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InterMat Reads: Siddens!

Mark Palmer

2/17/2011
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

In any discussion of all-time great high school wrestling coaches, the name Bob Siddens automatically comes up. Siddens coached at Waterloo West in Iowa from 1950-1977, where his "lads" (as he referred to his wrestlers) claimed eleven state team titles and 51 individual championships. To many wrestling fans, Siddens is known as "the man who coached Dan Gable in high school." Still others might remember him as an NCAA referee.

Now all these facets of Robert Saunders Siddens' life -- and more -- are presented in a brand-new, 224-page book titled Siddens! Win with Humility, Lose with Dignity -- But Don't Lose! by Don Huff and Mike Chapman.

Meet Bob Siddens

Bob Siddens was raised in the small town of Eagle Grove, in north-central Iowa, about a dozen miles from Humboldt, the hometown of early 1900s professional wrestling legend Frank Gotch. (Interestingly, according to the book Siddens!, the future high school coach wrestled in front of a crowd for the first time at age 5 at a professional wrestling event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, taking on his twin brother Charlie.)

Siddens wrestled at Eagle Grove High School, where he was a four-time state tournament qualifier ... and a two-time runner-up. He continued his education -- and wrestling career -- at what was then called Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa), where he was teammates with NCAA champs (and future college coaches) Gerry Leeman and Bill Koll.

After graduation, Siddens returned to his high school alma mater to coach wrestling for one year ... then, in 1950, accepted the head coaching position at Waterloo West. In his 27 years at the helm, Siddens built a dynasty. His Wahawks compiled a 327-26-3 record (including a 88-dual win streak over seven years), winning eleven team titles, with 51 individuals winning Iowa state championships. (Two of the best-known: Dale Anderson, and Dan Gable.)

Siddens also had a long career as a mat official for high school and college matches, serving as a referee in 24 NCAA championships. He is now enjoying retirement in Waterloo.

A division of labor, a labor of love

The authors of Siddens! know their subject well. Both consider Bob Siddens a friend.

Don Huff wrestled for Bob Siddens at Waterloo West (one of four Huff brothers who took to the mats for the Wahawks), winning Iowa high school state titles at 95 pounds in 1956, and at 112 in 1957. He continued his mat career at Colorado State College, then at the University of Iowa. Huff returned to West High, serving as Siddens' assistant coach for ten years before taking the helm in 1978. Huff was head coach of the wrestling Wahawks for 20 years.

Bob Siddens and Dan Gable
"When coach Siddens came to Waterloo, I was 11," said Don Huff. "I've known him for 60 years."

A native of Waterloo, Mike Chapman is an award-winning writer, having authored more than two dozen books, many of them about wrestlers and wrestling. He also founded WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) and what is now known as the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo.

Don Huff had come up with the idea of writing a tribute to his high school coach. But he was a bit concerned about taking on the project. "I'm not an experienced book writer," Huff disclosed. "When I actually started writing the book, I asked Mike for help."

Together, the two came up with a division of labor for the Siddens book.

"Mike did quite a bit of the historical part of the book," said Huff. "He got into more of the growing-up years, Siddens' high school, college, the service. I did the years of Siddens as coach."

With these assignments in mind, Mike Chapman and Don Huff each interviewed Bob Siddens and his wife Joyce.

"He was very willing to talk," according to Huff. "He likes to talk about his wrestlers and the sport."

"We talked to a lot of his guys and the stories are pretty much the same. Everybody who wrestled for him thought their time was the best, yet they also thought they were the only ones who felt that way."

What makes Siddens a winner

Much has been made about the impressive stats that Bob Siddens' teams compiled in his more than a quarter-century as Waterloo West coach ... and the impressive roster of wrestlers who competed for him. Among his wrestlers who won Iowa high school state titles, then went on to become NCAA champs: Dale Anderson (Michigan State), Rich Binek (Iowa State), and Dan Gable (Iowa State).

How did Bob Siddens do it?

There is a nuts-and-bolts, how-to-coach element ... and a more personal, human element.

"He expected his wrestlers to be warmed up when they got to the wrestling room," said Don Huff. "When he came to West, the room was so small, he had to divide the team into three groups. Each group worked out while the other two watched ... There were 100 guys in the program at one time."

Dan Gable and Bob Siddens
That procedure remained in place when the Wahawk matmen moved into larger digs when the present Waterloo West High opened in the mid 1950s. It paid dividends in terms of each group of wrestlers getting the instruction and attention they needed from coach Siddens ... and provided those who were on the sidelines an opportunity to learn by observing.

Huff said that Siddens was respected by his own wrestlers and their parents, as well as by coaches and wrestlers in other schools. "Guys from other high schools who went on to college would come to the room to work out," according to Huff.

"It's about his leadership abilities," said Mike Chapman. "I don't think there are too many others who have those qualities."

"Siddens was a very intuitive and skilled motivator ... Readers will take away some insights as to how to mentor young people."

As Huff pointed out, "He has a master's degree in counseling, and served as a high school counselor for nearly 20 years. He knew how to meet his kids on their level."

"He has a lot of compassion for those who wrestled for him," Huff continued. "There are coaches with great records who have wrestlers who don't care about their coach."

Mike Chapman concurred with that thought: "I can't think of ever hearing anyone say anything that could be considered even slightly negative about him."

A fitting tribute

Mike Chapman described Siddens! Win with Humility, Lose with Dignity -- But Don't Lose! as "more a tribute than a straight biography." With that in mind, along with providing a narrative of the major chapters in Bob Siddens' life, the book features quotes and letters from a number of his wrestlers who pay tribute to their coach and mentor ... and provide the reader with insights into the man who contributed so much to wrestling, and to the lives of his wrestlers.

Siddens! also includes the year-by-year dual-meet records for the Waterloo West wrestling program during coach Siddens' tenure, and lists the individuals who placed at the Iowa state championships. What's more, the book is a visual treasure-trove , with more than four dozen great photos of Bob Siddens as a child, as a wrestler, and as coach.

As Don Huff said, "Young coaches might like to read it, not just how to run a practice, but to get insights into a successful wrestling coach."

To purchase the Siddens! book, contact Don Huff by email at donwhuff@Q.com, or by phone (319) 233-2404. The book may also be ordered by sending a check for $19.95 + $5 for shipping to: Don Huff, 3444 Rosehill Terrace, Waterloo, IA 50701.

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