HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Mike Allen stopped his conversation to engage with a group of youths, working the tournament.
He asked about their experience and then offered some advice, conveying a mantra that he used to share with students before retiring from the Waterloo Community School District.
“What you can conceive and believe you can achieve,” Allen, a school principal for 28 years told the young men.
They would be best served listening to the words of an accomplished member of the wrestling community as a competitor, coach and official. Allen added another accolade to a distinguished resume, being inducted into the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships Hall of Fame on Saturday night at Sears Centre Arena.
Allen was already inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Iowa High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame to name a couple. He also served as the Grand Marshal for the Midlands in 2009. Allen said he even received a congratulatory phone call from Waterloo native and legendary Iowa Coach Dan Gable.
“It’s great,” said Allen, who became visibly emotional. “I can remember eight years ago I was here at the Midlands and they gave this honor to one of the officials and I looked at it and said I wish I could get one of those.”
Allen never imagined his 35-year officiating career would result in as many honors. He was concerned with just getting assigned to a sectional, then a district and a day calling the state tournament in Des Moines. Instead, Allen worked all three days of the IHSAA tournament, becoming the first African-American official at the prestigious event.
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“I’ve been so doggone fortunate,” said Allen, who was honored to meet and be considered with the likes of former Hawkeye Simon Roberts, who was the first African-American NCAA champion and first Iowa state champion. “I’m excited.
“Wrestling has been good to me. People have been good to me.”
Even as a younger referee, Allen always wanted to be a part of the Midlands. He admitted he would arrive, hoping they were short-handed, so he could take the mat.
“When I got selected to come to do the Midlands, I felt really good about it,” Allen said. “One thing people don’t realize is I used to come with my uniform, hoping that someone didn’t show up, and it never happened. I was ready to officiate at that time.”
Allen was a football player and wrestler at Waterloo East. He was a part of Trojans football teams that set a state record 56-game unbeaten streak. Allen continued his career in both sports at Ellsworth and University of Northern Iowa.
He was an assistant wrestling coach at Waterloo Central High School when head coach Gene Lutrell suggested he get his official’s license. It led to a long career with Allen estimating that he would work more than 40 meets in a specific season.
Allen worked 23 NCAA Division I tournaments and actually became the first official to work the NAIA, NJCAA and all three NCAA national tournaments in the same year.
“I could never say no,” said Allen, calling meets coached by famous college coaches like Gable, Gary Kurdelmeier and Dr. Harold Nichols. “I love it.”
Allen is retired as an administrator and referee. He hires the officials for the Midlands, working with Northwestern, and is the Coordinator of Officials for the Big Ten, Big 12 and Mid-American Conference.
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“I assign and train all of those officials,” Allen said. “It became a full-time job, because I wanted it to be one. … When I got the job I wanted to do the best job that I can do.”
Allen praised the many influences in his professional career, including legendary coach and official Bob Siddens, Chuck Patten, late IHSAA executive Dave Harty and Hall of Fame official Arlo Flege.
None were as impactful as his parents, Betty and Willie Allen, who insisted he be a gentleman and fair. Those two traits were a constant in his officiating.
“I was blessed to have a lot of people,” Allen said. “The amount of people who have steered me was good.”
IOWA CAPTURES FIFTH STRAIGHT TEAM TITLE
University of Iowa has dominated the Midlands Championships, winning more than any other program in the esteemed tournament’s 55-year existence. The Hawkeyes secured their fifth straight team championship by the end of the third session Saturday afternoon.
Iowa had seven total medalists, excluding four unattached wrestlers that were also in the field. Both Carter Happel (141) and 165-pounder Kaleb Young placed in the top six, joining five finalists.
The Hawkeyes have won eight Midlands team crowns under Tom Brands, who took over in 2006.
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