116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The University of Iowa recently announced two retirements — and neither of them are associated with Hawkeye athletics these days.
The two haven’t been Hawkeyes for decades, as a matter of fact.
But, as those associated with the programs at Iowa like to say, once a Hawkeye always a Hawkeye.
The fact Lennie Zaleskly and C. Vivian Stringer announced their retirements within days of each other is pure coincidence, of course, but the two former Hawkeye greats do have some commonality.
Zalesky hasn’t been associated with the university since 1990, his last year as an assistant for Dan Gable. Stringer left Iowa after the 1995 season to become the head coach at Rutgers.
While their careers at Iowa crossed paths, their sports were quite different.
Zalesky was an outstanding wrestler from a local wrestling family, a three-time All-American and Big Ten champion who was a member of four national championship teams. Stringer coached the women’s basketball team for 12 seasons, elevating the program to elite status in the Big Ten and NCAA.
They both have been named national coach of the year, Stringer numerous times at Cheney State and Iowa.
They brought a lot of attention to themselves and their respective sports at Iowa and did it with a lot of class.
Maybe that’s the biggest common thread — two successful people who worked hard at their craft, willingly gave others credit for that success and never took that success for granted. And never forgot their time in Iowa.
In an interview with FloWrestling, Zalesky was asked about an era at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids and at Iowa that produced the likes of his brother, Jim, and Barry Davis. In 1982, the three men from Shueyville, wrestling in black and gold singlets, were in the NCAA finals.
He quipped others probably felt if “Zalesky could do it, so can I.”
Jim Zalesky, for the record, went on to coach the Hawkeyes to three NCAA titles and spent 14 years at Oregon State. He’s now coaching at the University of Jamestown. Davis coached at Wisconsin for 25 years.
“We probably rubbed off on each other,” Lennie Zalesky said, more seriously, about wrestlers in Eastern Iowa during that era. “It was very special. It’s hard to say what it was, but, of course, success breeds success ... good wrestlers motivated other good wrestlers.”
He credited Gable for setting “the state on fire” after winning Olympic gold in 1972.
Stringer, in her news release, noted how “fortunate” she’s been to do what she loved “for this long.” Stringer ends her 50-year career with 1,055 career wins and 28 NCAA tournament appearances. Her teams reached four Final Fours, including at Iowa in 1993.
Iowa remains a special place to her.
“There’s always a soft spot in my heart for the University of Iowa and Dr. Christine Grant for giving me my first major coaching position ...” Stringer said in the release.
Zalesky’s career took him to Palmer, Alaska, to teach and coach high school wrestling. He also spent two years at Indiana University and was dean of students and wrestling coach at Culver Military Academy in Indiana before moving to California.
He coached at UC-Davis for nine seasons, before the program was dropped, then moved to California Baptist for the next 11 seasons. He may not have had the gaudy numbers of some coaches, but teaching always was his primary function — on and off the mat.
And he never forgot his Iowa roots.
While talking about his impending move to Kalispell, Mont., so he and his wife, Maria, can be closer to their son and daughter, Zalesky told FloWrestling the area is “a little more like Iowa than Southern California.”
Zalesky admitted he might not be done with wrestling, either, noting the high school team in Kalispell is pretty good.
“I’m doing a camp there in July,” he said.
And the fishing on Flathead Lake looks pretty good, too.
Both are ready for whatever the future holds and both, it seems, will always remember their time in Iowa.
And maybe that’s why the University of Iowa hasn’t forgotten about them.
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