Rial stays busy after Hall nod

Mark Rial stepped into the center of Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on a recent Saturday night, joined by his wife, Lindsey, their two sons, Trace, 10, and Parker, 6, and a host of officials serving the Iowa High School Athletic Association.

Rial waved to the crowd, some 15,000 fans saluting him for his induction into the IHSAA Wrestling Hall of Fame.

And then, Rial had work to do, hands to shake and fist-bumps to share as he experienced the state tournament’s championship round for the first time as a hall-of-famer and the new head wrestling coach at Buena Vista University.

“We were keeping an eye on lots of matches,” says Rial, who was named BVU head coach eight months ago. “We were seeing kids on the concourse and visiting with them about their matches. The state tournament is always a highlight.”

It certainly was for Rial in his days as a prep who won two state titles and earned one runner-up finish for Fort Dodge Senior High.

Rial, who is a 1996 FDSH graduate, went on to earn three varsity letters for UNI and rose to even greater heights in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, where he won the U.S. Open in 2008 and competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials twice, in 2004 and 2008.

Rial’s excellence on the mat took him to Beijing, China, in 2008, where he served as training partner for Jake Deitchler, the U.S. competitor at 145.5 pounds in the 2008 Olympics.

“I had beaten Jake in the U.S. Open that year, but he ultimately won at the Olympic Trials,” says Rial, who finished his career on the mat with a pair of second-place finishes at the national meet and the World Team Trials in 2009.

Along the way, Rial worked as an assistant wrestling coach at UNI and later at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge.-

“I had just stepped away from wrestling and began working for Royal Flooring, which a cousin owns, in Urbandale,” Rial says. “I was still doing clinics and kids’ camps in the sport.”

BVU Athletic Director Jack Denholm inquired about Rial’s interest in coaching again, this time as a head coach. Rial jumped at the opportunity to lead the program at a place he knew well. “I used to come to summer wrestling camps here,” he says.

His first season at the helm for the Beavers zipped by quickly, he says. Under his tutelage, the Beavers won more duals than any BVU squad in the past 11 years. His trip to the Hall of Fame ceremony at the Iowa Hall of Pride represented a quick side trip during a week in which the Beavers prepared for the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional Meet at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque.

“We’ve gotten some great leadership out of our upperclassmen, especially the seniors this year,” says Rial. “And we continue to share our vision for this program as we look for student-athletes who want to step in as leaders who want to make an impact immediately.”

The Beavers’ Brad Kerkhoff earned a berth at the NCAA Division III National Meet, the school’s first in five years and Rial’s first as a head coach.

Looking back on his induction, Rial credited his parents, Mike and Kris Rial, for the interest they took and the sacrifices they made in getting Mark and his brothers, Matt and Pat, to clinics and competitions all over the Midwest. Rial also lauded his YMCA wrestling director, Jim Allison, and his varsity coach at Fort Dodge High School, Ed Birnbaum, a fellow hall-of-famer, a coach who took young Mark Rial under his wing and went the extra mile for him, picking him up for early-morning weight-room workouts, offering extra instruction sessions and more.

It’s a model the new BVU mentor seeks to adopt, one hall-of-famer following another.

“I was happy to have the whole family there for the (hall of fame) induction,” Rial says in a moment of reflection. “And I was just as happy to be representing Buena Vista University in seeing wrestlers and their families during the championship matches that night. We’re itching for success here. And we know this is a special place, a place where kids can be successful.”