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Top college official Chuck Yagla set to retire after 2007 NCAA Championships



It's only fitting that Chuck Yagla plans to go out on top.

A wrestling career filled with top achievements as a competitor and referee will end when the 53-year-old plans to retire after officiating at the NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 15-17 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

For Yagla, it caps a remarkable run in the sport.

The Waterloo, Iowa, native won two NCAA titles for the Iowa Hawkeyes in 1975 and 1976, and was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team in freestyle wrestling.

In 24 years as an official, Yagla has worked a total of 17 NCAA tournaments. He has officiated at the last 11 NCAA Division I tournaments and also has worked six Division II national meets. He also has worked the Division I National Duals a dozen times.

He received an ovation from fans at last month's National Duals in Cedar Falls, Iowa, after it was announced before the finals that Yagla is retiring from officiating after this season.

Yagla works as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Kirk Gross Company in Waterloo, Iowa. The company is a design-build firm specializing in the designing, building, remodeling and furnishing of financial institutions throughout the Midwest. Yagla has been with the company 10 years.

Yagla discussed a variety of subjects during a recent interview with TheMat.com.

Why is this your last year of officiating?

I have primarily two reasons for this being my last year of officiating. One of the reasons is that I now have a 2-year-old grandson, Justin, who lives about 40 miles away and normally the only time I see him is on the weekends. Spending almost every weekend officiating during the wrestling season does not allow me much time to see Justin. He has been a real joy and I do not want to miss any opportunity to spend time with him. The other reason is I have always wanted to leave when I feel that I am at the top of my game and not when I have started to decline. I do feel that I am at my best right now and so after 24 years of officiating I feel like the time is right to retire.

You received a nice ovation at the National Duals last month. What was that like?

The ovation at the National Duals when they announced this would be my last year was very nice. I have always felt that I am contributing to the sport by being an official and it was nice to be recognized and appreciated by the fans. On the other hand, you sometimes wonder if some of them are clapping because they are happy to finally see you gone.

What was it like wrestling for Dan Gable at Iowa? Why was he so successful as a coach?

It was a tremendous honor and experience to wrestle for Coach Gable. He really taught and showed you what hard work and dedication can do to help make you successful. Two things stand out in his coaching, one being his ability to motivate each individual athlete and find out what it took to motivate that person as each individual is different. The other thing he was great at as a coach was getting his teams to peak at the right time.

How difficult was it to not compete at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when President Carter elected to boycott the event as a way of protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan? How often do you think about it? Do you think the U.S. made the right decision by not going?

Boycotting the 1980 Olympics was very difficult and disappointing. I was an alternate on the 1976 team and had the privilege of attending the Games in Montreal and watching the Olympics in person. This really motivated me to work towards 1980 and pursue the goal of winning an Olympic Gold Medal. I wouldn't say that I think about it a lot, but I am probably more bitter about it today than I was back in 1980. I don't know if it was a right or wrong decision, but I don't think it accomplished much of anything. I do know that it was a tremendous honor to make the 1980 Olympic Team and if the President of the United States asks me to boycott, then I am going to boycott.

Who was the toughest guy you ever wrestled?

My toughest competitors were probably Jarrett Hubbard from Michigan, Lee Kemp from Wisconsin and several Soviet wrestlers. Jarrett Hubbard defeated me several times my freshman and sophomore years in college, and I never was able to defeat him.

Lee Kemp was the most decorated wrestler of any that I competed against and I was fortunate to defeat him while he was only a freshman in college and still learning. We wrestled four times that year in folkstyle at 150 pounds, with Lee winning the first one in overtime. I won the next three by scores of 4-0 in a dual meet, 4-0 in the finals of the Big Ten's and then by a split referee's decision in the finals of Nationals, 4-4, 1-1. These were all during my junior year in college. The next year Lee had moved up to 158, and I was still at 150. I agreed to wrestle him in the All-Star match with a five-pound allowance. Well, that was a mistake and it was the last time we wrestled each other in folkstyle with Lee winning something like 7-3. We then probably wrestled five or six times in freestyle at 163 pounds and Lee won all of those. He helped convince me that I needed to stay at 149.5 pounds for international! Lee was extremely strong, quick and did not get out of position (especially after his freshman year of college).

What was your best memory as an official?

My best memories are working the Big Ten Conference Tournament. I worked my first one in 1995 at the University of Indiana with the hopes I would get asked back so I could work at least once at each school. I completed the circuit in 2005 at the Big Ten's held at the University of Iowa. It is such a competitive and intense tournament from the first match to the last match, and probably my favorite tournament to work every year.

The officials seem to have a pretty close-knit fraternity. Why is that?

The officials have a close-knit fraternity because we all share a love for wrestling and obviously work close together throughout the year. We spend time together between sessions at tournaments and if we bring our families they all get to know each other as well. Also, it is typically a thankless job officiating and very seldom do we get compliments, so we need to stick together and support each other.

How different is it working the NCAA Division I tournament? How much more pressure is there?

The Division I tournament is obviously the pinnacle of the sport for college officials and obviously carries with it much more pressure. As an official, you never want to make a bad call that could cost an athlete a national championship or a chance to become an All-American.

Best match you ever officiated?

There have been lots of great individual matches that I have officiated and one that stands out is the NCAA DI semifinal in 2003 at 165 pounds between Troy Letters of Lehigh and Tyrone Lewis of Oklahoma State. Lots of action and a great match that Letters won 12-7. Dual meets that were exciting for me was the Oklahoma State vs. Iowa dual in 1998 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena that went down to the heavyweight match and the OSU heavyweight won in overtime to secure the victory for Oklahoma State. It was a great crowd and lots of great individual matchups with several upsets. It was the loudest that I ever heard it in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Another exciting dual was in the semifinals of the National Duals in 2002 when Ohio State defeated Oklahoma. It came down to heavyweight where Tommy Rowlands pinned Leonce Crump in overtime to give Ohio State the victory.

Toughest match you ever officiated?

Probably one of the toughest matches for me was my first NCAA Division I National Tournament in 1996. It was the heavyweight semifinal between Tolly Thompson of Nebraska and Justin Harty of North Carolina. It was a very physical match that I probably let get a little bit out of hand.

What is the key to being a good official?

I think the key to being a good official is proper positioning, being consistent and above all being fair without being arrogant.
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