FIFTY YEARS AGO…
Sentinel Editor Meets His Match
by Win Hadley
HURLEYVILLE, December 2020 —Lowell Lange was one of the greatest wrestlers in NCAA history, a three-time national collegiate and AAU champion, and a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was also the wrestling coach at Georgia Tech for more than 30 years.
That’s where Hurleyville Sentinel editor-in-chief John Conway met him in the fall of 1970, and 50 years ago this week wrestled in his first official college match wearing the black and gold singlet of the Yellow Jackets.
“Coach Lange was one of the quietest, most unassuming men I have ever met,” Conway said recently. “And while you could tell from watching him around the mat that he was a pretty good wrestler, I had no idea until many years later that he was one of the sport’s greatest of all time.”
Conway had been in contact with Coach Lange prior to arriving on the Georgia Tech campus in September of 1970, and then really got to know him when wrestling practice started in October.
“We had a grueling practice schedule,” he recalled. “Many days we’d have two practices, one at 6 a.m. and one at 4 p.m. Coach had a simple wrestling philosophy: constant motion, and constant forward motion. He never liked to see you take a step backward on the mat and you never retreated. It was attack, attack, attack, so you had to be in really good physical condition.”
When Conway arrived at Tech as a freshman, he was third on the varsity depth chart at 118 pounds, behind the senior team captain, and a highly recruited freshman. There were several other wrestlers in the weight class, and he had to work hard just to hold his place, let alone move up the ladder.
The team’s first competition that year was the prestigious Georgia Tech Open, a popular tournament that drew 24 teams from throughout the country as well as a large number of unattached wrestlers. In 1970 it was held the week after Thanksgiving in Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, which seated 7,700 spectators.
“We didn’t draw anywhere near that many for wrestling, even for a huge tournament like the Open,” Conway says, “but when I stepped out on one of the mats for my first match on a Friday morning there were already more people in the stands than I had wrestled in front of in all my years at Monticello combined. It was quite an experience.”
But Conway had made a major mistake in preparing for the tournament, and he would end up paying the price.
“I had cut my Wednesday afternoon and Friday classes and flew home for Thanksgiving, against Coach Lange’s wishes,” he remembered. “So I missed a number of practices. I had intended to work out while I was home, but I didn’t, and combined with a big Thanksgiving meal and leftovers, I was overweight when I got back and I didn’t make the 118 weight limit for the tournament.”
Conway was moved up to the 126-pound class instead, and was matched up against an upperclassman from Troy State in Alabama.
“The guy was a monster,” he says. “I had met him earlier in the morning when we were both trying to cut that little bit of extra weight for the weigh-in, I was trying to get to 118 and he was trying to make 126. I guess he made it, but I didn’t. I wrestled probably the worst match I ever wrestled and he destroyed me.”
With the loss, Conway was out of the tournament. It was a valuable lesson, and the only match he would lose that year.
“I never missed practice again,” he says.
Lowell Lange died in November of 2018 at the age of 90. The impression he made on many of his wrestlers lives on.
“A few of us were chatting when we heard about Coach passing away,” Conway says. “Someone asked, ‘would you say that Coach Lange made you a better wrestler?’ and I said, ‘No, I’d say Coach Lange made me a wrestler. I was never a great wrestler, but whatever success I did have was because of him.”
FIFTY YEARS AGO…