MAURER: My old wrestling rival kept winning

August 24, 2009

Janie and I attended a party last month for Cleo Moore, the retiring director of human resources and diversity at United Way of Central Indiana. Cleo began with United Way in 1990 and has handled all personnel issues since that time. According to Executive Director Ellen Annala, Cleo was especially adept with disputes between employees and their supervisors or other employees. He would calmly walk both parties through what needed to be done to address the problems. When I first knew Cleo, he was anything but calm. He was a warrior.

Cleo has a strong commitment to his community and his church. He has served on the Warren Township School Board and the board of the Near Eastside Multi-Service Center, a community-based human service organization. Cleo is an active member of the South Calvary Baptist Church, where he is a trustee and its treasurer.

I worked with Cleo in 1996 when I chaired the board of United Way. During my tenure, Executive Director Irv Katz abruptly resigned to take a position in Washington, D.C., and I was left with a rudderless organization. Fortunately, the search committee we assembled secured Ellen Annala. Through the process, Cleo was a source of wise counsel. I was pleased to find him at United Way, but we had met before.

It was a half century ago—the winter of my senior year at North Central High School. I wrestled for the varsity and was undefeated late in the season when we had a dual meet with Harry E. Wood High School. Cleo was their representative at my weight, 127 lbs. He also had an undefeated record, but that didn’t make any difference to me. When you are a senior in high school and have vanquished all comers—pinned most of them—you feel invincible.

I shook hands with Cleo in the center of the mat and noticed that he was African-American with red hair and buck teeth. He was a tree trunk of a man who met my glance with a calm, almost disinterested glance—just another day at the office. My technique was to tie up real tight and use my outsized hands to grab onto the opponent to make him feel like I was a lot stronger than he was—intimidate, humiliate and defeat.

As I put one hand behind Cleo’s neck and grabbed his right arm with my left hand, I was immediately struck by a bolt of panic. I was unable to put my hand around his bicep. I said to myself, “Oh, my God I’ve got a monster here.” He immediately earned two points for taking me down, the first time that had happened all season. I eventually gained my equilibrium and fought back, but lost 4-3—intimidated, humiliated and defeated. A month later, Cleo earned the title of Indiana State High School Wrestling Champion.

Approximately 25 years later, I was in an elevator in the Pan Am Plaza building all by myself when the door opened and a man about my size and age entered. He was African-American with receding red hair and he was wearing braces. During our exchange of pleasantries, it began to dawn on me—that’s Cleo Moore. The elevator reached his floor and he exited. I thrust my arm through the closing doors and chased after him. I tapped him on the shoulder and as he turned I said, “Are you Cleo Moore, that guy who beat me back in 1960?” He looked at me with the same expression of calm disinterest, only this time tempered with amusement. He replied in a gentle but confident way, “Yes, I am, and I could probably do it again.” I readily agreed with his assessment. We shook hands.

At his retirement party, I had occasion to shake hands with Cleo once more and laugh with him over the fact that neither of us weighs 127 pounds. I wished him well in his retirement.•


Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.


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