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When the Eagles crowed

Little Clarion State gags it up to relax, but there is nothing funny about its performance on the mat, where it won three NCAA championships

It used to be that the only impressions Clarion State College wrestlers made at the nationals were on the mat—deep impressions where their shoulder blades had been firmly pinned. But last season they forsook such backward ways and appeared at the NCAA championships in quality if not in quantity. Gary Barton, at 134 pounds, and Wade Schalles, 150, won the first two individual titles ever for Clarion and, although small-college teams cannot compete for the major-college team championship, the school piled up 36 unofficial points that would have been good enough for sixth place. This winter Clarion qualified four men for the NCAA tournament at the University of Washington in Seattle, wound up with 57½ more unofficial points, a theoretical fourth-place finish and three very official champions, freshman Don Rohn at 134 pounds, Schalles at 158 and Bill Simpson at 167. The only loser was freshman heavyweight Chuck Coryea, who went out in the opening round. No other team had more than two titlists.

The man behind this refeathering of the Golden Eagles is Bob Bubb, a coach who lives by the down-home philosophic point once scored by Will Rogers: "Even if you're on the right track you'll get run over if you just sit there." Bubb no sooner arrived at the Clarion campus on the edge of the Alleghenies in northwest Pennsylvania than he began to move straight up the track. As his teams kept improving he branched out and recruited further afield. He brought theatrics to the deadly boredom of wrestling drills, perhaps the dullest in all sport: today the Golden Eagles wrestle to lively music in the workout room and, at Bubb's orders, tell jokes, dance, recite homemade poetry and act out farcical playlets. This might not make for superior theater, but it does wonders for wrestling in the round.

Bubb's aim, aside from the obvious psychological one of taking the boys' minds off their miseries, is "to help the kids mesh as soon as possible and get to know each other. We try to blend them and their personalities by assigning a freshman and an older boy or an extrovert and an introvert to perform together."

Now, not all coaches are going to buy this sort of thing. As Schalles (pronounced Shall-iss) says with some wonderment. "Coach'll laugh at our jokes even." It is a high price to pay but one that earns dividends. Simpson, a junior, wanted to quit but was glad-talked into remaining and continuing with the relentless conditioning that makes champions. He and Rohn, who runs five miles each morning and can bench-press more than 300 pounds, well over twice his weight, are silent people who probably can use whatever kicks they get out of outrageous puns and heavyweight humor. Schalles needs none of it. Built, in Bubb's words, "like he had rickets when he was a youngster," he acts as though he had Mexican jumping beans for lunch. Bubb would like to quiet him down, "see him a humbler person."

Except, that is, when Schalles goes into action. Then he is college wrestling's most creative and dazzling performer. He ambles out for a match with all the enthusiasm of someone lugging out the garbage, but that is a front to lure opponents into false feelings of security. As soon as they lay a hand on Schalles he detonates. He picks up his man, slams him down, whirls this way and that and entangles him in a maze of arms, legs, whizzers and cradles. A superb counter-wrestler, Schalles will get himself into tight spots Houdini would have balked at and then extricate himself with ludicrous ease. His success stems largely from his plastic body, which he can contort into pretzel shapes while still retaining his gyroscopic balance and uncanny leverage.

Schalles admits that he comes on strong. When he was a high school junior in Hollidaysburg, Pa., he got a lesson in the troubles a large ego can bring. Cocky and 12-0 for the season, he was only too pleased to oblige when an older man at the local Y challenged him. "I figured I'd show him how good I was, especially since he was smaller than me," Schalles recalls. "For the next hour and a half he tore me apart, bloodied my nose and mouth. He turned out to be Gary McCarthy, who had been wrestling around our part of the country a long time. When we were done he said, 'O.K., are you ready to learn now?' " For months Schalles worked out twice a day with McCarthy and became a wrestler.

Fortunately, the training took no serious toll of his personality. Schalles has a long nose, droopy eyes, shaggy hair and a scar on his right cheek where his dog clawed him. He also has a huge grin and an effervescent love of life that at times is irrepressible. He will be walking down a street in Clarion on his way to class when he will spot a tree that simply has to be climbed. Up he goes, for the sheer joy of living. Schalles is also apt to run out in the rain and jump barefoot through the puddles or go scuba diving or sky diving.

"My father is a captain in the Merchant Marine," he said last week after winning his second national title, "and I see him only one or two times a year, so to that extent I've never really had a dad. But I've had plenty of second dads. I'm outgoing and when I see other people heading somewhere I say. 'Hey. can I go along?' "

He generally can. And so, sometimes, can Jim Crumley (SI, March 12), the stumbling star from Oregon State whose style is not unlike Schalles' but whose fortunes are. Crumley, really to the surprise of nobody, arrived at Seattle with a pinched nerve in his neck. Unable to work out all week, he fought bravely, won his first bout but lost the second and finished fifth in the 177-pound class. It was a week in which only four favorites won. By Saturday night, when all the bodies had been separated, Iowa State was the winner for the fourth time in five years, holding off Oregon State 85-72½, and Clarion State's Golden Eagles were crowing, or whatever it is golden eagles do when they beat up on the big boys.