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Stephen Neal, Billy Baldwin named honorary captains for Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge in Omaha, March 19



Two former collegiate wrestlers who have been very successful in other career fields have agreed to serve as honorary captains for the Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge, an exhibition men’s freestyle wrestling dual meet which is part of the NCAA Fan Festival, taking place at the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb.

Serving as honorary captains are award-winning actor Billy Baldwin and three-time Super Bowl champion football star Stephen Neal.

USA Wrestling and the NCAA are teaming up to present the event, which is being held at the NCAA Fan Festival in Exhibit Hall C of the Qwest Center Omaha on Friday, March 19 from 1:45 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Central time. The NCAA Fan Festival is a short indoor walk north from the Qwest Center Omaha, site of the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

A native of Massapequa, New York, where he was an outstanding high school wrestler, Baldwin graduated from Binghamton University with a degree in political science. Baldwin studied the acting craft in New York for several years before launching his film career with a role in Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July." Baldwin's acting career now spans a wide range of original and unusual projects.

He was a leader in the effort to reinstate the varsity wrestling program at Binghamton University, and is one of its most active wrestling alumni. He was inducted as an Outstanding American in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003. He has also been involved in numerous other wrestling projects when time permits.

Neal plays offensive guard for the NFL New England Patriots, and has been a member of three Super Bowl Champion teams. What makes this amazing is that Neal did not play football in college, where he concentrated on wrestling.

Neal was a 1999 World champion in freestyle wrestling for the United States, and a 1999 Pan American Games champion. He was also a U.S. Nationals champion and a runner-up at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. In college, he was a two-time NCAA Division I national champion and four-time All-American for Cal-State Bakersfield, winning titles in 1998 and 1999. He won the 1999 Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate wrestler. Neal also finished second at the 1997 NCAA Division I Championships and fourth at the 1996 NCAA Division I Championships.

Neal was initially signed by the Patriots in 2001, but spent most of the 2001 year on the practice squad of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots signed him again in late 2001. He has been a starter on the Patriot’s offense for much of his career. He made 12 starts in 2009 on an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks (18) by a Patriots line since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule. From 2004-07, Neal started 51 games as part of a Patriots offensive line that for the first time in franchise history has allowed fewer than 30 sacks in three straight years. He contributed to a Patriots offense that set all-time NFL records with 589 points and 75 touchdowns in 2007. In 2006, Neal helped pave the way for the Patriots to record 1,969 rushing yards, the team's second highest total in the last 18 years.

The Big Ten team will be coached by Mark Johnson, who coached at the University of Illinois. The Big 12 team will be coached by Bobby Douglas, who coached at Iowa State University. Prior to their retirement, both coaches had outstanding careers during their tenure as collegiate wrestling head coaches. Both were also members of the U.S. Olympic Team as athletes.

The Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge will feature matches in seven international wrestling weight classes. The competitors are former student-athlete wrestlers who competed for the universities in these prestigious conferences as undergraduates, and are now pursuing their Olympic dreams in men’s freestyle wrestling.

There will also be two additional exhibition matches held, featuring top freestyle wrestlers who were also All-Americans in college.

There have been two lineup changes since the announcement last week. Competing for the Big Ten at 66 kg is former Univ. of Iowa star Joe Johnston. Competing for the Big 12 is former University of Missouri star Dominique Bradley, who was a 2009 Junior World champion in freestyle.

The dual meet will be held on the mats where USA Wrestling’s Team USA will hold their popular public workouts between sessions of the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships each day.

Admission to the Fan Festival is free, so there will be no charge to watch the men’s freestyle action. For the Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge, there will be close to 1,000 seats and many more standing room only viewing opportunities provided mat side on a first-come, first-serve basis. In addition, as many as 1,000 fans will be able to watch the dual meet on two large projection screens flanking the main stage within the NCAA Fan Festival.

For those who cannot attend the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in person, the Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge will be Web cast live on NCAA.com/wrestling and available through TheMat.com, with USA Wrestling's Jason Bryant and Kendall Cross calling the action.

The rules for the Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge have been modified. Instead of having individual match winners, there will be a cumulative point total for each conference. Team scores will be based upon adding up the technical points scored in each match by the athletes. At the end of the dual meet, the points will be tallied up, and the winning conference team will be announced.

Another rule modification is that each match will consist of two, two-minute periods. There will not be any third periods contested, which is possible in an international freestyle match.

This year’s NCAA Fan Festival will feature wrestling exhibit booths, displays, memorabilia, interactive games, souvenirs, food and beverage sales, and a number of other featured events. In addition to the Big Ten vs. Big 12 Challenge, the lineup Friday includes a USA Wrestling autograph session at 3:15 p.m. and the annual Semifinals Preview Show featuring Nate Carr, Scott Casber and Wade Schalles at 4 p.m. Central.

For more information on the NCAA Fan Festival at the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb., visit NCAA.com/wrestling.

Any journalist wishing to cover this event should immediately contact Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling at gabbott@usawrestling.org or on his cell phone at 719/659-9637.

TENTATIVE BIG TEN VS. BIG 12 CHALLENGE LINEUPS
(Big Ten athlete/school vs. Big 12 athlete/school)


55 kg/121 lbs. - Nick Simmons (Michigan State) vs. Obe Blanc (Oklahoma State)
60 kg/132 lbs. - Jimmy Kennedy (Illinois) vs. Coleman Scott (Oklahoma State)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. " Joe Johnston (Iowa) vs. Jared Frayer (Oklahoma)
74 kg/163 lbs. - Mike Poeta (Illinois) vs. Trent Paulson (Iowa State)
84 kg/185 lbs. - Jake Herbert (Northwestern) vs. Chris Pendleton (Oklahoma State)
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Andy Hrovat (Michigan) vs. David Bertolino (Iowa State)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Aaron Anspach (Penn State) vs. Dominique Bradley (Missouri)

Exhibition bouts
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - J.D. Bergman (Ohio State) vs. Kyle Cerminara (Buffalo)
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Tervel Dlagnev (UN-Kearney) vs. Blake Gillis (Wartburg)

Big 10 Coach: Mark Johnson (Illinois)
Big 12 Coach: Bobby Douglas (Iowa State)
Honorary Captains: Billy Baldwin and Stephen Neal
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