West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker

... on Bobby Douglas The Wrestler

As a teenager growing up into manhood during the late '50s, Bobby Douglas had two strikes against him. He was poor and he was black, facing the realities of prejudice.

But Bobby Douglas also had two positive assets going for him. He was a great athlete and he had George Kovalick as a coach and surrogate father. Thus, Douglas developed into an outstanding wrestler, winning two Ohio state championships, numerous national titles, and berths on two Olympic teams (1964 & 1968) and several World Championship squads. Later, as a coach, he produced the 1988 Arizona State NCAA Division I Champions and most recently was selected to coach the 1992 Freestyle Olympic Team.

One would think with these accomplishments Bobby, at least, would not have to face prejudice on the mats. Unfortunately, such was not the case over twenty years ago. Consider this true incident in Bobby's final days as a competitor.

It was 1970 and Bobby Douglas decided to take one more shot at the World Championships. He made it to the finals of the U.S. trials, where Bobby had to beat his opponent (a rising star in the sport) the best out of 3 bouts. Well, Douglas did win the first two matches by close margins. That should have settled it. Not so! The world-team coach decided he wanted them to wrestle another match, even after the younger wrestler told the mentor--"Hey, Bobby's the winner; he beat me fair and square in two matches."

The coach still insisted that they wrestle another bout. Bobby was upset and said, "Look! Wrestlers in other weight classes had some close matches and won, but they weren't forced to wrestle an extra match. Why me?" He finished by telling the coach to forget it and headed for the showers.

In the locker room, the coach caught up to Bobby and finally persuaded him to wrestle another bout. It wasn't right, but Bobby liked his younger adversary and decided--"What the heck!" Believe or not, that one more match turned into five more match-like situations, for a total of seven elimination bouts with the same opponent. Most unfair, I would say, even for a nobody in the sport, but Bobby was an internationally-known, world-class wrestler at the time.

Now here's the kicker. Douglas won six matches (with the seventh ending in a draw), and both wrestlers were physically beaten up after this weeklong endurance contest. Less than two weeks later, Bobby competed in the 1970 World Championships physically drained, then he suffered a concussion in the first match, and was unable to place in the event. I wonder what Douglas would have done healthy, wrestling only two instead of seven grueling U.S. trial matches prior to the competition. We'll never know.

There are two redeeming outcomes from this travesty of justice. First, Bobby Douglas was selected as the 1970 Outstanding U.S. Wrestler. And second, nobody except Bridgeport Ohio's Bobby Douglas can say he won six out of seven matches against one who many consider to be America's greatest wrestler of all times--DAN GABLE!

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Updated October 12, 1997