The Athlete

Norman Borlaug and his son Bill, pictured in their Pony League Baseball uniforms, in Mexico
Norman Borlaug and his son, Bill in Mexico. Norman and fellow scientist John Niederhauser were instrumental in introducing little league baseball to Mexico City and to Mexico in general. They did this so that their sons could play organized baseball. Someone asked Norman what he was proudest about in his life and he said, 'Introducing Baseball to Mexico'

Norman Borlaug, an Iowa farm boy from near the hamlet of Saude, was a Cresco High School athlete. He came to the University of Minnesota with the goal of becoming an athletic coach and science teacher. He tried out for football, but dreamt of being the Chicago Cubs second baseman. He did neither, instead he wrestled. He was a good college wrestler. He also helped his coach and mentor David Bartelma, bring high school wrestling to Minnesota. The principles of “giving your all and never quitting,” along with coaching and team building skills Norman learned in athletics served him well throughout his life’s work. 

Borlaug wrestling, circa 1934
Norman Borlaug as a University of Minnesota wrestler, circa 1934

His scientific/humanitarian fame and life-long support of high school and collegiate wrestling earned him induction into the collegiate National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the University of Minnesota ‘M’ Club Hall of Fame, the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Minnesota and Iowa High School Wrestling Halls of Fame among other honors (.pdf).

Decades later, while working as a plant pathologist/plant breeder on the Rockefeller Foundation’s ‘Mexican Project,’ he and fellow scientist Dr. John Neiderhauser introduced Little League Baseball to Mexico. They did it so their sons could play organized ball. Late in his life Norman quipped that his greatest achievement may well have been “introducing baseball to Mexico.”

Borlaug on wrestling and his scientific/humanitarian career: "Wrestling taught me some valuable lessons, I always figured I could hold my own against the best in the world. It made me tough. Many times, I drew on that strength.”

From Grappling Glory: Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Wrestling & Rassling,” 2005 used with express, written, consent from Bernstein Books.