John du Pont’s broad-daylight murder of Olympic champion Dave Schultz 19 years ago unleashed a tsunami over the wrestling world.
Shockwaves keenly were felt in Durango, where Dave and his brother, Mark, had visited numerous times, hosted two wrestling camps and made an indelible impression.
One of U.S. wrestling’s greatest tragedies is presented in “Foxcatcher,” a disquieting drama starring Steve Carell as du Pont and Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz. It’s the story of the wealthy du Pont’s enormous and irresistible support of the sport, his growing eccentricities, and the bizarre and sad ending.
Released in November, it is a favorite among some (not all) movie critics, and is being tabbed as an Oscar candidate in several categories. We’ll know more when nominations come out Thursday.
Mark Schultz would show up at the wrestling camps shirtless and in jeans, and warm up by doing tumbling passes across the mats, recalled Durangoan Paul Petersen, former Fort Lewis College wrestling coach who organized the camps in 1986 and 1987.
John Baughman, former Durango High School wrestling coach, held a barbecue at his house in conjunction with the camp. One of the Schultzes tried riding a horse, was bucked off and promptly dropped the horse with a punch between the eyes, Baughman said.
The barbecue was punctuated by an all-out backyard wrestling match involving the Schultzes and their Durango connection, wrestling brothers Jeff and Jim Callard.
“You’d just get back and get out of the way,” Baughman said. “It was a pretty dangerous place to be.”
But don’t get the wrong idea. While the Schultzes were intense, they were fun to be around and generous in sharing their immense knowledge.
“(Dave Schultz) was willing to listen to your ideas,” Petersen said. “That’s what made him so well-liked.”
Petersen hasn’t seen the movie yet, but he’s read Mark Schultz’s 2014 book Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold. Dave and Mark Schultz both won 1984 Olympic gold medals and were multiple college and world champions.
American wrestlers at that time didn’t have nearly the backing of Soviet-bloc countries. When du Pont came along and created opportunities – sponsorship and a training facility – top wrestlers jumped.
“Most of the wrestlers kind of sold their soul to du Pont,” Petersen said. “They didn’t see another way to compete or train on a world level.”
Petersen coached FLC wrestling from 1984 until 1995, when the school axed the sport to meet Title IX requirements. During that time, both Schultzes were frequent guests in Durango, and Petersen, a member of the sport’s governing body in the U.S., briefly met du Pont at a national wrestling meet in Las Vegas. Du Pont visited a hotel room shared by Petersen, his wife Patricia, and Jeff Callard, a former Fort Lewis assistant wrestling coach.
“He came into our room and just started railing (at Jeff),” Petersen recalled in a recent interview.
“‘That guy’s nuts. He’s a bad guy,’” Petersen remembers Patricia saying when du Pont had left the room. “She had that impression right away.”
Jeff Callard was a three-time all-American at Oklahoma from 1973 to 1975, then went to Stanford for post-graduate work in petroleum engineering. He would grapple with the younger Schultzes, who grew up in the Bay Area, in the Stanford wrestling room.
Both Schultzes eventually ended up at Oklahoma, where Dave was a 1982 NCAA champion, and Mark was a three-time (1981-83) NCAA champ.
Jeff and Jim Callard both spent time as Petersen’s assistant coach at FLC. They figured that having the Schultzes put on a camp would be a chance to see their friends and a great draw for regional youths.
“Mainly, it was to hang out at Vallecito. My brother had a sailboat up there,” said Jim Callard, a longtime Durangoan who recently moved with his wife to Loreto, Mexico. The goal: “Make it as fun as possible because they weren’t going to make any money.”
Mark Schultz, in a brief email interview with the Herald, said he remembers playing chess with Jeff Callard, campfires and sailing at Vallecito and being in Durango one Halloween – a wild time in that era.
Du Pont’s Foxcatcher National Training Center near Philadelphia was just getting rolling about that time. Mark Schultz was at Foxcatcher from about 1986 to 1988, and Dave Schultz from 1989 to 1996.
Jeff Callard, now a professor of petroleum engineering at Oklahoma, traveled internationally with du Pont as Foxcatcher’s team manager.
The movie stretches the truth for dramatic effect. It’s loose with dates, details and facts – and more, according to Mark Schultz.
“It is NOT an accurate portrayal of my character or the relationships that I had between Dave and John du Pont,” he wrote to the Herald. “It’s pretty much fiction.”
He’s been even more vehement recently on Facebook, castigating director Bennett Miller for including a scene that hints at a sexual relationship between him and du Pont.
Dave Schultz was training for a comeback in 1996, trying to make the U.S. Olympic team at age 36. According to Jim Callard, a former college wrestler at Air Force, he was probably going to do it.
On Jan. 26, 1996, du Pont, heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, shot Dave Schultz three times at Foxcatcher, with Dave’s wife, Nancy, watching.
Col. Callard was at the Naval War College on the East Coast at the time. He attended Schultz’s funeral. He said Schultz was one of the greatest students ever of wrestling and that carried over into discussions they had about strategy of war and wrestling.
“Dave was an artist,” Callard said. “He understood the art of wrestling. ... I still use lessons I learned from Dave.”
John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column. He can be reached at email@example.com.