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Missouri & Ohio Slovenia Tour Blog: June 30: Four Gold Certified Coaches meet plus a departure dinner to remember

by By Rusty Davidson, Special to

Gold Coaches Marty Hauck (Missouri), Danny Struck (Indiana), Brian Church (Ohio) and Rusty Davidson (New Mexico)
USA Wrestling Coach Education Program has four Gold Certified Coaches in Eastern Europe (Courtesy Anthony Wiley)

THURSDAY, 30 JUNE… We flexed a little… well, more like a lot… on today’s schedule. It worked out really well, for everyone.

We learned, just a couple of days ago, that a tour team from Indiana would be in Hungary. Turns out, they are the same ages as our athletes. Better yet, their initial training camp is at Lake Valence, a little over a two hour drive from us. Off we went.

We were originally scheduled to split our group, athletes and adults, for a day of Slovenian culture. Athletes were to visit Expano, Slovenia’s cultural contribution to the 2015 World Expo in Milan. Our coaches and parents were to experience a vineyard tour and tasting at the world-renowned Suman Vineyards. We’ll have to save those for next time.

We arrived in Velence at 10:00am, just in time for the morning training session. We joined the Indiana group and their Hungarian host club. After a half hour soccer match, we migrated to a set of outdoor body-weight equipment for strength training. We finished with 40 minutes of Beach Wrestling.

It’s quite a treat to see so many countries incorporating Beach Wrestling into their fundamental skills package. Admittedly, I have a dog in the fight. Beach Wrestling has been a big part of my coaching and refereeing career, over the last 20 years.

I can see that European nations are putting themselves in position, should Beach Wrestling appear on the Olympic menu. We can only hope that USA Wrestling has the foresight to be prepared. I know Ed Duncan and others have worked diligently to add the Tour of America to our American opportunitie this summer.

Our American coaches had a sort of celebration of our own. By luck of the draw, we ended up with four of us, Gold Certified through USA Wrestling’s Coach Education Program. The four include Brian Church (Ohio), Marty Hauck (Missouri), Danny Struck (Indiana), and myself.

All four have played major roles in USA Wrestling’s Greco-Roman Innovation Team (GRIT). Founded in 2020. The team’s single vision is to do what it takes to put Americans on the world podium.

Our kids spent the afternoon cooling off in the lake. Our temperatures have soared, over the last few days. Staying cool has become a full-time job.

We returned home, changed clothes, then bussed to Restaurant Pri Lujzi. One of Slovenia’s top ten eateries, Pri Lujzi is a ten-minute drive from our home. They treated us to a sampling of their best. As our official departure dinner, there were lots of loving toasts.


Wednesday, June 29 – The team competes against Murska Sobata and Policane

After a full day, yesterday, and with competition tonight, we eased into the day. Athletes and coaches walked to one of two local soccer pitches. In addition to kickin’ the old ball around, they also made use of the local club’s outdoor resistance training equipment.

Tonight we competed against our dear friends in Murska Sobota. The group from Poljcane drove back, so we had some great match-ups.

We followed the same competition model we used in Varazdin. Each bout went a total of four minutes, with no falls or technical superiority. Everyone left feeling productively tired and satisfied.

Our host, Stanislav Sernek, treated us to dinner at a local restaurant. Stani is one of those leaders that makes wrestling what it is. As Slovenia became a nation (1991), Stani joined a few other young coaches to offer wrestling to the nation’s youth. Rokoborska Murska Sobota was born.

Since then, Stani and Breda’s son, Dajan, has taken over some of the coaching duties. Stani is currently Secretary General of the Slovenian Wrestling Federation. He refereed the last three Olympic Games and serves as Instructor and a member of UWW’s Referee Commission.

Each day, when we arrive at the club, whether for training or competition, we find Stani mopping mats.


Americans, together with friendly competitors from Murska Sobota and Pojlcane
Americans, together with friendly competitors from Murska Sobota and Pojlcane (Courtesy Anthony Wiley)

Tuesday, June 28 – Active rest day biking 20 kilometers to natural hot springs

We had our most active “Active Rest” day, today. Our athletes and coaches bicycled 20 kilometers, from our home to Terme 3000. This is one of the famous natural hot springs and therapeutic baths in our region.

We live in Prekmurje. We are fed by the River Mura and the name Prekmurje means “of’, or “over” the Mur. Prekmurje also sits atop a huge geothermal cauldron. We hit boiling water about twelve feet below ground.

There are five Termes, or natural mineral bath spas, within a twenty-five mile radius of our home. Tourists flock to the area for their healing qualities and relaxation. Terme 3000 is adjacent to the hotel where our parents are staying, and partners with the spa. The spa also includes a huge outdoor water park.

One of our neighbors, Mr Danijel Pozderic, owns a bicycle shop in Murska Sobota. Danijel provided us with nine brand new Trek bikes, for our outing.

Prekmurje is filled with bike trails, winding through the tiny ancient villages and farms. On the trail home, we got to visit one of the region’s more famous churches.

After biking home, we hopped on our bus to Murska Sobota. We finished our day on the mat. Visiting athletes from Poljcane joined us. This was a special treat for our three women, as the Poljcane club includes several members of the Slovenian National Team.


Bike riding in Slovenia
Wrestlers bike through quaint villages of Prekmurje (Courtesy Anthony Wiley)

Monday, June 27: June 27: A dual meet in Varazdin, Croatia 

Monday evening, our Americans from Missouri and Ohio matched up against a mixed team in Varazdin, Croatia. We saw the very successful members of Klub Vindija and the group of Ukrainians they have taken in, during this tragic time.

Each bout went an entire six minutes, regardless of scoring. This format maximized performance and development and minimized formality. We wrestled every combination we could, in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle.

Suffice it to say, the Americans got thumped in Greco, which I the bread and butter style of eastern Europe. We reciprocated by handing our guests some tough lessons in Freestyle. Then, we had dinner !

That’s really the point. The vision and mission of tours like this are to build and nurture the wrestling “Lifestyle”. The competition years of our wrestling life come to a close… for all of us… at various stages. American, Slovene, Croat, Ukranian… the memories and comradery never end.

Our American visitors seem to appreciate the depth, breadth and humanity of that lifestyle. I know I appreciate these kids !


USA and Slovenia athletes pose together
American Tour Team with Croatian and Ukrainian Refugee Teams (Courtesy Anthony Wiley)

Sunday, June 26: A little fishing, and getting to know our Slovenian neighbors

As coaches, we all know the necessity of “Active Rest”. Our Americans are a little beat up.

We burned an intense micro-period, to over come the lag and compete on the second full day. This morning, we shared a “Game-Based” training session with our Slovenian brothers, in Murska Sobota.

It being Sunday, everything in Slovenia is closed. Taking advantage, we bought and shared four fishing licenses and shared four set-ups at the local pond. As I suspected might happen, some local teens adopted our folks, shared bait and gave advice. Isn’t is amazing to see the youth of the planet take each other in ?

This evening, we cooked out. We ended up with nearly 20 neighbors visiting. Everyone in Turnisce is really curious about this “American Wrestlers” thing, being in this quiet village. All the neighbors are now, officially, in love with this group of American teenagers !

Ironically, and to that point, there was another cookout going on, next door. It turns out the Ana Pontovec is celebrating her 87th birthday. As our young Americans marched into her yard, she and her husband were a little puzzled. After our young people sang Happy Birthday, in booming voices, she erupted into that “Great-Grandmotherly” smile.

Back to work tomorrow. We will train in the morning, then travel to Varazdin, Croatia for more training and a friendly dual.


Fishing in Slovenia
PHOTO: Musa Jallah (Ohio), with Coach Brian Church, fishing Turnisce pond (Courtesy Anthony Wiley)

Saturday, June 25: USA strong at Poljcane Beach Championships

Our bout with jet-lag is now officially over. Americans dominated, individually, and earned the runner up team trophy, today, at the Poljcane International Beach Wrestling Championship

Our Slovenian hosts won the team championship, amassing participation points with nearly 30 athletes. The U.S. delegation, including nine high school athletes, earned total of 12 medals, most athletes competing in both the Juniors and Seniors divisions. Slovakia was a distant third in the team race.

Individual female American performance include: Vitty Wiley, 2nd, Jrs 50kg; Ryan Garthoeffner, 3rd, Jrs 60kg & 3rd Srs 70kg; Taylor Heimbaugh, 1st, Jrs 60kg & 1st Srs 60 kg.

Individual male American performances include: Hayden Emory, 3rd, Jrs, 70kg & 2nd, Srs, 70kg; Brayden Squires, 2nd, Jrs, 60kg, & 3rd Srs, 70kg; Sammy McKissick Staley, 1st, Jrs, 60kg; Musa Jallah, 3rd, Jrs, 60kg; Ben Perkins, 1st, Jrs, 80 kg, & 1st, Srs, 80kg, Gabe, 1st, Jrs, +80kg, & 2nd, Srs, +90kg.

The highlight of our morning was a visit from Slovenian Wrestling Federation’s President, Suzana Majcen Dvorsak. President Dvorsak took time to visit with each athlete personally. She focused some positive attention on our young women, emphasizing the importance of our female competitors and Beach Wrestling in Wrestling’s short and long term futures. President Dvorsak honored us by jumping into a team photo.

The highlight of our evening was a Nature Rafting experience on the Mura River. The quiet, peaceful, one hour ride was followed by a meal of Bolj Zapecen. This traditional meal, cooked over an open fire, is famous in the Prekmurje Region of Slovenia.

Tomorrow is Sunday and everything is closed. After a Games-Based morning workout, to flush lactic acid, we will spend the afternoon fishing the local pond, in Turnisce. In the evening, we will welcome neighbor guests to a Cevapcici cookout, in our side garden. Life is good !


Friday, June 24: Ohio and Missouri kids have workouts to overcome jet lag

These are really good kids ! Most are brand new to international travel. Three just finished their first airplane flight.

Coaches Brian Church (Ohio) and Marty Hauck (Missouri) are “Relationship” guys. This fits my ideas about what we should all strive for. USA Wrestling’s Coach Education Program does a great job injecting this vital philosophical component. That said, “Relationship” Coaching does take some practice.

Fighting off the jet lag was our chief goal for today. Athletes were up at 6:00 and drilling in our yard, by 6:45. We left the house, for our 20 minute bus ride to Murska Sobota, at 9:20.

Between two pretty intense workouts (10:00am and 4:00pm), we had a lunch of traditional Bograc. This stew is one of the traditional favorites in our Prekmorje region of Slovenia.

Athletes relaxed in a huge local park, while I did the grocery shopping for the weekend. Tomorrow (June 25th) is Independence Day. Stores will be closed until Monday. We’re fishing, at the local pond, and cooking out for the neighborhood, on Sunday.

Tomorrow, we get to compete in Slovenia’s first Beach Wrestling National Championship. When we’re done with that, we’ll have lunch, then wrestle on the beach again ! Slovakia is bring a team, so we can make it a three-way.

We finish our Slovenian Independence celebration with an evening Rafting Experience and cook out, on the River Mura.


Ohio and Missouri teams in Slovenia
PHOTO: American / Slovenian Tour Members with Slovenian Federation President Suzana Majcen Dvorsak (Back, Center). Courtesy Anthony Wiley

Thursday, June 23 - Eva and I are on our way to Zagreb to pick up our American visitors. We are thrilled that we can offer our new home to the Wrestling community.

This group consists of nine athletes, two coaches, and four family members. The bulk of the entourage hail from Rolla, Missouri. Coach Brian Church and athlete, Musa Jallah, join the group from the Columbus, Ohio area.

The origin of this 2022 Kick Off Tour belongs, in large part to G.R.I.T. The Greco Roman Innovation Team is an ad hoc group, specifically dedicated to the growth and sustainability of American Greco Roman Wrestling.

G.R.I.T. was the brainchild of Coach Gary Mayabb, during his stint as USAW’s Greco Roman Manager. Born in 2020, the team has successfully collaborated in several Greco-Friendly endeavors. This Slovenian Tour is a prime example.

The notion of offering American Age-Group teams the chance to train and compete overseas is a flashback to USA Wrestling’s Tour du Monde program, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Wade Genova, himself a successful Greco competitor, with A.T.W.A., led the TDM program, successfully, for a decade. I was fortunate to be part of a dozen or so of those tours.

Ironically, my first tour was a Greco trip to Slovenia in 1995. Working with Illinois legend, Todd Rosenthal, we spent 10 days in Maribor. Sterling and I were housed with the Kozar family, in the village of Razvanje. Their hospitality ignited my love affair with Slovenian culture.

As mentioned, Eva and I are on the bus. One of our neighbors, Danilo Kavac, owns and operates a family transport business. They have a brand new luxury tour bus, equipped for 19 passengers. With family members, it fits us perfectly.

After we retrieve our jet-lagged bunch, in Zagreb, we’ll make the two-hour drive, across the Croatian border and into Turnisce. Parents and family will check into the four-star Hotel Ajda, 15 minutes away, in Moravske Toplice.

We’re scheduled for a 6:00 work out in Murska Sobota, a half hour’s drive. Slovenia doesn’t wrestle much Freestyle (with the exception of Michigan RTC’s Slovene, Steven Micic). While the focus of this tour will be Greco, we will give today and tomorrow to training for Beach Wrestling.

We felt so lucky that the Slovenian Federation scheduled their First Ever National Beach Wrestling Championship on the first Saturday of our tour. I was able to do a little horse-trading, agreeing to instruct the Beach Referee’s clinic in exchange for American’s entry.

After training, we’ll bus back to Turnisce and make the seven-minute stroll to our village Pizza and Ice Cream spot. We’ll put our tired puppies to bed, around ten, then get ‘em up early for some outdoor drilling.


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