he had elsewhere. Hitchcock, who is 36, 6 feet and 210 pounds, has always been a winner. At Washington State he won 38 of 40 wrestling matches, was a guard-linebacker, played in the East-West Shrine game and in 1956 was the school's Athlete of the Year. He was no less successful as a high school wrestling coach, losing only one match in six years.
When Hitchcock got a look at his budget at Cal Poly he thought of going out and blowing it all on a Coke. Instead, he began scrimping. He has often gone from motel to motel to get the lowest possible rate for his team. The Mustangs fly youth fare, which means they are frequently bumped off flights. Indeed, there have been times when one group of wrestlers has been airborne, another has been boarding a plane and a third group has been waiting for a flight.
Nowadays the only campus event that outdraws wrestling is the annual spring Poly Royal, which attracts 80,000 visitors who come to watch ag students show their swine and demonstrate artificial insemination. Says Lew Cryer of radio station KVEC, "When the wrestling team competes away from home it's not unusual to get 50 calls a night from fans who want to know if we have the final score."
"Wrestling has boomed out here," says Hitchcock. "Why, one of my freshmen wrestled 43 times in high school last year. These boys are good and rugged."
Among the most rugged is 158-pounder John Finch, the possessor of The Steel Band, which in real life serves as his left arm. The strength of The Steel Band borders on campus legend. Spectators roar when Finch puts it to use by clamping an opponent around the midsection and squeezing the breath out of him.
Turned on by Cal Poly's wrestling success, the team's fans have tried to ease its financial plight. To raise money they have sold pizzas and held barbecues. KVEC conducted a radiothon in which donors were promised that their contributions would be picked up in person by their favorite wrestlers. For the next day or two wrestlers scooted around town—upstairs, downstairs, ringing doorbells—and collected $1,800.
Despite such stunts and donations from the Mustang Booster Club, wrestling scholarships are almost nonexistent. Out-of-state wrestlers have often called Hitchcock to ask about coming to Cal Poly. These inquiries are invariably brief, for he has to tell the prospects that his budget can't even cover their tuition.
One Hitchcock selling point is his workout room. It will never be mistaken for Joe Namath's pad, but it does have cushioned walls sprayed with a trace of gold and adorned with photographs of the more than three dozen National place-winners Hitchcock has turned out. Only a few aphorisms are posted. One reads: AFTER YOU HAVE MADE YOUR MARK IN THE WORLD, WATCH OUT FOR THE GUYS WITH ERASERS.
Hitchcock and his team have gained such prominence that many of the best high school wrestlers in California come to Cal Poly. Seven of the 1969 state champs are now at San Luis. Two of the best are Brendt Noon and Larry Morgan. Both had their pick of scholarships elsewhere and, in fact, Noon, who was unbeaten in 102 high school matches, accepted one at Oklahoma. He spent a month at Oklahoma, then left. "They make you wear shoes and shirts out there," Noon explains only half in jest. He happens to fancy clogs and T shirts.
Morgan was born in Nigeria, where his father, a Baptist minister, was serving as a missionary. He finished high school with a 3.75 academic average, a 170-13 wrestling record, and last year he won the 123.5-pound title at the Junior Olympic World Championships. One reason he chose Cal Poly was because three of his brothers had gone there. Another was "because I think we can be the No. 1 team in the country."
Terry Hall also passed up more lucrative offers, which was doubly difficult because he is black and comes from what Hitchcock calls "the ghetto supreme." As the oldest of 13 children in a family that subsists on welfare, life has been none too gentle for Hall. He is 21, married and has two daughters.
Hall began building his muscles when, at age 12, he took a job laying cement sidewalks. Now his biggest task is keeping his weight down to 118. "If I let go, I go right up to 140," he says. "The last two days before a match I touch almost no food. I use the sauna and the steam room, and I run a lot. Once I lost 13 pounds in 28 hours."
Hall is a compulsive weigher. He keeps pennies handy so he can weigh in at the local Thrifty drugstore or Jordano's supermarket. He is so preoccupied with his weight that he steps on the baggage scales in airports. "I weigh myself 10, 15 times a day," Hall admits.
The night before the college-division finals last year Hall had eight pounds to lose. He decided to drop them by running the two miles back and forth from the gym to the campus gardens. It was 10 p.m. when he began running. At midnight he found that all the gym doors had been locked. "I ran back to the gardens and then back to the gym," Hall recalls. "I sat down and then I ran some more, and then I got so tired I crawled. At 7 a.m. they opened the doors for the weigh-in. I was still a half pound over, so I ran another lap."
Hall made weight, went out and won the title.