Sept. 16, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa wrestling great Royce Alger deserved plenty of applause Saturday when he was introduced as one of five new members into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame.
But a few claps needed to be saved for his mother, Faye. Without her, who knows if Royce would have ever become a Hawkeye?
A three-time Iowa high school state wrestling champion from Lisbon, Iowa, Alger was one of the top recruits in the nation in 1983. But with the Hawkeye program seeking its sixth consecutive national title, money in the UI scholarship pool paled to what rivals had available.
“When (head coach) Dan Gable showed up at my house, I had all these full-rides from different places, and I had a half-ride at Iowa,” Alger recalls. “My mom said, `Royce, you have to go for the golden ring.’ I think of my mom a lot, because I came from basically a poor family, I had a full letter of intent on my table, and my mom said you have to take the golden ring, even if it’s half. You will make your way.”
Chasing a `golden ring’ led Alger to a career record of 131-12-3 and individual NCAA titles in 1986 (158 pounds) and 1987 (167); he was part of four Big Ten Conference and three NCAA championship teams. Iowa was 69-4 in dual meets from 1983-87.
Alger grew up in a family of six, 23 miles from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and although the Hawkeyes were close in proximity, he was an Iowa State fan because of Gable. When Gable moved from Ames to Iowa City, so did Alger’s wrestling allegiance.
“I remember reading about (Gable) when I was 7 years old,” Alger said. “When he came to Iowa (as an assistant coach in 1972), I became a Hawkeye fan and started following the Hawks. I knew I was going to wrestle, and I had my eyes on (Gable) because he won the gold in Munich (at the 1972 Olympic Games).”
Alger said coming to the UI and training under Gable was a perfect storm, although he would rather “do time than go back through those workouts.” Gable was head coach of the Hawkeyes from 1976-97.
“One thing (Gable) always said is that you can do more,” Alger said. “That is one thing I took away from this program, even now that I have my own business in Des Moines. When I want to push away from the desk, I know I can meet one more client or one more prospect.”
“When (head coach) Dan Gable showed up at my house, I had all these full-rides from different places, and I had a half-ride at Iowa. My mom said, `Royce, you have to go for the golden ring.’ I think of my mom a lot, because I came from basically a poor family, I had a full letter of intent on my table, and my mom said you have to take the golden ring, even if it’s half. You will make your way.”
Hawkeye wrestling great
That is reminiscent of his college days, when Alger was known to schedule a third wrestling workout for 11 at night, and he would inevitably end up battling a pair of true freshmen twins — Terry and Tom Brands — for 100-pound dumbbells once in the room. Tom Brands has been head coach of the Hawkeyes since 2006.
“It was Gable instilling that idea of outworking everybody, and that applies to the real world, too,” Alger said.
Alger is employed by Transworld Systems, selling collection software to banking and medical entities. He admits that it took a while to assimilate from the wrestling world to the real world, but the work ethic he learned in Lisbon, and honed in Iowa City, has not betrayed him.
“I look to be No. 1 in my company in another two years, so I have some goals there,” Alger said.
No. 1 is how Alger left the college wrestling scene March 21, 1987, in College Park, Md. His finale was against Iowa State’s Kevin Jackson, who used a first-period takedown and a second-period reversal to grab a 4-2 lead. Alger kept applying pressure, stalking Jackson and driving the Cyclone to near collapse. Alger earned four stalling points, and with an 8-4 lead late in the match, took Jackson down for a 10-4 victory.
“Going for our 10th straight national title and having an undefeated (individual) season (35-0),” said Alger, when asked for a UI career highlight. “I led us out and got that national title against Kevin Jackson in the national finals.”
He was involved in many matches that pitted the No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers in the country. Alger took pride in winning bouts when opposing coaches bumped competitors up to test him.
“There are always some foolish people out there,” Alger said. “A lot of people had me painted into a corner as a brawler without a lot of finesse, so my skill sets weren’t really appreciated. I don’t consider myself as much of a wrestler, per se, if you looked it up in a dictionary.
“I consider myself a taker: take positions and take control of the mat, the crowd, the ref. I was more of a throwback. You wouldn’t see a lot of rolling around or high-falootin moves; you would see a lot of grinding, a lot of workmanship. Grab your lunch pail and go to work.”
Three times Alger won a U.S. Open championship; he was a two-time Big Ten Conference Outstanding Wrestler, World Cup gold medalist and Pan-American gold medalist. He earned silver at the 1990 World Championships.
When he isn’t in the office, Alger, 47, is back near a mat, as a camp clinician, assisting with the United States World Team, or following his sons, Eli (15) and Jesse (11), who are wrestlers.
Eli and Jesse also accompanied their father to the Hall of Fame ceremony, so they heard the warranted applause: most of it for their father, but an adequate amount for Grandma Faye.
After all, she is the one that directed Royce to chase gold at the University of Iowa.