A collection of current and past interviews involving three great Northeast Ohio wrestling teams:

Maple Heights, St Eds and Walsh Jesuit.

This is an interview with my friend and coach Bill Barger. Bill is lucky to be with us. He talks about undergoing three brain surgeries last year, his relationship with the late great Howard Ferguson, his current involvement with wrestling and his own training.

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News stories featuring St Eds in the 1980’s posted by Alan Fried

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An interview with Tom and Pat Milkovich circa late 1970’s conducted by Howard Ferguson possibly?




Achievement in sport comes in all shapes and sizes as do wrestlers, from winning points, to games, matches, meets, tournament and championships. The level of success can be measured in the degree of dedication and perseverance.

Can be, but not necessarily, the expenditure for winning a point is different from that for a game and the step from a game to a championship is far greater. In wrestling, a competitor dictates his own level of achievement from mediocrity or worse to good or better. There has never been a question of how far my sons or other great wrestlers were willing to go, which is why Tom and Pat became state champions and later national champions.

“One thing you can’t ever do in wrestling is cheat the clock. You have to put in your time. If you don’t put in your time, somewhere along the line, it is going to catch up to you, ” Tom says. “You have to live, eat and sleep wrestling during the season.”

Pat adds, “It’s not a 3:00 to 6:00 deal. You have to put in your time, from September to March.”

” You look at any businessman who’s at the top of the executive ladder. He didn’t get there by just putting in his hours from nine to five. He missed lunch and coffee breaks. He put in overtime. He exerted a lot of energy to get where he finally is. It’s the same thing in wrestling. It’s not just 3-6 that you train for wrestling. During the season, you try to train 24 hours a day. You get the sleep that you need. You do your running. You do your wrestling. You don’t do it half – heartedly. You do it. You wrestle hard. You run hard. All day long. It’s something you think about. It’s got to be done. You have to do it, the suffering, the pain of getting hurt or running until it hurts and you just want to quit. It’s so easy to quit. You can’t quit because once you do you’ll quit again and again.”

“If you want to be good at anything, I know how much suffering, sacrifice and discipline that it is going to take to get to the top, whether it be a job or wrestling or anything else.”

“”In order to beat mediocrity, you have to go beyond what everyone else is doing,” Tom says.

Both men travel nationally, giving clinics in wrestling, showing some of their many moves and imparting lessons they have learned in their climb to the top. “I think clinics are great for enlightening kids but I think you should take time out to tell kids, ‘I don’t think you understand what is going to be required of you in this sport if you’re going to be successful in it or if you are really going to accomplish anything in wrestling.’ It is not the kind of sport where you put on a uniform, run a little bit, work a few holds and that’s it, because wrestling has such a small margin of error while you are performing. If the slightest thing goes wrong on this move or that move, then the good boy will have you and it’s the good boy you want to beat not the fish,” says Pat.

“You are going to have to sacrifice some things here for what you want over there. Some of the parties and other good times are going to have to wait.”

“It’s like guys on my team. They party all year long . They don’t lose much weight. They don’t have to because they wrestle close to weight. So, they supposedly can afford to go out late at night. Smoke. Drink. Party. Have a good time. But while these guys are wrestling throughout the year they are not winning  or having a mediocre season, at the end of the year, I’m the only guy who comes home with a national title or a Big Ten title, and these guys are the ones who also ran. They start thinking, ‘If i had only done what he did six or seven months ago.’ But they don’t because it’s too easy to have a good time. It’s too easy to say, ‘Bag this wrestling. It’s too hard. This dieting. Cutting out beer and partying.’ Get your partying over at seven or eight. Eleven or twelve are not the only times to party.”

“The reward you get, if you do that, is special,” Tom says. It’s not like you are on a football team that wins a national championship. You feel big and tough, all right, because you’ve won a football championship, but in wrestling you’ve done it all by yourself. You went out there by yourself  and the whole crowd saw it. You made the show. You controlled the tempo of the match. You were the one who won the match. You were the one who won the title. You were the one who did the extra work.”

Besides work, Maple Heights also depends on pride. “Our own philosophy is you can’t ever quit on the mat and you can’t ever give a man anything, even in the practice room. You want to be the toughest man, even in the practice room. When I was at Michigan State, I wrestled 134 and 142 pounds in college and I wrestled anybody from 134 all the way up to heavyweight,” Tom says.

“When we were in high school, we went through a practice session and we couldn’t stand to be taken down. I went to Michigan State and I couldn’t stand to let those guys take me down in practice. That’s just another feather that they stick in their hat and say, ‘I took down a Milkovich today,’ ” Pat says.

Work will get you physically prepared but the mental game, the pride, is just as important. It serves as the driving force. As Tom put’s it, “We were always taught at Maple Heights that we were scrappy kids, tough hardnosed kids. When I got to Michigan State, I had some close matches as a freshman. I had to pull some of them out in the last seconds, but I always managed to do it because I had a little more heart in me than the other guy did. Some of these guys were as good as me technically and I couldn’t figure them out and I didn’t have the horsepower yet to wrestle with these college kids, but I had to beat them in my heart.” Pat adds, “What it comes down to is everyone has a quitting point and the guy who quits last is going to win. In eight minutes (the length of a college match), someone is going to quit.”

But neither of them started his career in the same frame of mind of course. Wrestling came more naturally for Tom than Pat. As high school sophomores, they were lacking in confidence. In Tom’s case, it was during that year that it all came together for him. As the stubborn one, Pat caught on as a senior.

“All I knew is that I had to wrestle for the varsity as at Maple Heights and I’d better be ready. As a sophomore I didn’t know enough to be scared. I had tough kids to wrestle, real tough, but we were conditioned that way that when you walked out on the mat you didn’t have time to be scared for yourself. You had to worry about the whole team,” Tom says. “We were programmed so well at Maple Heights. You could be as scared as you wanted to be off the mat, before you wrestled a guy, but when you got into the match, when the ref blew the whistle and you walked across and shook hands, there were only two men on that mat who were important. One was my opponent, the other was my father sitting on the side. All you had to do was your job. We were like machine. We didn’t have to sit there and think and think and think. We just hit moves because we were drilled so well. Not only were we well drilled, but we had the conditioning. I was never worked harder than in high school. I’ve seen practices at Maple Heights where kids had to crawl out of the room.”

Tom’s junior year in high school was affected by his weight problem, cutting from 130 to 112. “It was a tough year, but the thing that saved me in preparing for the match, was not letting my weight jump up. The thing you don’t want to do is let your weight fluctuate. Because I held my weight within five pounds, I got better and better, ” he says.

“If you can’t work your weight right, how are you going to wrestle right.” You see a couple of kids come into the room in rubber suits or extra sweatpants, bundled up so badly they can move or wrestle the way they want to in practice and they are drained. Then they get down in the dumps. If you keep your weight within five pounds, you walk into the practice room, you know you are going to be able to compete. That’s a big thing in wrestling.”

Tom breezed through his senior year at Maple, determined to be a rare three time state champ. He didn’t have any problems until the end of the season when he injured his knee. It was left for Tom to put on a gutty performance in the tournament but he realized his goal.

Pat took up wrestling because it was the family tradition. His pride measured accordingly. “Before I built up any confidence, I just said, ‘I hope I go out there and just not lose. To not dumb it up, do anything stupid.’ That was my goal. There are certain basic rules that you should follow. Like give a guy one point when you have a choice to give him one or two. You give him one. Or if you’ve got a choice of being taken down or put on your back, you want to just be taken down. Just simple things.

“I’d go out there trying to wrestle a smart match, doing just my favorite moves, the one I knew that I could get. When I started out, I usually stuck with the one that I had confidence in. I didn’t want to try anything that looked too fancy, that didn’t have more than a 50% chance of succeeding- getting a score. In fact I don’t think I used many that were under 80%. I was always afraid but Tom always told me not to be afraid to use these moves. Just go out there and wrestle. If you see it, set it up. You get it in practice you’ll be able to get it out there. I didn’t believe him until I was a senior. Things started working, ” says Pat.

Tom explains,”If you hit something hard enough, if you work on it in practice, you drill it everyday, hard enough and fast enough, you could be wrong on it and still be right because you hit it so hard. We’re talking about safe moves, 50% moves or better.” Whatever you do, you do it fast because wrestling is a fast game. You can be wrong but if you go twice as fast as the other guy that neutralizes a good counter.

Stubborn Pat was not one to profit from the experience of others. What other family could have been better prepared for a trip to the state tournament? Still, Pat admits to being awed, saying, “I overreacted in defensive ways, being overly impressed with everything. By my third year, I finally decided it is not what everyone makes it out to be.”

He credits his late blooming to the way he, however innocently or naively, approached the sport. “At first, I didn’t enjoy wrestling. I think that is one advantage I had over the other guys in college. They are so intense about it in eighth, ninth, eleventh and twelfth grades but I thought of it as a job. The last part of my senior year I was really enjoying it. I just got to a point where I really liked it. When I got to college, I was excited to come to practice everyday to sell all these big time guys running around here and here I was just this little freshman, smiling away, ‘I want to wrestle.’ I really enjoyed it, seeing how I could do against guys that were supposedly better. I just went in there, used my high school style and attitude, and guys in college couldn’t keep up with it. It’s just too fast for them.”

Pat came to Michigan State as an upstart, ever with the name Milkovich. Tom had been struggling his first years there suffering the first defeat of his career, a heart breaker, in the national semifinals, a loss which shattered his entire sophomore year. But when his younger brother arrived, along came the natural boost inherent in sibling rivalry.

“It was just a matter of pride. When I’d go out and win, there was no way Tom was going to lose and let me out do him. He’d say, ‘This guy has had it. I don’t care who he is, where he’s been or where he’s going. This is one match he isn’t going to come off and say he’s won.’ Then when I lost , he’d get so tickled because I lost that he would just take it out on the next guy he had to wrestle, ” Pat says.

“No matter what he did, he was an inspiration,” Tom recalls. “If he won and he looked bad, I would be angry because he looked bad. I just didn’t think that Pat Milkovich should wrestle like that. Or if he won big, then I would have to win bigger.”

Since neither would let the other have the bragging rights to himself, they each won a national championship that year.

Individual pride is one thing; team pride is another. Maple’s record indicates that there were not too many clock cheaters. “There’s a preseason where everyone gets his head together. We run, climb ropes, do pushups. The good wrestlers are all there. From then on, it’s like an army. All those guys are together. Whenever you see one you see two or three. They live and talk wrestling too. A good wrestling team cares about each and every one on the team. It will always stick together in school,” Tom says.

Pat adds, “There shouldn’t be one leader on the team, there should five or six.”

“If there is one kid that they can’t depend on, the kids will get on him. Our father said he can’t do it all. He’s got to be honest. The kids have to help you out. Instead of one coach, you have three or four. But one boss, ” Tom says.

In practice at Maple Heights, the good wrestlers paired off with each other, having nothing to do with the ones that were mediocre. “The way our practices were, we took partners two weights above us. You made those guys tough and they made you tough, ” Pat says. That is why Maple’s state championship had state place winners in bunches.

Not only are they geared alike, they also think alike. The very basis of the match strategy is built around three points. “It goes back to a simple thing like a take down and escape. If you have a good take down and no one in the practice room can stop you with that take down, and maybe two or three after that, and a good escape, no one can beat you as long as you don’t give up two points. You can give one but no one can beat you. It’s that simple,” Tom says.

Preparing for a match is a week long effort. Most of it is concentrated on yourself rather than the opponent. It is predicated on the idea of being offensive instead of worrying about the other guy and getting defensive.

“The first thing I want to do is make sure I’m down to weight a least a day ahead if time so I can have something to eat that night,” Pat says. “And if I know anything about my opponent, if there is anything  in particular that he does, I’ll work on it in practice. Like if he had a good single leg, I’ll have my partner do nothing but shoot singles.

“The day of the match, assuming I’m down to weight, I’ll have some pancakes and toast. Maybe some orange juice. The first couple days of the week I’ll eat a lot of protein. Protein is the least efficient form of energy. The first thing your body is going to use for energy is going to be the carbohydrates you ingest during the day. Second thing it’s going to use, when it’s done burning up the the carbohydrates is the fat tissue. When there is no more fat tissue, it uses up the protein. I eat the protein to cut down on my carbohydrate intake. I’ll use my carbohydrate stores real quickly and start working on the fat, which will help me lose the weight. And it depletes the carbohydrate stores in my tissue so that on the last couple of days of the week, I’ll stock up on a lot of carbohydrates. Your body super-re compensates. I’ll absorb the carbohydrates that you’ve eaten the last two or three days two or three times quicker than I would out of season going through a regular day of eating, because I’m so deprived during the week.”

“I get something to eat the night before, check my weight, then try not to worry about wrestling. I go to a movie, watch television, go visit a friend- anything to keep my mind off it. Then I’ll go to sleep, wake up, check my weight again, eat my training meal which consists of carbohydrates and liquid. Between the time we eat and wrestle, I go for a walk to take my mind off worrying about wrestling. Then I get it in my head that I’m just going to go out there and not let up for eight minutes. By the time I go out there, that’s what I’m working up to. I think of wrestling intermittently during the day. I keep thinking he’s got a good single leg or a good high crotch and I’ll tell myself he’s not going to get it. I’m just going out there and keep the pressure on for eight minutes of wrestling.”

“You get to the point where you don’t spend the whole day thinking about it, worrying about it, getting shook about it. Watch television and relax, you’ll enjoy it more. You find a way to control yourself. You’re getting more experienced. You know exactly what is required of you. You know what you have to do. You know when you are peaking. You know how to reach you peak instead of blindly going after it.”

“It comes along with maturity when you start to form ideas about things instead of having them programed into you. That’s why I started liking it my senior year. I sat down at the end of the day my junior year and started thinking what wrestling has done for me.”

It boiled down to this-wrestling can give you everything and not take a single thing away from you. It can give you a good body, strong mind and free college education. IF YOU WANT IT.



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