Remembering Willie Gadson: Mentor, Father & Coach
AMES, Iowa - Iowa State wrestling great Willie Gadson passed away on Sunday after a year-long battle with cancer. Gadson earned All-American honors in 1975 and 1976 during his time wearing an Iowa State singlet. He was also an assistant wrestling coach with the Cyclone wrestling program from 1979-1982.
Funeral services for Gadson are set for 11 a.m. Monday, March 18 at Waterloo East High School, 214 High St. in Waterloo, Iowa. Services are being handled by Hagarty Waychoff Grarup Funeral Service, 300 West Ridgeway, Waterloo, Iowa.
"He was just a special man," said Iowa State head coach Kevin Jackson. "I've known him for 30 years and he's always been the same guy. The amount of people whose lives he has touched is in the thousands. There is nobody like him. His love and passion for Iowa State wrestling was unmatched."
Gadson was a two-time Big Eight Conference champion at Iowa State in both of his two seasons as a Cyclone after wrestling two seasons at Nassau Community College in Nassau, N.Y. He finished third at 177 pounds at the NCAA Championships in 1975 and sixth in 1976. Gadson's former teammate, Frank Santana, a three-time All-American and 1977 NCAA champion at Iowa State said that it was Gadson's competitive drive that allowed him to be so successful.
"He had a willingness to work incredibly hard," Santana said. "That, combined with his natural God-given talents and athleticism, made him special. There are many that have been given those gifts, but there are few who are willing to pay the price to exploit those natural talents the way Willie did."
Gadson's roommate at Iowa State, Bob Antonacci, a two-time All-American for the Cyclones, posted the following on the Battle for Gadson facebook page, remembering his teammate and friend:
"We were created into this world temporally to love God, love others and serve. Willie did all this to the highest level. Willie just experienced the greatest moment in life: Passing into eternity! My prayers and thoughts go out to his family. I thank God for Willie being in my life as a friend, teammate, roommate and mentor. You took the lead on how to live your life for others. I will follow your lead."
Gadson was known for his love of the sport of wrestling, and naturally went on to a successful coaching career when he was done competing. Gadson notably led Eastern Michigan to its only MAC wrestling championship in school history in 1996, when he was also named the MAC Coach of the Year.
"The things that he did at Eastern Michigan on the budget they had, on the scholarship numbers they had speaks volumes about his coaching ability," Jackson said. "He was Nate Carr's individual coach when Nate was at Iowa State and helped him accomplish what he did along with all the other wrestlers that were here at that time. His passion, his energy towards the sport is unmatched."
Earlier this season, Gadson and his 1996 MAC Championship team were honored during the intermission of Iowa State's dual with EMU. Members of the team were there as well as Kyven, Willie's son and current star of the Cyclone wrestling team, who was there in place of his father due to his absence.
Gadson eventually landed the head coaching job at Waterloo East High School in 2004. During his time at East, Gadson coached 16 state qualifier and 10 state place-winners. He also coached his son Kyven to undefeated seasons and state championships in both 2009 and 2010.
Kyven, now a redshirt sophomore on the Iowa State wrestling team is 25-2 on the season and ranked No. 7 nationally at 197 pounds. Kyven won the 2013 Big 12 Championship at 197 pounds on Saturday, the day before his father passed away.
"What's positive about it is that I see Willie in Kyven in a lot of ways," Jackson said. "As sad as we are about Willie's passing, I believe he is in a better place and I believe it was his time and things happen for a reason. It's now Kyven's chance to really become the man that his mom and dad raised him to be."
Kyven released a statement on behalf of the Gadson family, saying the following:
"Thank-you everyone for all the love that you're sending to my family. We truly appreciate the support. The family is in good spirits. We love you all. Remember to smile at the memories! Willie would want you to smile instead of cry and to push forward instead of taking a step back. God is Great!
The Gadson Family"