Sports

Before Foxcatcher

One of this year’s dramatic motion pictures, “The Foxcatcher,” tells the story of two brothers from Palo Alto who during the late 1980s stormed the freestyle and collegiate wrestling scene to become the greatest wrestling duo the world had ever seen.

In the movie, based on Mark Schultz’ memoir Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, Steve Carell plays the role of the multi-millionnaire John Eleuthère du Pont who uses his family’s inheritance to develop a high caliber training facility built specifically for the country’s greatest wrestlers. In the hope of riding the coattails of Olympic wrestlers du Pont was known for his erratic and eccentric behavior which ultimately lead to the untimely murder of one of the world’s most decorated wrestlers, Dave Schultz.

But before “The Foxcatcher” there was Ed Hart.

Hart, who now lives in Ahwahnee, was the high school coach of two world class wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. Hart taught for nearly two decades at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto coaching more than 11 different sports including wrestling and gymnastics.

Hart met Dave, the older of the two brothers, in 1973 when the young junior high school student showed up and asked if he could participate in the high school practices. It wasn’t until a year later that Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo, was officially in high school and brought his younger brother Mark, played by Channing Tatum, to practice that Hart was introduced to Mark.

Eventually the two became known as the greatest wrestling duo in Olympic history but Hart said despite their shared passion for the sport the two were significantly different in their approach to wrestling and to life.

According to Hart, Dave was a student of the game who wanted nothing more than to be the best at what he did. Meanwhile Mark, who possessed as much raw talent found himself cutting his own path as a gymnast during his first two years of high school.

“Coaching those two guys it was yin-and-yang. One had adrenaline and the other was methodical,” Hart said.“Mark was like a cobra, he would move back and fourth and then strike fast.”

Hart said Dave was one of the most dedicated athletes he had ever seen and seemed to have a natural drive coming from within.

“If they gave PHDs in wrestling he would have one. He was in a class by himself,” Hart said.

With such great talent surrounding him Hart said it wasn’t until Dave’s sophomore year, Mark’s freshman year, that he realized how much talent he was actually coaching.

“I realized Dave was great during the semi-finals at the state tournament when the referee, who was a past Olympian, looked at me and said I think you have a diamond in the rough,” Hart said.

Meanwhile Mark was excelling in gymnastics winning the best overall gymnast at a high school tournament as a ninth grader in Middle School - prior to 1978 Palo Alto high school kept freshman at the middle school level.

During Mark’s junior year, after witnessing several state top finishes by his brother Dave and a brief run-in with the law, Mark decided he too would take up wrestling. The two were so dedicated to the sport that after their high school practices both would travel to Stanford where they would participate in practices coached by Chris Horpel, an ex-Stanford All-American and PAC-8 champion. The rest was history.

During their high school careers Dave and Mark combined to win two high school state titles, with both taking the tournaments their senior years.

During his senior year Dave was invited to participate in a USA wrestling freestyle tournament, The Great Plains Invitational. Here Dave defeated the defending champ Chuck Yagla earning himself a bid to the Bales sie tournament in Georgia, Russia known to many at the time as the toughest wrestling tournament in the world.

Dave returned from the tournament boasting a 7-2 record going on to high school regionals and eventually taking the state tournament. During Dave’s state title run he pinned all challengers with the exception of the state finals where he defeated his opponent 8-0.

Mark, with only two years of competitive wrestling under his belt, would also win the state tournament during his senior year following close behind in his brothers footsteps.

Dave went on to wrestle at Oklahoma State transferring the next year to UCLA, giving up a year of eligibility to wrestle along side his brother. The following year UCLA dropped their wrestling program and the two prized wrestling brothers transferred to Oklahoma where they both finished with three combined NCAA titles - two for Mark and one for Dave. Hart said Dave was not as serious about his NCAA wrestling instead focusing on Olympics while Mark grinded out two NCAA tittles.

But with all the success it wasn’t until after their high school and collegiate careers, where the movie picks up, that things took a turn for the worse.

Left with no avenue to pursue after college, aside from the Olympics, wrestlers had very few options of where to train and how to make a living while preparing themselves to challenge some of the world’s best. So when Mark and Dave were presented with the opportunity to train for the 1988 games at Foxcatcher ranch under the sponsorship du Pont, it was a no brainer.

Hart said the movie was as close to accurate as he could have imagined and praised the actors for accurately portraying the characters down to the way they walked and the way they talked.

“For what they showed it was pretty accurate,” Hart said.

Although relatively precise Hart said there were a few discrepancies he had when viewing the movie during a premier in San Francisco.

“The movie was very dark and sad but it really showed Mark as a brooding individual. He’s not as dumb as the movie makes him out to be. It makes him seem overly emotional”

Hart, President of Sierra Meadows Men’s Club, went on to say that du Pont was also not shown in his true light. Despite his character being portrayed as crazy, Hart said he was not crazy enough from what he remembers of the elderly coach.

“du Pont was crazier than the movie made him out to be. I was trying to get him off the ranch, but du Pont was paying them a wage and salary to stick around and teach wrestling.” Hart said. “Other things they didn’t mention was that du Pont got rid of all the black wrestlers off the ranch and got mad at a white wrestler and stuck and AK-47 to his chest.”

Hart says the experience was so surreal that he didn’t have any idea what he was in the midst of and just said he looks back as one of the greatest experiences of his life.

“At the time I did not realize what I was experiencing. It is always a great sensation having a champion,” Hart said.

Mark has since moved away to be with his mother in Ashlan, Oregon, but Hart says he still maintains a close relationship.

To find out more about life after Hart the Sony Picture Classic, released Nov. 14, 2014, can be viewed at most mainstream theaters across the country.

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