Greg Peters column: Kevin Black's streak to the hall of fame
If you're on a streak in sports, you don't mess with it. I tried explaining this to my aunt, Diane, when she was graciously doing my laundry while visiting her home from college one weekend years ago.
"It's about time these are thrown away," Diane said, referring to my pair of tighty-whitie underwear complete with custom aerodynamic wind vents, or more commonly called, holes. They weren't technically "tighty-whities" though, because they were blue, or at least they were blue at one time. For our Bath & Body Works enthusiasts, I would classify them a cornflower blue shade near the end of their streak. By underwear streak, I mean the athletically inclined version, not an artificial accent to the cornflower color.
With pale-white sun-starved skin in February, I must've looked like a retro bizarro-world Smurf before the game uniform top dressing was added.
Oh, I received more than one crazy look from fellow teammates the first time they saw those cornflower skivvies, but as soon as I told them I hadn't missed a free-throw during a game since wearing them, no further explanation was needed. Power forward, Shane Poepping, did have a head scratching question,
"Why did you have them in the first place?"
Other than "Pep," as he was known, the rest of the team completely understood. I never missed a free throw the last two years playing college basketball wearing those underwear.
"A player on a streak has to respect the streak," said catcher Crash Davis in the movie "Bull Durham," "because they don't happen very often."
I never really went to the line that much in college anyway, so it wasn't like my free-throw shooting streak was under the radar; it was just under wear and tear, really.
Speaking of streaks in sports, these five in professional sports will never be broken:
• Edwin Moses winning 122 consecutive hurdle races in track from 1977-87,
• Sugar Ray Robinson winning 91 straight boxing matches from 1943-51,
• Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941,
• Cal Ripken playing 2,632 consecutive games in baseball,
• Brett Favre playing 321 games in a row (counting play-off games) from 1992-2010 in the NFL.
Cal Ripken could limp in and take one at-bat during a game to keep his streak alive and he did on a number of occasions, but Favre's streak, by far, is the most impressive. Favre was knocked out of some games, but for almost 18 straight years through a broken thumb, sprained ankles, broken ribs, torn tendons, and every bump and bruise you can imagine, Favre showed up every single Sunday.
Showing up is exactly what River Falls High School Wrestling Coach Kevin Black did for 13 straight years when he was in school.
From 1985 through 1998, kindergarten through his senior year, Black did not miss one single day of school. He had perfect attendance for 2,340 consecutive school days.
"We were dairy farmers, so taking a day off wasn't an option," said Black. "We showed up every day and got our job done."
Black's lesser known attendance streak took a daily dose of discipline unfathomable by most and it laid the framework for his second and more memorable streak.
Black's "other" streak is his high school wrestling record on the mat. Black started with a win during his freshman year and kept on winning. Every. Single. Match. 160-0 during his four-year high school career, including four state titles.
This tremendous feat of discipline and talent were the bold letters on Black's wrestling resume, a resume good enough for him to recently be inducted into the George Martin Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame.
During his induction speech in Green Bay, Black first thanked his dad, Dave, and told those in
attendance, "If I can ask one thing from the people in this room tonight is to say 'thank you' to Dave Black."
Dave and Kevin Black are the first father/son inductees in the Hall of Fame, with Dave having been inducted in 2007.
Kevin's Hall of Fame induction speech mirrors the way he lives his life. It was spoken with purpose and process, like two ropes tied together to form the knot known as his faith.
Asked if his religious faith was a different dose of discipline, Black replied, "God went from a religion to a relationship, but it's a daily decision. I challenge it every day."
Black's high school and University of Wisconsin Badger wrestling exploits may have been the bold letters on the beginning of his Hall of Fame resume, but his coaching endeavors will end up becoming the exclamation point.
Black is one of the biggest advocates in the country for women's wrestling. He's been coaching the top female wrestlers in the nation since 2003. In 2016, he coached Helen Maroulis to the first U.S. women's wrestling Olympic gold medal.
The U.S. had six states with sanctioned girls' high school wrestling last year. In 2018, the number has climbed to 13. Wisconsin, a hot bed for high school boys wrestling, is not on the list yet for the girls.
"We're working on it," said Black. "The worst enemy of girls wrestling is men's wrestling."
Black has also been the Wildcat wrestling coach since 2013 but said he sometimes feels like it's his first year.
"I'm still trying to figure it (coaching high school) out," said Black, "It's hard to identify with a kid who doesn't turn in his homework."
One thing you won't see is Black's high school wrestling team riding in elevators. His wrestlers take the stairs every time. They also don't cut through the middle school cafeteria when walking to the downstairs weight room. There's a purpose to this, just like most everything in Kevin Black's life. Kevin Black doesn't take short cuts and neither will his team when they open their season Thursday night.
"Do you want to let your life happen or live with a purpose," Black asks his team.
A Wildcat wrestling dad let me read a letter Coach Black wrote to the parents and team a few years ago.
In the letter, Coach Black instructed his team to make their bed every day and said, "How you do anything is how you do everything."
How inspiring is Kevin Black? Since the day I read his letter, I have made my bed every single day.
I started a new streak and it doesn't include cornflower blue underwear. Those underwear, however, have found a new streak of their own, miraculously, as the Peters' extended family Christmas gag gift during our annual Hall of Fame dice game.