The American College Of Modern Weightlifting The American College Of Modern Weightlifting

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Thread: The American College Of Modern Weightlifting

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Maui, HI

    Default The American College Of Modern Weightlifting

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    A good read for anybody interested in the sport of weightlifting.

    Pillars of strength: Weightlifting college was uplifting experience for young men of East Akron

    The concrete-block garage has seen better days. Its bay doors are battered. Its windows are smashed. The whitewashed walls are chipped and worn.

    Most people passing along Chittenden Street would never suspect that the tired-looking building has a glorious past.

    For more than 60 years, this was the home of champions. Behind these walls, amazing feats reverberated around the globe. This was the American College of Modern Weightlifting.

    Three brothers -- Lawrence, Lewis and Claude Barnholth -- founded the East Akron club about 1922 in a three-car garage behind Larry and Lewie's home at Chittenden and First Avenue.

    The Barnholths ran the gym as a hobby, never charging for equipment or instruction.

    ``There are no dues or fees,'' Larry Barnholth once told the Beacon Journal. ``I guess you'd just say the Lord takes care of the gym. I once thought to myself, even if a man doesn't have money, he's still entitled to good health and strength. Finances are no problem.''

    The club, which earned the nickname ``Boys Town of Akron,'' was about spiritual, moral and physical development. The only obligation for members was ``to constantly improve as a weightlifter and person.''

    Improve they did.

    The college would lift in 17 straight world championships, four Olympic Games, three Pan-American Games and three Maccabian Games. The club captured 11 straight Amateur Athletic Union titles. More than 500 lifters would win first in their class at district, state, national or international levels.

    To this day, East Akron natives hold a deep reverence for the Barnholths. ``Larry, Lewie and Claude were like uncles to me,'' said Dr. Peter T. George, 76, a retired orthodontist living in Honolulu. ``I owe them all my success.''

    The George brothers -- Pete, Jim and George -- were the club's most famous lifters.

    Pete won three Olympic medals -- a silver in 1948, a gold in 1952 and another silver in 1956 (plus first place in two Pan-American Games and eight national championships). Jim won a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics and a silver medal in 1960, and appeared in eight straight world championships. George won a national intercollegiate title and narrowly missed the 1948 Olympics.

    Playmates had told Pete George about the club. He was 11 years old and weighed 90 pounds. All he wanted to do was bulk up for football.

    ``I had no intention of becoming a weightlifter,'' he said.

    In 1941, he joined a children's class that performed calisthenics on the lawn. Gradually, he was allowed to enter the garage --originally a wooden structure with a dirt floor.

    A sign above the door revealed the club's motto: ``May the Great Light of Life Shine Upon All Who Enter Here.''

    There wasn't much inside. The gym had a lifting platform, benches, dumbbells and barbells. A wood-burning furnace did little to keep the place warm.

    Larry Barnholth, a believer in positive thinking, posted slogans on the walls. ``What the Mind Can Conceive, the Body Can Achieve.'' ``Every Day in Every Way, I Am Getting Better.''

    He told George that he had the potential to be a great Olympic-style lifter. ``I began to believe him,'' George said.

    The boy raced to the club after school. ``I would sneak down because my parents didn't think it was a good idea to lift weights,'' he recalled.

    He learned the ``clean and jerk,'' the ``press'' and the ``squat snatch.'' Plant the feet. Lock the elbows. With step-by-step instruction, he added a pound and a quarter each week to his lift.

    At age 14, he won a state title at the Ohio AAU contest. At age 15, he won the junior nationals and lifted 300 pounds overhead. The rest is history, and he credits the Barnholths.

    ``There's no way in the world I could have done it without them,'' George said.

    Brothers Tony and Emanuel Levenderis were among the gym's prominent lifters.

    ``My father got me interested in the club,'' said Emanuel Levenderis, 75, of West Akron. ``I didn't want to go. He kind of forced us to go. And that was the best thing to happen to us.''

    Levenderis, who joined at 14, competed at the state, intercollegiate and junior national levels. He won the 1948 tri-state championship in Detroit, lifting 275 pounds and beating a contestant 17 years his senior.

    Coaches Larry and Lewie Barnholth gave him the training and confidence to succeed. ``They were extraordinary men,'' he said. ``Just unbelievable.''

    The Barnholths couldn't have been more different. Larry, the inspirational leader, was charismatic. Lewie, the technical master, was taciturn. Both worked at Goodyear. Claude Barnholth, the math genius, was professorial. A statistician for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, he didn't have as much time for the club.

    Outside the gym, Larry Barnholth was a familiar face in Akron. He was easily identifiable for his shoulder-length hair -- a rarity in the 1940s and 1950s.

    ``Samson might have influenced it,'' he once told a reporter. ``But for some reason, I always admired long hair. I started growing it long in 1938, when hair was worn fairly long. But then people started cutting their hair shorter and I thought someone had to have long hair.''

    In the 1950s, Pete George and Tony Levenderis started a building fund for the gym. Through raffles and other events, they raised enough money to add block walls and a concrete floor. Pete's brother George, future owner of a construction company, did the work.

    East Akron resident Robert Creswell, 69, who joined the club in 1949, recalls the excitement he felt as he approached the weightlifting college.

    ``I was confronted with that humble abode there -- just an ordinary old house in an old section of town,'' he said. ``The driveway went way up on an incline. It was like approaching the Acropolis.

    ``You had that feeling each time. You could hear the barbell plates from the street before you started up the long drive.''

    For two years, Creswell had saved pennies in stacks of 10 -- two deep -- across a door ledge. When he reached $30, he bought a dumbbell set.

    Since he had already been working out, Creswell thought he was hot stuff when he arrived at the gym. Larry Barnholth directed him to the squat bar.

    The boy did squats until his legs barely worked. When he caught the bus, he had to pull himself up on the handrail.

    ``And when the bus started off, I almost went down on my face,'' he said. ``I stumbled all the way to the back and everyone on the bus thought I was drunk.''

    Roy Combs, 67, of Clinton, was about 12 when he started riding his bicycle to the club from his home near Blue Pond.

    He said the Barnholths instilled in him a regard for learning and reading. ``Not only health and well-being was stressed, but also the development of the mind,'' he said.

    Larry taught about the importance of developing as a person and making a contribution to society, Combs said.

    ``A lot of intangible things came out of there,'' he said. ``It wasn't the idea of just grunting and sweating. These people were pretty well civilized.''

    Each year, the Barnholths held a club banquet at a fancy restaurant. They ordered steaks for everyone and discussed the year's highlights. Boys who clean-and-jerked 200 pounds for the first time received a pin. Those who lifted 300 pounds earned an engraved cup.

    Nearly 200 people attended the club's 50th anniversary banquet at Young's Restaurant in January 1972. It may have been the college's last great hurrah.

    The weightlifting world went into mourning on May 23, 1975, when Larry Barnholth died at age 75. The influential coach was buried at East Akron Cemetery.``There was no provision made for perpetuation of the organization,'' Creswell said. ``When Larry died, Lewie continued the club. When Lewie died, the club died.''

    The end came a decade later. Lewie Barnholth, 74, was fatally stricken at the gym on Jan. 16, 1984. The American College of Modern Weightlifting closed. Club co-founder Claude Barnholth died on July 4, 1999, at age 91.

    George said he learned more from the club than any of the schools from which he graduated: Kent State, Ohio State and Columbia University.

    ``The Barnholths provided a fantastic service to the community at that time,'' he said. ``They gave the kids in that neighborhood a tremendous advantage.''

    Levenderis described them as ``the finest gentlemen that ever lived.''

    ``They were an inspiration to people who passed through the portals there,'' Combs said.

    ``You can't say too much about the difference the club made in your life,'' Creswell said. ``I still carry my card. It's still in my wallet. I'll probably die with it there.''

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    North Texas


    Where did this appear? As an article?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    London, England


    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Rippetoe View Post
    Where did this appear? As an article?
    Google finds it at and it looks like it was an article at, although the link has broken.

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