By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
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By Timothy Lane
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By Dennis Brown
James Rickerson hates Derek McQuinn's guts. His entire body stiffens when "Dangerous" Derek emerges from the locker room dressed in sparkly gold lamé, his fists raised high above his head.
James bolts upright from his ringside seat at the community center in Eldon, Missouri, shakes a fist in the air and screams, "You go home, Derek! We don't need you here!"
James is as tall and skinny as an antique lamppost, with thick blond hair flowing straight back from his retreating hairline and a bushy mustache riding the crest of his gaunt face. His blue eyes lock into a stare of pure venom across the gymnasium.
Dangerous Derek descends the stairs and struts through the booing crowd, bounds up into the ring and jumps onto the second rope, where he stands for a moment, arms outstretched as if he's Rocky Balboa.
James blows a raspberry at him.
Derek is not the kind of wrestler James came to see. James drove into the small town by the Lake of the Ozarks all the way from Crocker -- a hamlet 40-or-so winding miles southwest of Eldon -- just to see this World League Wrestling match. He came with his friends Bobby Helms, Margaret Tarpy, Sue Clotworthy and Jenny Walters -- the "Crocker Bunch" -- whose members range in age from the late thirties to the early fifties.
They're crazy about the WLW, a small-town pro-wrestling circuit that offers big heroes. After a long week at the Pulaski County Sheltered Workshop, tying lures that'll be sold at Bass Pro Shops and Wal-Mart, James and his pals want to see honest warriors such as Trevor Rhodes or the towering Bull Schmitt walk away with a WLW championship belt -- not some arrogant punk like Dangerous Derek, who has been a cheater ever since he joined forces with slick "manager" Johnny Gold. Every time Derek and his other "Gold Exchange" wrestlers take to the ring, Johnny Gold paces just beyond the ropes, spinning an old-fashioned walking cane between his fingers. When Derek gets into trouble, Johnny slides his cane into the ring, hooks it around the opponent's foot and trips him to the mat -- just enough distraction to allow Derek to finish the poor sucker with his trademark "spear" move.
Derek tears off his shimmering vest and takes his position just outside the ring for the start of the WLW Tag Team World Championship.
Inside the ring, his partner, "All That" Matt Murphy, stares down Bull Schmitt. Derek glances over at the Crocker Bunch.
James and Bobby leap up like ravenous dogs. "Go home, Derek!" James yells. Then they chant together, "Go home! Go home! Go home!"
Derek's face hardens into a scowl. He aims his beady, sunken eyes at James and sneers through his goatee. "Shut up!" he brays, pointing right at the Crocker Bunch. "You just shut your mouth."
The folks in Crocker may hate Derek McQuinn, but he's loved in the Northland area of Kansas City.
Admittedly, these are biased opinions. The Roses are Derek's grandparents. "He was a very kindhearted kid who would look after his brothers," Shirley says. "In grade school, he saw some bullies picking on another kid, and he stepped right in there and made them stop."
"He was not a fighting kid," Leonard adds. "We're proud that he lives by the principles of joy -- J-O-Y -- 'J' for 'Jesus' first, the 'O' for 'others' second and the 'Y,' you put yourself last."
Still, Derek always had a fierce competitive drive. Family legend has it that even in kindergarten, when other kids were preoccupied with Kool-Aid and alphabet blocks, Derek was trying to get in shape. When Shirley picked him up after school, he insisted that she follow behind in the car so he could run home. Over the years, Shirley and Leonard showed up for countless football, softball, baseball and basketball games. "We've sat out in the cold weather and watched him a lot," Leonard says. "He goes the whole 150 percent."
Derek is grateful for their support. One of the reasons he's pushed himself so hard, he says, is that he didn't have a father around. His dad left home when he was very young. "I never knew him," he says.
Growing up in Johnson County, Derek sensed that something was missing. His grandparents, his mom and his uncle were always in the stands, but as he would run out to the field, he'd look back and see all the other kids' dads cheering. Instead of feeling sad, he got motivated. "I wanted to prove to them that I was going to be good," he says. "Just because I didn't have a father teaching me things didn't mean I couldn't do it."
He made varsity his sophomore year -- no small task for a short kid at a big school such as Shawnee Mission North. His senior year, in a 1994 game against perennial powerhouse Lawrence High School, he grabbed a loose ball and scrambled 60 yards downfield for his first defensive touchdown. His accomplishments on both sides of the scrimmage line were enough to win him football scholarships at two schools -- MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, and Emporia State in Emporia, Kansas. To the delight of his grandparents, he chose the Christian school. He was rewarded with a trip to the Wheat Bowl in Ellinwood, where he and his teammates trounced Ottawa University.
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