Gus Zenker

I was lucky enough to have wrestled in Los Gatos (California) High School for three years and thus had enough experience to be picked up for Plebe Wrestling during Beast Barracks Corps Squad Screening. I typically weighed about 183 lbs, but had great difficulty making the 177 lb. Weight class. (In fact I can’t remember ever making it!) Not to worry, though, because we all know who made that 177 lb weight: Al Rushatz.

Thus, I was usually competing for the 191 lb. Class, against others such as Buzz Kriesel, who also lost out to Al in the wrestle-offs, to see who would compete at 167 and 177. I had a few pounds on all the heavier “also-rans”, so even if I didn’t get to wrestle 191s, there was always Unlimited.

Most of the Plebe matches (and even the JV matches in later years) usually came down to the last (Unlimited) match of the meet to decide which team would win. The Army Team was usually ahead by a few points going into the last match, so my role in wrestling in the last match of the day was to try not to lose it for the team. In fact one of the few coaching instruction that I received from the Sainted Coach Leroy Alitz before setting out on the mat for a match was, “Zenker, don’t get pinned.” (A loss by decision, 3 points, would have preserved the match. But, if I were pinned, 5 points for the other team would have lost it!)

Of course, the best thing about being a barely marginal wrestler was Corps Squad Tables, particularly during Plebe Year, of course. The next best thing was wrestling Unlimited and being the only guy on the ten-man table who was not cutting weight. Two or more steaks, all the dessert I wanted, etc. Sometimes my table mates, who couldn’t eat anything anyway, would feed me by throwing food in the general direction of my mouth – Ah, the “Animals” in the Corps Squad Area! Coach Alitz actually encouraged me to gain weight, and I did for a time get up to 195 lbs., but at that weight lost what little speed I had at normal weight.

My Plebe and JV experiences at the heavier weight classes (191 and Unlimited) taught me that my chances were better at Unlimited. Those that wrestled at 191 were usually good athletes: Typically football players who, although they had limited wrestling experience, were quick and strong. (An experienced 191 opponent was always my biggest challenge and I seldom won in that matchup – put seldom if ever got pinned.) On the other hand, many of the guys who wrestled Unlimited from other schools were basically slobs with few skills and less speed than I. The secret in these matches was not to let these overweight guys ride you! I sometimes won those matches by a 1-point escape from the “down position”.

Bottom line: I did win my Class Numerals Plebe year, but never did get the JV award and never wrestled on the A Team. I didn’t wrestle Firstie Year – and Coach Alitz didn’t try to persuade me to stay on the team!

One last comment on my athletic (and leadership) abilities at West Point. Yearling Spring the Intramurals were listed with what I thought had to me a mistake: I was Canoe Racing Coach. Now this was a new sport initiated that year and no one wanted it, so I was ranked into it with a few plebes. The “sport” itself was a simple concept: Two 2-man teams in a relay; start with the (70 lb.) canoe in the water by the “dance hall” (can’t remember the name) at Lake Popolopen, paddle like hell for a quarter mile, portage for 200 meters, back in the water and paddle back to the beach, short portage back to the start point where the second team would repeat. It definitely was a put-out!. But, the most difficult part was that the coach had to transport his team to and from Popolopen by 2-ton truck and turn in the truck at the motor pool (way up by the laundry) afterward. On a P-Rade afternoon, getting back to the barracks area in time for parade was the true “put out.”

On the mats of wrestling past are born those cauliflower ears, mat burns, and sore knees which in other times will mark one forever.

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