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Courtesy: Athletics Communications

Hall of Fame Spotlight: Joe Gibbons

Release: 09/22/2009
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AMES, Iowa Iowa State incoming ISU Letterwinners Club Hall of Fame inductee Joe Gibbons will be the first to tell you his wrestling career was enhanced by his older brothers, who also wrestled. Gibbons, the 1985 NCAA 142-pound champion and one of 10 four-time All-Americans in Cyclone wrestling history, was part of a family of four brothers who combined for 10 Iowa individual prep crowns.

“I was fortunate to have two older brothers,” Gibbons said. “It was while watching (brother Jim Gibbons) at the Iowa state meet that I set my goal of winning four Iowa high school titles.”

The four sons of Bill and Bea Gibbons included Tim (one state title), Jim (three state titles), Jeff (two state titles) and Joe combined for 10 state titles. Joe Gibbons achieved his high school goal of winning four state crowns, the first two at Waterloo Columbus and the last two at Ames High School after his family relocated back to Ames. He was the first Iowa prep wrestler to win four titles in the largest class of teams.

“(My brothers) cleared a path for me and I made it wider," he said.

In the fall of 1981, after Joe Gibbons had chosen Iowa State for college, he joined the team of legendary head coach Harold Nichols, which already included older brother Jim, who had won the NCAA 134-pound title. Nichols, in his final years of an extraordinary career that saw him win 456 dual meets and six NCAA team titles, would have a major influence on Joe.

“I was close to Nick,” Gibbons said. “He was like a grandfather figure to me. He had seen so many things and made sure that our wrestling room had the post-collegiate competitors that made the competition in the room so tough.”

Joe Gibbons’ talent was so overt that Nichols started him as a true freshman. The 1981-82 Cyclones are arguably the best Iowa State wrestling team not to win a national team championship. The Cyclones would have eight All-Americans in 1982 with Kevin Darkus (2nd, 118), Jim Gibbons (4th, 134), Randy Conrad (6th, 142), Nate Carr (1st, 150), Perry Hummel (4th, 177), Mike Mann (2nd, 190) and Wayne Cole (2nd, HWT). The supercharged lineup left little room for Gibbons, who cut weight to wrestle at 126-pounds.

“It was tough,” Gibbons said. “The biggest battle I had was not on the mat, it was cutting weight.  I did it for the team.”

Gibbons affirmed Nichols’ belief that he was ready to wrestle as a true freshman, compiling a 25-5-2 record. In his first collegiate season, Gibbons won a Big Eight Conference title and earned All-America honors by placing fourth at the NCAA Championships at 126 pounds. The Big Eight champion Cyclones were runners-up for the national team title.  Gibbons was named the Amateur Wrestling News Freshman of the Year.

Adversity loomed. Early season injuries forced Gibbons to redshirt the 1982-83 season. His 1983-84 campaign included a five-week rehabilitation after arthroscopic knee surgery.  Gibbons still managed to post a 27-8 record after moving up to 142 pounds. He placed fourth at the NCAA meet.

The 1984-85 season was Gibbons’ best. In Nichols’ final season as head coach, Iowa State posted a 20-7 dual mark in the most crowded schedule in school history.  Gibbons took full advantage of those opportunities, racking up a school-record 50 victories.

“I felt good,” Gibbons said. “I was healthy.”

Gibbons won his second Big Eight title and then defeated Princeton’s John Orr, 4-3 in the 1985 142-pound NCAA title match.  Gibbons was Nichols’ 38th and last NCAA individual champion.  That fact was not lost on Gibbons as he stood on the high step of the podium to receive his award.

“I was happy for Nick,” Gibbons said. “The number one thing I felt standing up there was relief. I had to beat some really good wrestlers to get there. Growing up I had met these great Iowa State wrestlers who had a national championship ring.  Now I would have one.”

After Nichols retired, Jim Gibbons was named as just the fourth head wrestling coach in the first 70 years of Iowa State wrestling. Joe Gibbons closed out his career by earning All-America honors for the fourth time and placing third at 142-pounds at the NCAA Championship.  The 1986 Cyclones rolled to a 19-1 dual record, including a season-ending 19-16 dual victory over Iowa that ended a 36-match Hawk winning streak. 

Iowa State placed fourth at the 1986 NCAA Championship.

“We could have done more but we had some young guys on the team who just didn’t have the experience you need to win the NCAA meet.”

Indeed, with more experience the Cyclones would claim the 1987 NCAA team title.

In all, Joe Gibbons had won 11 tournament titles, including a Midlands crown in 1982, and was victorious in 124 career matches, which ranks ninth all-time in school history. Gibbons stayed on at ISU as a volunteer assistant on his brother’s staff until 1992. He played a major role in the recruiting of future Iowa State NCAA champions Chris Bono and Barry Weldon. After a layoff, Gibbons resumed international competition while he earned an MBA from Iowa State to complement his bachelor’s degree in marketing. He currently owns and operates restaurants in central Iowa.

“Looking back, I was in the top four at all NCAA meets,” Gibbons said. “I was in contention every year.”

Gibbons was the first Iowa State wrestler to place among the top four finishers at four NCAA meets. Only Dwight Hinson (1995-98), Joe Heskett (1999-2002) and Cael Sanderson (1999-2002) have joined this elite club in a wrestling program long on national champions and All-Americans. Gibbons was the first.  That probably says it all.

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