Joe Viola knows firsthand the benefits of persistence, commitment, and dedication to sports. Viola, Central Oregon Community College director of campus services, was a wrestler and starred for four years at the University of Connecticut, compiling a 69-10 record and being honored with a Student Athlete of the Year Award. Twice, Viola was the New England Champion in his weight class, going against against some of the most competitive schools in the nation.
The Harvard Crimson described “Huskie stalwart Viola” as “the pride of the UConn squad.” Violas success enabled him to compete in two NCAA national championship tournaments, one held in Iowa and one that brought him to Oregon for the first time, with the tournament hosted by OSU.
“I did note when I was at Oregon State,” said Viola, “how many awards they had gotten, how many guys were actually national champs.”
Over thirty years after that first visit to Oregon, sitting in his office at Campus Services, Viola is still fit, something he credits to his time spent wrestling.
“Wrestling teaches a lot of discipline,” said Viola. “I think that is the kind of thing that carries through later in life. I still run, I still work out. These are the habits that carry on.”
These days, Viola dedicates his time to passing on those habits in his role as assistant coach of the Summit High School wrestling team.
“When I came to Oregon eight years ago one of the first things I did was look at where the wrestling programs were, because I knew from being at Oregon State that there was some interest,” Viola said.
Viola lived near Summit and frequented their matches and then grasped the opportunity to give back. “There was a lot of enthusiasm,” he said, “but there wasn’t as much depth” as at some other schools.”
Some sports are heavily team-oriented, others completely individual. Wrestling strikes a balance, one that enables competitors to reap the benefits of both, according to Viola.
“You don’t rate people on a wrestling team by their record,” Viola said. “Everyone knows when you go out there you put your reputation and your heart on the line, and there is a lot of respect for that. It is a team, and you can feel that when you go out there. I think that helps later in life. If you do your job well, your company, your team, your department will also do well.”
Though wrestling builds camaraderie and develops the team concept, while fostering self-esteem and boosting confidence, it also has a built-in humbling mechanism, explained Viola.
“There is always someone better,” he said.
In comparison to football where Viola said you can “hide a little bit,” in wrestling, athletes have to compete for themselves as well as the team.
“There’s a lot of pressure when you see that you’re going to wrestle somebody that’s really good,” said Viola. “It’s just like if you have a job and you’ve got to do a presentation, and you feel that same anxiety.
As Joe Viola will attest, the rewards of athletic participation go well beyond the health benefits, beyond the wins and losses, beyond the trophies and awards. Whether grappling with a better opponent or giving a boardroom presentation, “there are problems, but you can face things differently, you can see that if you prepare, you can do well,” Viola said. “It takes hard work, it takes skills, it takes a mental attitude that carries on in pretty much everything you do.”
Dan Gable [Olympic gold, 1972] said, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else is easy.’”
Brian Hickey | The Broadside