A Life of Shared Love
Coach Larry Jackson, Hammertime Wrestling Academy IA
By Bill X. Barron, RMN Events Writer
“My 5th grade teacher would send us to lunch every day by throwing a football into the air. Today as a P.E. instructor at Carver Elementary (Des Moines, IA), I still begin lunch the same way with my students.” Lesson imparted: Whatever you learn in school and sports, always reach for the sky.
Coach Larry Jackson knows what he has learned in life and why “each and every day of my life” he appreciates the role of key individuals and Christ in shaping his life, which in turn has allowed him to touch many other lives in his 32 years as an educator, wrestling coach, and founder and director of Track Iowa through which he has taken kids to compete all over the country.
He can retire next year, “but these kids mean something to me and I love what I am doing now as much as I did back then.” Larry relates that early in life “I never felt loved,” yet that has not deterred him from a life of sharing. “Through my life journey, I hope that I have helped people and given them my love.”
Humble and unassuming, Coach Jackson is the only person to ask why I chose to interview him. Simply answered, Larry is one who radiates a loving spirit and whose presence immediately welcomes you into his heart. While recognition may be of surprise to Larry, a chorus of voices emanate from this challenging community.
One of those success stories is stepbrother Albert Winfrey, for whom Coach J came into his life at ten. Larry has not only been his mentor, but through his track club he’s guided Albert’s older daughter to championship levels and coached young 8-year old Amir to be the 8-&-under RMN D-Day on the Midway champion.
Yet what distinguishes Larry is that “he treats every single kid, from best to worst, as all the same.” His irreplaceability allows Larry to stand alone in the hearts and lives of the Des Moines community. Continues Albert: “He’s that guy, if you want your kid to become a champion, in life as well as sports.”
Although the D-Day was his Hammer Time Wrestling Academy’s first RMN event, “we are now loading up our schedule with RMN,” exclaims Larry: “In all my four decades in the sport, I had never ever been to an event like that. Absolutely remarkable! Never imagined!
“And the people … when Amir needed someone to warm him up for his final match on the ship deck, Stephen Groce (local San Diego coach and tournament helper) jumped out of the stands. Smooth, well-run, a place for Christianity, a family-run business. While we will still go to other events, RMN Events is now on top.”
With their 2019-20 schedule revolving around several RMN tournaments, 46-pound Amir can’t wait: “I want The Hand, the Gauntlet, and the Belt” (not to mention Marvel-inspired figures on the awards and gear). “Coach Jackson taught me to attack and defend in the middle,” states Amir. That is a winning tactic both on and off the mat as well as in all three styles.
States his coach: “What makes Amir special is that he can effectively attack both sides. He believes in what we teach; therefore, his hand control is second to none. He doesn’t like being on the bottom; if another guy thinks he’s got him, he just Hulks his way though. A totally different kid on the mat, always in attack mode, off of it he is running, smiling, and having fun.”
Through he never knew much about his father until several years after he had passed, Larry learned that his people-centered teaching approach has its genetic roots. From his mother, “I learned never to be led by hate. I have lived my life learning how to turn a negative into a positive. I ask myself every day: ‘Are you living right? Do you treat people the way they deserve?’”
A former wrestler and the first assistant coach Larry sought out after he formed Hammer Time, Rocky Dhabolt is living witness to the power of Larry’s loving spirit. “While he always treated me with the ultimate respect, I only learned later that Rocky had learned prejudice in order to survive on the streets.”
Attests Rocky: “Larry totally changed my life. I bring my life to bear as proof that with the right person anyone can do it. My parents were drug addicts and I was hanging out with the street gangs. When I met Larry, I had returned to school my sophomore year after being suspended for a hate crime.”
Rocky continues: “I had to join a sport, so I chose wrestling. I was blessed that the wrestling coach was Larry Jackson. You will never be around anyone in this community who doesn’t know Larry. He’s been their driving teacher, their track or wrestling coach, or their spiritual guide.”
The two share mutual respect. Larry remarks: “I have asked Rocky to speak at my funeral one day. Rocky is always there by my side, at any and every time of the day. All I can say is that Rocky is a fantastic coach and human being, with that ‘X’ factor that I knew was important for our club to have.”
Rocky and Larry agree that the safety of the wrestlers comes before winning. In the finals of a recent Corncob Nationals, Rocky’s son had his opponent’s leg in a precarious position. “When the referee did not stop the match, I ran out onto the mat,” says Rocky. “It cost my own kid a reversal and he lost the national championship by a point, but I know I did the right thing.”
Larry gives thanks to many mentors in his formative years: “My 5th grade teacher Bill Wilson kept me busy so I wouldn’t get in trouble. In 7th grade, my P.E. teacher Lou Kearney loved me as a human being. It felt good to be in his presence. An open Christian, he immediately gained my respect. He convinced me to give up basketball for wrestling, because on the mat I would be the starting guy.
“My sophomore Algebra teacher, Mrs. Moore, had me figured out; she knew what made me tick. She told me: ‘Larry, you are so competitive. Find someone to beat.’ Study buddy Wilma Miller topped me more often than I triumphed. But I went from an ‘F’ to a ‘B’ and learned to excel, not to just get by.”
Larry’s high school wrestling coach, Phil Henning, was a national collegiate runner-up for the University of Iowa and author of “The Predicament Wrestling Scoring Book,” which in early editions featured examples of Larry competing for Marshalltown High School in 1977-1981.
Henning became more than Larry’s coach: “On the way to one tournament, I did not have enough money to pay for my entry. Coach Henning just took what I had and never said a word. He mentored me on how to be a good person.”
Larry himself became his school’s first ever national champion and a two-time All-American for Ellsworth Community College, as well as a Junior Pan American gold medalist in Cali, Colombia. He gives a shout out to his brother Reggie “who supported me at my high school and college matches when no one else was there.
“In the middle of my national title match, Reggie came out of the stands onto the mat to tell me to ‘wake up.’ My opponent was coming back. Without him, I would not have become a national champion. Now that I am a coach, I know what my athletes need to hear from their corner.
“My 6th grade basketball coach benched me. What I have learned through wrestling is that you always have a chance, no matter the circumstances. It has also taught me not to judge. Instead, I have devoted myself to giving every person their day.”
Larry coached at Des Moines East High for 16 years. Now in his fifth year leading Hammer Time as well as 11th season coaching East Des Moines Jr. Wrestling Club, Larry relates: “Our school gets a bad name in our neighborhood, but we have some fantastic kids and top-tier educators.
“I believe in the saying that ‘iron sharpens iron.’ When you are practicing with tough kids, you become a hammer. Four kids from our club placed in the 2019 Iowa State Championships, leading East High to a 9th place team finish.” Larry’s Hammer Time club won the team trophy at the 2018 Tulsa Nationals and that same year were team runner-up at Reno Worlds.
Coach Jackson insists on sportsmanship from all his proteges. “Win, lose or draw, you look your opponent in the eye and shake his hand as well as the coach. How you present yourself means the world to me. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
“Wrestling teaches toughness so you can persevere, even when things in life may not always go your way,” concludes Coach Jackson. “Wrestling gives you the opportunity to improve through hard work and dedication. Giving up is not an option. There are no shortcuts – in wrestling or in life.”
Team Champion, Tulsa Nationals 2018; Team Runner-Up, Reno Worlds 2018
Amir Newman-Winfrey, D-Day on the Midway Champion 2019
Ed Gutierrez, RMN Events CEO, with Larry Jackson, Coach Hammer Time Academy
HAMMERTIME WRESTLING ACADEMY IA - Coach Larry Jackson, Amir Newman-Winfrey - D-Day on the Midway, 8U 46 lb Champ 2019