Former University of Oregon wrestling coach Ron Finley, front, waits Feb. 16 with members of the team to ride on the latest incarnation of author Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus, ‘Further.’ Kesey’s spirit has joined efforts to save the sport.AP photos
Supporters of University of Oregon wrestling demonstrate on campus Feb. 16 aboard a new bus named, ‘Further.’
PLEASANT HILL, Ore. — Before Ken Kesey wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or stocked a psychedelic school bus with LSD and the Merry Pranksters to look for America, he was a wrestler.
He might never have written “Cuckoo’s Nest,” the 1962 novel that launched him to stardom, if he hadn’t dislocated his shoulder wrestling for the University of Oregon.
The injury kept him out of the draft, allowing him to go to Wallace Stegner’s writing seminar at Stanford University, where his job at the local veterans hospital gave him the setting for “Cuckoo’s Nest” and the prototype for mean Nurse Ratched.
So when his alma mater decided to eliminate wrestling at the end of this season, it went down hard on the Kesey farm. That’s where Kesey is buried alongside his son Jed, the victim of a 1984 van crash during a University of Oregon wrestling team road trip. It’s also where Furthur, the bus made famous by Kesey’s 1964 odyssey and Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” awaits restoration.
“I know what Dad would do,” said Zane Kesey, who also wrestled for Oregon. “It’s just the kind of thing he would step up and attack when he sees something that’s wrong, when it’s something he’s already shed so much soul for.”
So last weekend, wearing his dad’s American flag shirt, Zane Kesey fired up a newer version of Furthur (named Further), called on Oregon wrestlers and alums to “Get on the bus,” and, with original Merry Prankster George Walker at the wheel, roared through the Eugene campus.
Loudspeakers blared “Save Oregon wrestling,” drums beat, a brass bell clanged, and wrestlers handed out fliers as they circled McArthur Court, the aging arena where Ken Kesey wrestled from 1955 to 1957, posting a winning percentage of .806 that stands seventh all-time at Oregon.
The ’60s-style act of taking it to the streets did not immediately get the university to change its mind about wrestling. But the Kesey family is not giving up.
“One thing about wrestlers is if they get on their back, it’s not over — it just got interesting,” said Zane Kesey, whose father died in 2001.
Head wrestling coach Chuck Kearney suggested that if Oregon had not had a wrestling team back in the 1950s, Ken Kesey might not have attended the university.
“One thing about wrestlers is if they get on their back, it’s not over — it just got interesting.”