The 133-pound NCAA champ had April 25 surgery to repair a torn labrum and torn wrist ligaments. Chad Leistikow / The Register
From a shaded table behind the sixth tee at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Cory Clark observed well over 100 golfers trying to stripe a tee shot down the par-4 fairway.
But on this gorgeous day, the reigning 133-pound NCAA wrestling champion refrained from putting a club in his hands.
“I’m a really good golfer. I just have a shoulder messed up,” Clark said Monday. “I’m kidding. I’m terrible. That’s what I’ve been (telling people), though.”
Clark, the Southeast Polk and University of Iowa alum, wasn’t joking about the shoulder, of course. Hawkeye fans remember his gutty, 4-3 title-winning bout in March.
As he spoke Monday, Clark had recently gotten his left arm out of a sling after a double surgery April 25 to repair torn ligaments in his wrist and a torn labrum in his shoulder — ailments he overcame in his five-match run through the bracket at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“That’s a lot harder than you think, to actually not move your arm for six weeks,” Clark said.
Clark wants to wrestle again, with bigger goals ahead. He thinks — hopes — that in about two months, he’ll be back on the mat.
“To me, it was always, ‘I want to win NCAAs.’ And once we do that, I can move on to the next. I did that,” Clark said. “So now it is time to move onto the next. And world champ, Olympic champ, that’s definitely the next goal.”
When Clark does return, he’ll join an extremely crowded cluster of lightweights in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, the organization behind his otherwise out-of-place appearance Monday for the 20th annual Polk County I-Club golf outing.
The sixth-hole table was in place to raise awareness and funds for the ambitious Hawkeye Wrestling Club, which has a new and ambitious leader. Mark Perry, the former Hawkeye who won NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008, was also on the course Monday.
He’s been in his newly created role for only a month, yet the difference is being felt. Perry was in the corner June 10 for Thomas Gilman as the recent former Hawkeye steamrolled the 57-kilogram field to qualify for the World Championships in Paris later this summer.
Gilman’s championship sweep of former teammate Tony Ramos dug up old Hawkeye Wrestling Club wounds. It was just more than a year earlier, after the Olympic Trials in Iowa City, that Ramos left the club because of perceived favoritism toward Daniel Dennis — the Olympics qualifier at Ramos’ weight — in the Iowa wrestling room.
The former four-time all-American wants to make Iowa's training center the best in the country.
Perry, though, brings a proactive outlook to that divorce. The advertised approach: Bring one, bring all. Iron sharpens iron.
“We cannot seclude ourselves to a mindset that you don’t want guys around you,” Perry said Monday. “… The reputation of the Iowa program is through work ethic and dedication and discipline. That’s what brought me back here.
“If you believe in yourself, man up.”
Earlier this month, two-time 125-pound NCAA champion Jesse Delgado was welcomed in. Perry coached Delgado at Cal-Poly, and then Illinois, and now has recruited him to train with the likes of Gilman, Dennis, just-arrived phenom Spencer Lee, two-time NCAA champion Matt McDonough, ex-Minnesota all-Americans Chris and Nick Dardanes and, eventually, Clark.
All of those names are lightweights.
The only difference with Delgado: He is training for Team Mexico, not Team USA.
“If they end up meeting one day in the world finals, we’ve done our job,” Perry said. “I just look at the bigger picture. We need guys focused on being world champions. It shouldn’t matter if we have the top 10 guys in the United States all training at the same weight.”
If it seems like I’ve written a lot more than usual about Iowa wrestling lately, you’re not mistaken. This wasn’t planned. Aside from family vacations, my general summer agenda involved diving into preseason Hawkeye football storylines, catching up on Iowa basketball progress at the Prime Time League and getting a feel for whatever else is happening.
Well, what is happening is a tangible surge in momentum for Hawkeye wrestling that is rippling around the fan base — and onto golf courses, too.
I think the addition of the energetic, talented and driven Perry has helped a lot. The HWC's annual fundraising banquet in May saw record attendance.
Head coach Tom Brands discusses what it takes to wrestle at Iowa and what it takes to coach.
Certainly, Lee’s celebrated arrival gives the program an elite feel, too. I also don’t discount the waves made by Iowa State this spring in hiring four ex-Hawkeyes to lead that program’s turnaround effort.
But I might point to the night of March 18 as the spark that ignited the flame — and the guy that began this column. Adding salt to the 2015 and 2016 team-race wounds was Iowa getting shut out both years without an individual NCAA champion, including an 0-for-3 Saturday night in Madison Square Garden.
Clark’s win over ex-teammate Seth Gross of South Dakota State felt like a much-needed moment of exultation for Tom and Terry Brands.
Although the faces of Iowa wrestling weren’t thrilled at the fourth-place team finish behind the runaway Penn State train, they were happy for Clark to see his five-year college journey end on top. And things have been slowly building since.
Perry brings an international mentality to Iowa City. His goal is to get to the U.S. to the top of the international ladder, and to build the foundation in Iowa. He knows the next step is to keep adding top talent to the HWC, and that requires fundraising.
These elite guys don’t train for free. The better the club, the better the college program.
“Hopefully through getting people involved this summer, by the fall, we’ll have the best club in the United States by a landslide,” Perry said. “That’s my goal. That’s just one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.