Brute Nationals Continues Growth, Impact on All Levels

1,375 wrestlers from 36 states in 12 grade-level age divisions battling for national championships on 14 mats in Kansas City on Easter weekend. Sound impossible? Maybe. At Brute Nationals behind the leadership of Jeff Bowyer, Director of Events and Bill Gossett, Director of Wrestling, that very thing just happened and it went off without a glitch.

Brute Nationals

It started as a 9th, 10th, and 11th grade national tournament at the field house on the campus of the University of Nebraska.  Nine years ago, Shawn Charles presented the concept to Brute looking for a partnership with a company who could provide the infrastructure and financial backing.  Now it is the only wrestling event with 12 national tournaments under the same roof in one weekend. 1st graders all the way through high school seniors battled for a piece of history at the Independence Events Center in Independence, MO.

Originally, the tournament was founded as a platform for underclassmen to compete versus wrestlers in their own grade level. First year, 850 participants came from 42 states, and college coaches were able to begin the recruiting process prior to wrestlers’ senior seasons. As the current Arizona State head coach, Charles says, “Brute has put the right people in place and having Jeff Bowyer in charge was the best move. Brute Nationals is cost effective and that’s very important today. An added bonus to this event is that there are different levels of experience throughout the brackets. There are challenge match opportunities to gain more match experience for kids who have been eliminated from medal contention. Kids can come here to find out if they can compete with the best and know where they are as a wrestler and how much they need to work on. It’s family oriented and coaching friendly. The fan fest is also an added bonus for people to have fun.”

After attending my first Brute Nationals this year, I am officially a fan of the entire event and the staff members who put it together. Great competitors from 36 states highlight the three-day event. But Brute is so much more: top high school referees from various states; a fan fest full of activities for kids of all ages; fantastic awards and giveaways for wrestlers, coaches, and volunteers; best Mohawk haircut competition; highlight videos of the weekend’s action and clinicians’ instructional sessions, which is included in the cost of admission.

Director of wrestling officials is Doug Manley from Akron, IA. Doug puts together a group of top officials from multiple states. These officials are hand selected based on their experience, professionalism, leadership, and of course their abilities to officiate at the highest level of high school and collegiate competition. One added quality to this group of men is selflessness. They are paid very little but know the R.E.A.C.H.E.S. foundation is committed to putting money into wrestling and the kids who need the sport. “I don’t need to come here. I’ve done more matches and tournaments this year than I’ve ever called, high school and college. There’s something special about coming here each year. It’s my opportunity to give something back to a great sport,” says Jerry Middleton. Manley followed with, “In the sport of wrestling, coaches and officials are constantly communicating between matches to better their perspectives. This forms a pretty unique bond. They meet together and work together to improve their officiating for the wrestlers. Guys like Tom Huls, an Iowa farmer, show up. He was voted the state’s high school referee of the year for 2011-12. Rick and Koln Fink, a father/son team, makes the trek from Harrisburg, South Dakota. Doug’s pre-meet officials’ meeting is filled with positive comments and encouraging remarks. “Officials are helping to teach life-lessons to all wrestlers. Give the kids a great experience. Think about what we’re like as leaders and role models.” Crystal, Doug’s wife, is in charge of the hospitality room for officials and head table personnel. Wrestling continues to be a family affair in every corner at all levels.

Mary Mallis, Director of Marketing for Brute Wrestling, is another volunteer in the R.E.A.C.H.E.S foundation. She is in charge of marketing and communication in coordination with Brute Nationals. Her team of volunteers oversees event coverage including the photographer (Newman Lawrence who is the official photographer for the St. Louis Rams), DVD Film crew (Crown Chimp Productions who sell event DVDs at an affordable cost), autograph sessions, free clinics put on by top coaches as well as overseeing the website and mobile site which has live results, photos, videos, a Mohawk haircut contest and the event information. She is one of just 75 employees with Henson Group Sports that owns Brute, and like all the others, puts her best foot forward when doing her part to put on a quality event for families, coaches, wrestlers, and all volunteers.

Amazingly, the upside of this tournament keeps getting better and better. Ricky Bonomo, 3-time NCAA Champion from Bloomsburg and his twin brother, Rocky, former Lock Haven head coach, started the three-day event with its first of three instructional clinics. Friday night, Pat Smith, 4-time NCAA Champion at Oklahoma State and current leader of the Arkansas Wrestling Academy took his turn teaching the youngsters, coaches, and fans. Saturday afternoon, Coach Shawn Charles was the final clinician spreading his philosophy of “work extremely hard but make sure you’re having fun because the sport is tough enough as it is, so there’s no reason to not have fun.” All these great instructors have ties to the Brute company and their associates as well as being big supporters of the R.E.A.C.H.E.S foundation. “We’ve had a long, solid relationship with these guys including John Smith, head coach at Oklahoma State,” commented Jeff Bowyer. For those guys to come to Independence, Mo. and donate their time, give back to the youngsters in a place they once were, just shows the kind of men this sport continues to turn out year after year selfless and passionate.

14 mats, 12 grade levels, numerous weight divisions, and various bracket formats may lead to disaster with organization, logistics, and paperwork. How could it not have some crazy twists and turns when you’re talking about the sheer number of participants, bout cards, brackets, leg bands, etc ? This is where Bill Gossett comes in. As the Director of Wrestling Operations, Bill coordinates the wrestling the actual tournament within the event. As the founder of the Liberty Nationals 14 years ago, Brute personnel sought out Bill for his expertise in putting on successful wrestling tournaments around the country. He’s the owner, founder, and executive director of the American Crown National Championship Series. He gladly obliged the request and lent some simple, yet extremely good advice. “It was simply this: the tournament should be about the wrestlers, coaches and their families,” Bill said while smiling. What a novel concept. Put on a quality, well-organized event where kids, parents, and everyone involved can enjoy intense competition on the mat yet foster long-lasting, meaningful relationships as well. Well, that’s exactly what has happened with Brute Nationals. Everyone knows his and her role and they take great pride in doing their part. No one drops the ball and allows someone else to pick up for them. Long days and nights prove to be the norm during the week and they expect very little in return for their countless hours. An occasional smile from a young wrestler a “thank you” from a parent or a sincere handshake from one of the hundreds of coaches is about all they need to be happy.
The head table is full of people from different states who come to support this great event. They bring their strengths and put them to use where needed. They want to help Period. The friendliest people in the country are those involved in the sport of wrestling. Intense? Yes. Competitive? Yes. Passionate? Yes. But, in the end, it’s a gigantic melting pot of individuals who are the life-blood of our country, and on Easter weekend in 2012, many of them gathered in Independence to be together as a family.

Coaches are not paid to make the journey. They hold regular jobs and most donate their time to the wrestling clubs in their towns. For them, it all boils down to the competition their wrestlers get to see by entering Brute Nationals. Participants show up from many different states with diversified backgrounds, demographics, family structures, and ability levels. The goal: put all their hard work, experience, and lessons on center stage. They shake hands, compete, struggle, grow, fight, overcome .wrestle. Some win and some lose, but they all succeed. Yes, they all achieve. See, it’s not all about their hand being raised at the end of the match. Elmo tells Louden in the movie, Vision Quest, “It’s not the six minutes it’s what happens in that six minutes.” Just like Louden Swain learned more about himself, friends, life, obstacles and the pursuit of a dream, these youngsters at Brute Nationals are experiencing the same things on and off the mat. Coaches, parents, friends, and fellow teammates line the outskirts of the fourteen mats. They encourage, cheer, stress, twist, and bend. Occasionally, a smile will squeeze its way through and a glimpse of happiness and satisfaction is revealed. It’s short-lived though, as another match is on the horizon and there is not really time to celebrate and preparation for the next battle takes over. They are here in force to teach and foster the great lessons that carry a child into adulthood when the weigh-ins are no more and the headgear and shoes are no longer needed.

A great event with an enveloping and long-lasting purpose is what drives Jeff Bowyer to do what he does. There’s a mission beyond the wrestling that leads this massive group of individuals. R.E.A.C.H.E.S. (Rewarding Educational Athletic Choices Helping Each Sport) is a non-profit foundation that helps keeps wrestling programs alive and growing as well as working to create and build new wrestling programs at the youth, high school and even collegiate level. “We’re trying to provide opportunities to kids around the country to stay involved in wrestling,” says Bowyer. Our young athletes need this sport, and others like it, more than ever before. Sports assist in the education of young people of all ages and they create citizens who turn around and volunteer to help other youngsters who are following in their footsteps. “The people we have helping us would make less than one dollar an hour if we were to pay them for what they do here,” adds Bowyer. Some of the direct results of the foundation’s efforts are seeing over $100,000 raised over the nine years of the tournament’s existence that has been donated to the sport of wrestling in different capacities. This year, R.E.A.C.H.E.S is helping two brand new colleges add the sport of wrestling. Life College is a Division II school in Georgia and Simpson College, a NAIA school in California, will be competing this coming winter. The foundation also helped to kick-start the Arkansas State High School Wrestling Tournament. “What Pat Smith and Greg Hatcher have done with wrestling in Northwest Arkansas is nothing short of miraculous,” Bowyer stressed. R.E.A.C.H.E.S. helped with the purchase of wrestling mats for a few schools in order for there to be enough high school programs for a sanctioned state event. Another great opportunity being finalized by the Brute staff is the Joe Henson memorial scholarship fund. This will fund will be effect at next year’s Brute Nationals. The goal is to provide a participating senior, needing financial assistance, a $1,000 scholarship for college. More information on applying for this scholarship will be available this fall on

Please check out these websites for more information: and Find out how you can get on board with this tremendous group of people trying and succeeding more than not to help grow the sport of wrestling and make it available for any child wishing to participate.
It was my privilege to experience the 2012 Brute Nationals as a spectator, reporter, wrestling fan, and most of all, guest. I was treated with sincerity, professionalism, and courtesy by everyone I came into contact with. I’m just upset I didn’t make the effort to attend prior to this year. This is truly an event to be witnessed by anyone and everyone with a connection to the sport of wrestling. I’ll be back for it next year, and I’m certain the people at R.E.A.C.H.E.S. and Brute Wrestling will be trying to make it bigger and better for all the participants. See you there!

Dane Ulrich for Brute Wrestling
Dane is the owner and creator of The Beast, The Wrestling Fanatics Guidebook to the National Tournament. Check it out at