Volunteer coach rewarded with appreciation

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
There's a saying that's been making the rounds in recent years: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

Don't ever try telling Tony Black that. For the past two years, Black has offered part of his time away from his day job at USA Wrestling to mentor cadet wrestlers at the Air Force Academy.

As the one NCAA-permitted volunteer coach on the staff of Air Force wrestling Head Coach Joel Sharratt, Black comes here twice a week to teach. But like Sharratt, a former national champion at the University of Iowa, Black was once an accomplished wrestler himself. Clearly, there is plenty of "can do" in this teacher.

"If you look at the guy, Coach Black isn't built like a man who will tear you apart with his bare hands," said Cadet 1st Class Alec Williams, the team captain. "However, if he ever gets a hold of you on a mat, he has the skills necessary to do just that."

Wrestling was omnipresent in Black's family throughout his years growing up in River Falls, Wis. His older brother, Kevin, was a four-time Wisconsin state champ in high school and never lost a match in those four years. His father, Dave, has long been an important figure in Wisconsin wrestling circles.

Both brothers wrestled collegiately at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and were four-year lettermen. Wrestling at 125 pounds, Tony earned an All-America selection and fifth place at the NCAA tournament in 2003, his senior season.

Today, Kevin owns and operates the Victory School of Wrestling in his hometown. Tony moved to Colorado Springs in 2006 and works as the manager of state services for USA Wrestling. His association with Sharratt through USA Wrestling, the sport's national governing body, led to an invitation to become the Falcons' volunteer coach.

"It's about the relationships you develop with people," Black said. "I hope that I'm helping people when it comes to wrestling, but I hope they also develop a friendship out of it, too, a mutual respect for one another, and that we both get better as a result."

Twice a week, early in the mornings, he brings all that expertise and experience up to the Air Force Academy for an appreciative group of cadet wrestlers.

"His ability to teach extra technique to those interested has helped everyone, but more directly (it) has helped me by reteaching the fundamentals and helping me perfect those skills," Williams said. "His technical expertise is superb."

Black called wrestling "a volunteer-driven sport" and said that's especially true at the collegiate level. In addition to the two practice sessions a week he spends helping cadets, he also attends Air Force dual meets in the area as his schedule allows.

As a result, he often crosses paths with colleagues in the wrestling fraternity at other schools. Even though he has an extensive network of contacts, however, it is his previous accomplishments on the mat that resonates with cadets.

He has imparted his vast assortment of techniques, maneuvers and strategy, all of which gives Falcon wrestlers an edge at crucial times. Because he speaks from experience, he commands the automatic attention and respect afforded to someone who's been there and done that -- and done it exceptionally well.

"Tony has given the members of our team who want to get better an extra opportunity to do so," Williams said. "His morning sessions allow the willing to get better while others sleep in."

To show his gratitude for what Black does for the cadet wrestlers, Sharratt presented him with the gift of a flag that had flown over Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a fitting choice, and Black was extremely grateful.

Black said that he is well-accustomed to morning workouts and prefers them to evening workouts. Even so, it is a 30-minute drive from home to the Academy and then a 15-minute drive to work after the training sessions.

The sacrifice in time and effort could easily become drudgery were it not for the intangible ways the cadet wrestlers also show their appreciation.

"It's pretty easy to come back when there are people who I can tell are interested in learning," Black said. "If there are people who feel that I have something to offer, it's a whole lot easier to get up and turn the alarm off when it goes off at 5:15."