Dreams of a Young Man from Iran

Dr. Ed Scantling
Dean of College of Education/former UNK wrestling

When the editors invited me to write an article for The Columns, they suggested I write about something that was important to me. I thought of the letter of recommendation I wrote nominating Ali Amiri Eliasi for the NCAA II Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The letter, and the emotions it stirred in me, were fresh in my mind. As I wrote, it reminded me of the sacrifices that Ali made every day to get an education. Ali had to leave his family and friends in Iran. He didn’t see them for many years. It was only after receiving his American citizenship that he was able to return to Iran to visit. Before that, he was afraid the authorities would put him in prison for speaking out about the government and for fleeing the country.

I had the privilege of serving as Ali’s wrestling coach during his competitive career. He was an amazing wrestler who finished his career at UNK as a four-time All -American with two National Championships (one in the NAIA the year before we became eligible for the NCAA tournament), a runner-up finish and a third place finish. Had Ali not suffered serious injuries his last two years, I belive he would have finished as a four-time national champion.

He was an outstanding student who graduated from UNK with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Ali’s desire for an education no doubt stemmed from his background. Ali is a native of Iran, and as a teenager, he represented Iran on a number of national teams, and was in fact an elite wrestler who won World Championships for Iran.

Life was good until he spoke out against the country’s political leadership and the way they were treating various religious factions within Iran. Ali is a Kurd, and although he was allowed to represent his country as a wrestler, he would not be allowed to go to the university. In the end, he was forced to join the military and fight the Iraqis as a Forward Observer in the Iranian Army. Ali never spoke much about what he experienced during his military service, except to say that it was very bad.

Once his military service ended there was no future for him in Iran, and he was forced to flee the country. He left Iran with the clothes on his back. He was fortunate to find a smuggler who helped him escape by taking him across the desolate countryside of Turkey. Eventually, Ali found himself in a German refugee camp where, if it were not for his wrestling background, he may have found himself sent back to Iran and perhaps prison.

In Germany, while working as a mechanic, Ali earned an opportunity to travel to the United States on a cultural exchange wrestling team. During this trip, I met Ali and began the recruiting process that eventually brought him to Kearney and to UNK. He was obviously a leader in the UNK wrestling room, but always most important to him was the opportunity to get a university education.

Ali worked hard to master the English language, and in no time, he was setting the pace in most of his courses. It was not unusual for him to spend time talking with the freshmen about the liberties they enjoyed and the need to appreciate being American citizens. Several years after graduating from UNK, Ali earned United States citizenship, certainly one of the most important and proudest days of his life.

Ali has gone on to a very successful career in the United States. He, his wife and son live in Potomac, Md., where Ali is a physical education teacher and coach at The Bullis School, an independent college preparatory school. He is an example of what America stands for and why so many people from around the world want to come to the United States. He used his athletic skills as a “vehicle” to obtain his lifelong dream of becoming an educated man. Every day he is grateful for the opportunity that wrestling provided for him.

Most of our students do not have to make the sacrifices Ali did to attend UNK. However, I believe it is important that we remember they all have dreams for their future, and the education they receive at UNK figures prominently in that future. I think we sometimes forget how important and how powerful just a little bit of support can be in helping our students attain their dreams of a university degree.

Will Ali be inducted into the NCAA II Wrestling Hall of Fame? We will have to wait and see; the new inductees will be announced at the 2007 NCAA II Wrestling Championships which will be held at UNK on March 9 and 10.