MU wrestler Ben Askren leads the team in his sophomore season. His brother is on his way to Columbia, and his parents might not be far behind.
By JEREMY LYNN
ON HIS OWN: Askren spars with teammate Jeff Foust in practice. Askren said individualism drew him to wrestling. "Whatever I do, it's on me," Askren said. "The blame is on me if I don't succeed." (JOSH VINCE/Missourian)
In 2001, the best senior wrestler in Wisconsin called out Ben Askren, telling anyone who cared to listen that he was going to beat Askren in the state finals.
"I said in the papers that I was going to beat him really bad and he said something back," Askren said. "It became a big rivalry kind of thing. It got a lot of fans to dislike me cause they said that I wasn't humble."
It's safe to say that senior learned a valuable lesson when Askren, then a sophomore, defeated him 21-8 to claim his first state championship.
For the next two years, Askren drew the ire of many wrestling fans around Wisconsin.
"I would just take people down and light them up the whole match and people really hated that," Askren said. "They were like 'just pin him,' but, for me, wrestling in high school was boring because it was so easy. The things I said were just something I did to challenge myself. A lot of people didn't like that, but I had fun doing what I did. They wanted me to be more serious and humble."
"People would lose focus in Wisconsin and think that he was cocky and a showboat," Chuck Askren, Ben's father, said. "All he's ever wanted is to promote the sport. Looking back on it, while I didn't always agree with his attitude, I suppose he succeeded."
Askren filled high school arenas. Many people came with the hope of seeing him lose.
"Ben took a different approach," Chuck Askren said. "It was kind of like Muhammad Ali. He'd run his mouth and get people excited about the match or create a high level of interest to see if he'd follow through on his statements. People just took it the wrong way."
No one in Columbia is taking Askren the wrong way now.
In fact, people are embracing Askren, as the Missouri sophomore's popularity continues to grow.
Askren's dad introduced him to wrestling when he was six years old, but tough competition was hard to find at that age. It wasn't until the sixth grade that Askren really began to take the sport seriously.
As Askren's interest grew , Dale Borchard, a close family friend, served as a mentor and coach.
"My dad got me started," Askren said. "There was a little kids club in my town and in the sixth grade when I really got into it, I had a friend that was two grades older than me and his dad was the coach and I just started traveling everywhere with them."
Chuck Askren, who owns the Mississippi Valley Pump Company, financed trips around the country for Askren, Borchard and Borchard's son.
"He loves the sport and when they were young we went everywhere together," his father said. "Ben listened to what Dale had to say and got on the mat. That's when I was advised to get off the mat and just be a dad."
It was the individualism of wrestling that drew Askren. He loved the attention and enjoyed being in the spotlight"win or lose.
"Whatever I do, it's on me," Askren said. "The blame is on me if I don't succeed. As opposed to team sports, where if somebody else makes mistakes your team can lose. In wrestling, it's totally individual. If you don't work hard enough you're not going to succeed and that's the bottom line."
While Chuck Askren stayed out of the coaching aspect of his son's young career, he found other ways to contribute to Ben's development.
"We gave him the ability to find places to train and get to the tournaments he needed to get to," his father said. "Family vacations were wrestling tournaments"¦ they still are."
A Special Place to Train
Most houses don't come complete with a wrestling ring. The Askren's spent roughly $5,000 and a few weeks of labor building a workout facility in the basement of the family home.
The basement includes a half-size mat, scale, stereo system and sauna.
"Kids need an opportunity and the facilities to train," Chuck Askren said.
The workout room contributed to high school success. Askren was a three-time All-American and two-time Wisconsin state champion.
Success runs in the family. Ben's brother Max finished an undefeated season on Feb. 27, winning the Wisconsin state championship in the 189-pound weight class. Showing the same antagonistic style as his brother, Max Askren pinned all but four opponents this season.
Max Askren will attend Missouri in the fall, but he won't have to worry about missing the facility his parents built.
When Ben Askren moved to Columbia in August 2002, his dad built a similar facility in his Columbia house. The only differences are the Missouri logos plastered on the walls.
Being off campus, the workout room doesn't violate any NCAA rules for year-round training. It also gives Askren the capacity to have a summer job, training kids from Columbia.
"We truly live and breath the sport," Chuck Askren said. "We enjoy giving back if the kids are willing to work and put in time. A lack of money and preparation shouldn't hold anyone back."
Early Success is No Surprise"I expected it," Askren said. "I don't think it's anything extraordinary because of what I do and how hard I work. I just expect it to come with it and if it didn't, then I would be frustrated."
When the whistle sounds, Askren combines a rare combination of strength, speed and wrestling intelligence to quickly get on top of his opponents. He is always going for the pin, constantly the aggressor in his matches.
Because Askren has trained year-round since childhood , going full speed is nothing new. While his opponents typically get tired midway through the second period, Askren's motor continues to run.
After taking second at the NCAA championships last season , Askren is No. 2 in the country with a 29-1 record in the 174-pound weight class.
His 20 pins this season were a new Missouri single-season record.
Calling Columbia Home?
With Max Askren on his way to Columbia in about five months, the Askren brothers are looking to take Missouri wrestling to new heights.
"I'm so pumped," Max Askren said. "I've been waiting for it for a while."
Max has a lot of his older brother's style in his wrestling. Maybe that's because he's gotten to see his brother up close and personal.
"He beat me up a lot," Max Askren said. "He always wanted me to wrestle with him, so I didn't have much of a choice."
There will soon be time for even more family bonding.
With no family ties back in Wisconsin, Askren's parents are sincerely pondering moving to Columbia.
"We're building a house now, behind Ben's, for Max," Chuck Askren said. "We'll keep half for us and stay in Wisconsin for a few years so that Max's younger friends can continue to wrestle in our basement until they go off to school."
Michele Askren, Ben's mom, said the family hadn't made any definite decision to relocate.
"My husband has talked about it from time to time," she said. "Who knows? Maybe eventually. We got planted here due to Chuck's business and didn't want to move. But, it's always a possibility, especially if (Max or Ben) live there and get a job on the coaching staff or something."
Askren has his sights set on the immediate future, with the Big 12 Conference championships on March 5 in Omaha, Neb. The NCAA championships start March 17 in St. Louis.
With two years left, Askren isn't thinking much beyond his Missouri career. But he has said that representing his country in the Olympics is a definite goal.
With a 3.5 grade-point average, Askren's options for the future are open. Max is no slouch either, earning near a 4.0.
"It's an awesome feeling how they are both doing right now," Chuck said. "Even in terms of grades. I never had to get on them about doing their homework. They are both very dedicated and organized. We're very lucky."