Army MWR leader named Man of Year by USA Wrestling
June 25, 2008
By Tim Hipps
LAS VEGAS (Army News Service, June 25, 2008) - Van Stokes has been named Man of the Year by USA Wrestling, the national governing body for amateur wrestling in the United States.
Stokes, the director of Recreation and deputy director of Morale, Welfare and Recreation at Fort Campbell, Ky., serves as the second vice president of USA Wrestling and represents the Armed Forces on their Board of Directors.
"I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition," Stokes said. "I am truly grateful for all of the opportunities I have had to work with the dedicated leaders, coaches, athletes and volunteers in this organization. USA Wrestling embodies what is best about the Olympic spirit."
He received the award June 14 at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling at the University of Nevada Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center.
"This award is the highest honor we give within USA Wrestling," said Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling's director of communications. "It covers the entire gamut of the sport - from leadership to any other area where someone can make a major impact. Van Stokes has consistently been one of our strongest leaders and one of the most committed volunteers we have.
"He makes a difference in wrestling on a daily basis and we're very proud to recognize all he's done for us."
Stokes, of Clarkesville, Tenn., currently is serving his second term as second vice president of USA Wrestling. He has also served two terms as the organization's treasurer.
He has been active on numerous USA Wrestling standing committees, including the executive committee, finance committee, coaches' selection committee for all three styles (Greco-Roman, freestyle and women's freestyle). He most recently chaired the Greco-Roman coaches' selection committee.
Stokes has served in leadership positions on international competitions throughout the world, including tournaments in Iran, Sicily, France, Croatia, Turkey, Russia and Cuba. He also was the U.S. wrestling team leader at the 1995 Pan American Games in Argentina and the Conseil International du Sport Militaire's 2007 Military World Games in India.
Stokes began working as a television sports announcer in 1990, covering different Olympic sports for ESPN, FOX, and other networks. He has handled numerous events for USA Wrestling, both for national television broadcasts and Internet webcasts, including the 1995 World Championships and several U.S. National Championships.
At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling, Stokes teamed with Takedown Wrestling Radio host Scott Sasber to call a live webcast with audio and visuals for NBCOlympics.com.
"I think the Olympic Trials is one of the most exciting events," Stokes said. "I was truly excited for (Staff Sgt.) Dremiel Byers, who has worked long and hard to earn the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Games.
"I've watched Dremiel Byers for many years. I was in Russia when he won his world championship in 2002 and last year when he won the bronze medal in the World Championships. He has earned this opportunity and I am truly excited for him."
Stokes was tickled to see two-time Olympic medalist Rulon Gardner - for whom Byers served as a training partner at the 2003 Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece - hug and then interview Byers as a correspondent for MSNBC in Las Vegas.
"It was a full-blown experience for Dremiel Byers," Stokes said. "Wrestling is like a family. The respect that you saw between Dremiel Byers and (Spc.) Tim Taylor (also a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program) was even amplified when he had the opportunity to be interviewed by Rulon Gardner. It's like a family, and these men have utmost respect for each other."
Stokes was an assistant producer for the World Wrestling Championships in 1995 and 2003, as well as the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He was responsible for assisting with the production of announcements, athlete presentations, medal ceremonies, music, message displays, and the overall presentation of events.
Stokes' first love as a teenager was baseball, but he was a three-year letterman at running back for Marietta College's football team in the NCAA Division III Ohio Athletic Conference from 1996 through 1970.
"But I really, really have a joy for calling Olympic-style wrestling," said Stokes, who never wrestled because his high school did not have a team.
Stokes served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1970 through '72. He then earned a master's degree in sports administration at Ohio University. In 1976, he became the Army 5th Corps' Western Region Sports Coordinator in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. His next stop was the USAREUR sports office in Heidelberg, where he spent three years.
"My nine years in Germany was a great experience," he said.
Since 1985, Stokes has been working for MWR at Fort Campbell. Along the way, he has made a lot of friends and won the respect of many coaches and athletes.
"It's an honor and a privilege to work in this arena," Stokes said. "It's great to see our military athletes make the Olympic teams. It's also very gratifying to see our military coaches play such a prominent role at the Olympic level."
Army Staff Sgt. Shon Lewis was a Greco-Roman coach for Team USA at the 2004 Olympics. Navy coach Rob Hermann was an Olympic coach in 1996 and 2000. Marine Corps Maj. Jay Antonelli will serve as an Olympic coach for the third time in Beijing, where he will be joined by Air Force coach Rich Estrella.
"These athletes and coaches speak volumes about the Armed Forces' role in Greco-Roman wrestling," Stokes said. "It is a great privilege to be involved in helping shape direction and sharpen focus for this national governing body. But this is not about me. This about these athletes and this is about these coaches. I firmly, firmly believe that."
(Tim Hipps writes for the FMWRC Public Affairs.)