10A - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, April 14, 2005
FOR CHURELLA FAMILY, WRESTLING RUNS IN THE BLOOD
By Mark Giannotto 9 Daily Sports Writer
Even I found a
way to love sports
Mark Churella Sr. was a hard
man to get an interview with.
He was never sitting in the
same seat throughout the entire NCAA
Wrestling Championships. Every time
he came into view, he was sitting in a
different team's section. But it was not
because he's a social guy, talking to
fellow wrestling fans. He was actually
following the movements of his two
sons, junior Ryan and freshman Josh.
Watching him during his sons'
matches is entertainment in itself. It
is always the same thing. Before the
match begins, he offers a word of
advice from the stands to each of his
sons, almost like a second coach. His
suggestion is met with a look of recog-
nition from either Ryan or Josh.
As the match begins, the casual
fan notices that Mark appears to be
unaware of anyone around him. He is
screaming at the top of his lungs, pro-
viding various words of encouragement
or disapproval. He has entered another
world that completely revolves around
the wrestling match. All the while, the
people seated around him are look-
ing at each other, asking, "Is this guy
Every time one of his son's gets into
a precarious position, Mark's face con-
torts almost as if he is enduring the
same pain. Each time his son gives up
points to the opponent, an onlooker is
certain to hear some groan of disap-
proval from Mark. As the match goes
on, that same onlooker will begin to
realize that Mark is not some ordinary
crazed fan. He is a father.
But they don't realize is that he isn't
an ordinary father figure. Mark Churel-
la is arguably the greatest wrestler to
ever don the Maize and Blue.
The Churella brothers did not get
involved with wrestling in typical fash-
ion. Their father did not allow them to
grapple until seventh grade. Instead,
they dabbled in many sports such as
basketball and baseball.
"My dad didn't want us to start out
too young because a lot of (wrestlers)
get burnt out after awhile," Josh said.
"I guess he thought seventh grade was
the right time for us to start competi-
Even with the late start, Ryan and
Josh proved to be quick learners.
Josh won three high school wrestling
championships in the state of Michi-
gan, and Ryan won two. Throughout
these younger years, Mark Sr. was a
giuding influence in their wrestling
"In middle school, I had great sup-
#portof the coaches, and they basically
*allowed me to do whatever I wanted
with the boys," Mark said. "In high
school, I was actually part of the coach-
ing staff as an assistant coach, so I was
part of the program."
- Even during Ryan and Josh's years
at Michigan, Mark has managed to stay
involved in the development of his sons'
wrestling skills. During the season he
tries to come to at least one practice a
week in order to help his sons out. One
would think that this would lead to
problems with the Michigan coaching
staff, but that is far from true.
"What you have to realize is that
(Mark) has been their coach since
-they were born," Michigan coach Joe
McFarland said. "Great athletes are
One Shining Moment
shouldn't even be writing this column.
The odds of my having any connection
to the sports world today have been
against me since the second grade when I
was the only little girl on my softball team
never to get a hit the entire season.
In fact, for much of my life, I've actively
separated myself from athletics.
I didn't grow up hating sports, but
they just weren't part of my life. No one
in my family was athletic. My dad wasn't
obsessed with a professional or college
team. My mom is a bookworm; my broth-
er is a computer genius. The role I filled
was the girl who loved dresses and had
sleepovers and who could recite verbatim
every line of the movie "Clueless."
Then high school came and the place
to be on Friday nights was at the football
games. My freshman year, I refused to go.
What a waste of a Friday night, I thought,
watching those senior and junior guys
with their inflated egos and inflated mus-
cles running around some muddy field
throwing a stupid ball back and forth.
But by sophomore year, I desperately
wanted to fit in. So before each game, I
carefully applied blue and gold face paint
to my cheeks - an "E" on each one that
stood for "East" (as in East Grand Rap-
ids). I learned the cheers and, to all those
watching, probably appeared to be the
typical sports fan.
Except I was miserable. I had no idea
what was going on in the game. I was tired
of making a point of saying "hello" to
every popular girl and boy in my class at
halftime. It all seemed so pointless.
Then I had an epiphany: I would become
a cheerleader. Wait, you ask, wasn't that
counterproductive if the goal was to dis-
tance myself from the sport? Well, not
exactly. As a cheerleader, I still was seen
as supporting the team because of course
I had to be at every game. The cool thing
- and the reason I did it - was that I
didn't have to actually watch the game. All
I had to do was face the crowd, smile real
big, and wave my pompoms. My squad
members used to whisper in my ear which
cheer went with each play because I still
had no clue how the game worked. But it
beat being in the stands.
Despite Michigan's athletic reputation, I
left sports alone when I got to Ann Arbor.
Living in Martha Cook my first year wasn't
exactly a sports-encouraging atmosphere
(Isn't that the place where they do tea? ...
yeah, that's the one).
It actually wasn't until sophomore year
that I stumbled upon the Daily sports sec-
tion. Michigan had just killed Michigan
State, 49-3, in football, and a bunch of kids
from my high school were hanging out in
my living room.
Former sports editor Chris Burke (the
one who's had a column for like 10 years
now) was there and suggested I try the
Daily. You've seen the guy's headshot -
he's pretty cute, right? Wouldn't you say
yes too? (Ok, maybe not ... I should prob-
ably take this moment to remind myself
that the majority of my audience is male).
Anyway, I didn't expect anything to
come out of it. I would write a few articles
and that would be it. But of course that
wasn't it. Otherwise you wouldn't be read-
ing this column right now. I went on to
cover several teams, serve as night editor
and even spend a summer interning for
ESPN The Magazine.
Not that I didn't have my share of frus-
Like my junior year when I covered the
women's basketball team, yet knew noth-
ing about the rules of the game. To prepare
myself for the season, I bought "Bas-
ketball for Dummies" at the bookstore.
I think I got only as far as chapter three,
which meant I had learned three things: (1)
Digger Phelps, the book's author, used to
coach at Notre Dame; (2) a three-pointer is
a shot made from beyond that semi-circle
painted on the court and; (3) that there are
five players in the game at any one time:
two forwards, two guards and one center.
Wow, I was ready.
I'd sit in press row furiously writing
down as much as I could observe about
the game. But my notes would read some-
thing like, "Tabitha Pool catches ball and
scores some points" or "Niki Reams had
really good play in second half' - not
exactly the deep analysis of a person who's
supposedly an expert on the team and the
game of basketball.
Or when on my first day as an intern
at ESPN, senior writer Jeff Bradley, after
hearing that I went to Michigan, asked me
"What do you think of Tom Amaker?"
After a five-second pause, I replied
"Actually, I'm not sure who that is."
Jeff, of course, gave me a horrified look
and walked away. Only five minutes later
did I realize that he was talking about
Tommy Amaker, the Michigan basketball
coach, who I'd actually interviewed earlier
that year. I'd just been so nervous that my
brain must have backfired at that moment.
So how in the world did a girl like me
succeed in sports journalism and even
come to (gasp!) love sports?
The thing I learned - and the point of
this column - is that almost anyone can
find something inspirational about sports
teams. For me (and many other journal-
ists), it was discovering the stories behind
the athletes and their fans.
It was only after I let go of the notion
that a journalist must write exactly what
happened in the game and only what hap-
pened in the game that I started to enjoy
I began to ask the players more personal
questions - about who they looked up to,
what their family was like, where they got
those shoes, etc.
I still have what I like to call "Sports
ADD" when I attend athletic events. I find
myself distracted by the color of the teams'
uniforms or wondering what the guys in
the dugout are talking about or how many
years the drunk guys beside me have been
rooting for this team. And all too often I'm
turned the opposite direction when a goal
is scored or a home run is completed.
I doubt I will continue on in sports jour-
nalism, but I will continue to appreciate
sports in my own way. And maybe it's not
an accident that I'm here writing this sports
column after all - maybe it just took me
falling backwards into the game to realize
my love for it.
With this first and final column, Ellen
wraps up three great years in the Daily
sports section. She invites all those who
are equally clueless but also hope-
lessly addicted to sports to write her at
Michigan sophomore Josh Churella finished eighth in the 141-pound weight class at the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Championships.
always looking to get better, and there
are a lot of people who are going to
influence them in their development.
Great athletes always try to learn from
as many people as they can. (Mark) is
just another person in (Ryan and Josh's)
lives that they learn from."
Mark was a part of the Michigan
wrestling coaching staff during McFar-
land's years as a Wolverine wrestler,
and the two men have similar coaching
Mark's three national titles and 22
wins at the NCAA Championships are
the most ever won by a Michigan wres-
tler. His wrestling style emphasized
aggression from all positions. Ryan
and Josh have inherited their father's
"Everything we do is based off his
style of wrestling," Ryan said. "He's
the one who taught us from the start,
so it's hard to get away from. Plus, it
Despite the positives that come from
having a Michigan wrestling legend as
their father, there are also negatives.
Coming into Michigan as the sons of
the only three-time NCAA champion,
the school's history put some added
pressure on Ryan and Josh. But, instead
of turning the pressure into a burden,
they have used it to their advantage.
"(The pressure) has given me moti-
vation," Ryan said. "All the tools he's
given us have already been proven to
be successful at this level. We just
stick to what we know and what we
Due to the presence of a former
NCAA champion in their lives, Ryan
and Josh have a sense of what it takes
to achieve the ultimate goal for a col-
legiate wrestler. But the duo finished
the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Champion-
ships in disappointing fashion. Ryan
was fourth in the 165-pound weight
class, while Josh finished eighth in the
141-pound weight class. Despite this,
their hard work and dedication to the
sport has not gone unnoticed.
"(Ryan and Josh) are very driven to
be the best that they can be," McFar-
land said. "They work well together
and are always thinking about becom-
ing better. They want to be national
champs, and they want to have the
same experience their dad did when he
was standing on top of the podium."
Mark Sr. is not obsessed with his
sons' winning, but rather with their
happiness. He knows his sons want to
become NCAA champions, so he does
whatever he can to make that happen.
Because he cannot actually go out on
the mat and wrestle for them, he choos-
es the next best alternative: anxiety.
"When I wrestled, I had control
because I was the one doing it," Mark
said. "I really don't have any input now,
and I can only watch. When I wrestled,
I got anxious, but going out on the
mat was like a release of that anxiety.
Watching (Ryan and Josh), I don't have
Any misconception of the Churella
family goes out the door if you observe
them after a loss. When one of his sons
loses a match, Mark is the first to con-
sole him. The man who was yelling
and screaming during the match dis-
appears. Instead, he becomes a father
who genuinely cares about the well-
being of his sons.
This dedication to his sons was most
evident at the NCAA Championships.
For some matches, Mark wore a fake
coaching credential in order to get to
the floor level of the Savvis Center in
St. Louis. He risked getting thrown out
of the arena in order to be the first one
to greet his sons after a match.
Watching Mark console his sons, it
becomes clear that the tight-knit bond
between father and sons will extend far
beyond the wrestling mat. These three
will forever be close no matter where
life takes them.
WE'VE RUN ENOUGH GRAY BOXES
THAT YOU SHOULD GET THE POINT.
MITCH ALBOM'S A JERK..
DAILY SPORTS. THE BEST IN JOURNALISTIC
INTEGRITY FOR 114 YEARS.
I Want a free drink to cool down during the 1
@ THE STATE
hot Ann Arbor summer?
mpa n iiIiLY
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