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Honorees tell stories of success during 31st Hall of Fame Honors Banquet

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Larry Slater's Hall of Fame photo gallery

STILLWATER, OKLA. - There was not a seat available, as over 300 people attended the 31st Honors Banquet of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at the OSU Student Union on the campus of Oklahoma State University.

It was a celebration of excellence and achievement within wrestling, highlighted by the induction of four new Distinguished Members into the Hall of Fame.

Distinguished Member Barry Davis gave an emotional account of the influence of his father on his life, and how he taught him valuable lessons about work ethic and commitment.

"There was one person who really inspired me. He had a high school education, was very simple and couldn't show me technique. He talked one thing, work ethic. He said he didn't care how talented an athlete you are, if you don't have work ethic, you won't have success," said Davis.

He told the story about how his father would work two jobs to support the family financially, yet would find the time to be with Barry and held him during his wrestling career, even when he couldn't sleep in the middle of the night.

"There is no doubt that I had great workout partners, great coaches, great people around me. They can't replace that man right there, what he did for me as his son. He is responsible for me being here," said Davis about his father.

Davis was a three-time NCAA champion for the University of Iowa (1982, 1983, 1985) and went on to win a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in freestyle wrestling. Davis is now the head coach at the Univ. of Wisconsin.

Distinguished Member Greg Gibson talked about how his coaches and teammates were mentors in the development of his wrestling career and his life.

"Wrestling has been a big part of my life for a long time," said Gibson. "What I enjoyed most is the camaraderie, the friendships you develop. This happens when you join with others in something as worthwhile as wrestling."

Gibson thanked numerous coaches for the lessons that they taught him. He thanked his high school coach Max Burch for giving him "his foundation" in wrestling. He thanked his junior college coach Leon Donahue for "his laughter and enthusiasm." He thanked his college coach Ron Finley for "his guidance and never-say die attitude."

Gibson also mentioned numerous coaches from his USA Wrestling career who influenced him such as Stan Dziedzic, Jim Peckham, Art Williams, Pavel Katsen, Bill Weick, Larry Kristoff, Joe DeMeo, Josh Henson and Wayne Baughman.

Gibson is considered one of the most versatile wrestlers in history, winning World medals in three international styles: Greco-Roman, freestyle and Sombo. He won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles in Greco-Roman wrestling, and added World silver medals in freestyle in 1981 and 1983 and a World bronze in freestyle in 1982. He won his Sombo World title in 1981.

Distinguished member Larry Kristoff told the story about how, as a kid from a very small town, he never became involved in wrestling until midway through his senior year in high school. Kristoff only had five career matches before the district tournament, yet with some help from local college wrestlers, he made it to the finals of the Illinois state high school tournament.

"Wrestling is a sport that has a lot of great people. I'm a farm kid, but I picked up on that. There are a lot of classy people, more so than anything I have been around. I almost went into pro football, and I had friends who were successful in the pros and said I could have done it. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I met a lot of really good people in wrestling. It has been a good thing for me," he said.

Kristoff competed on two Olympic wrestling teams and won five World medals for the United States. He won two NCAA Div. II national titles at SIU-Carbondale, and was a NCAA Div. I runner-up.As a champion coach at SIU-Edwardsville, his teams won three consecutive NCAA Div. II titles and he coached over 110 All-Americans there during his 30 years.

In a style in which makes him a legend in the sport, Distinguished Member Bill Weick mixed a variety of jokes with stories about his many wrestling trips in foreign nations. He also shared some lessons he learned from his coach at Tilden Tech in Illinois, where he attended high school.

"My high school coach was a tremendous man. He taught us to have compassion for the loser. When we lost a match, she said we were going to work on something, close the gap and we'll beat him by the end of the season. Some coaches, they yell at a kid, like he is not a real person, not our child. If you treat your wrestler as if he is one of your own, then you will make a difference," said Weick.

Weick's speech was mostly a number of small stories. He mentioned how when he met Dan Gable for the first time in 1969, the told Gable to "remember tonight when you go to bed that the Russian is still running." He said that he had coached all three of the other Distinguished Members being inducted (Barry Davis, Greg Gibson and Larry Kristoff. He talked about one of his greatest high school athletes, Joe Williams (who went on to become an Olympian) and how he used humor to help him break the pressure he felt when going for his fourth high school state title.

Weick was a two-time NCAA champion for the Univ. of Northern Iowa. A high school coach with 749 career wins, he built champion programs in Illinois, including national power Mount Carmel High School. Weick was one of the nation's top international freestyle wrestling coaches, taking U.S. freestyle teams all over the world.

Retired Air Force General Ronald R. Fogleman, who received the Outstanding American award, told about how his coaches in wrestling helped shape his life and his military career.

"They taught me that something worth doing is worth doing right," said Fogelman. "All of these folks taught me the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, is determined by a small margin. The difference between a mediocre performance and an outstanding performance is very small. A little extra effort, some patience and the will to win can make an outstanding achievement. Stepping onto a wrestling mat is very much like life itself."

Fogleman quoted U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, himself a wrestler, with his famous statement about how it is not the critic that counts but that "the credit belongs to the man in the arena."

Fogleman, a successful high school wrestling and a former member of the U.S. Air Force Academy wrestling team, served as the 15th Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. He was the first U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to become Air Force Chief of Staff and had a distinguished 34 year career serving the nation.

Outstanding American Michael Novogratz talked about how "the spirit of wrestling" helped shape his life. He told about how the lessons from wrestling helped him during a time in his career when he was out of work. Novogratz met Cody Sanderson during the 2003 World Championships in New York City, and he was able to donate a mat to the new wrestling team at Utah Valley State. "I think that $5,000 for the mat was the greatest investment I ever made." His professional career took off shortly after.

"There are three kinds of wrestlers. One is scared to win, one is scared to lose and one just wasn't scared, and lived in the moment," said Novogratz. He explained how his business career gave him the chance to overcome the fear he never conquered in wrestling. When Novogratz rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and his company went public, his thoughts went back to wrestling.

"All I could think about was that this was like the walk of champions at the NCAA finals, or even at the Olympic Games. This was my time. I had finally conquered my fears. I suddenly realized that I was worth $3 billion dollars," he said.

Novogratz is a leader in the financial services industry. He is co-President of Fortress Investment Group, a $29 billion global asset management firm. He served 11 years with Goldman Sachs, where he became a partner in 1998. He was a high school wrestling star in Virginia, and a two-time NCAA qualifier for Princeton University.Novogratz has been a leader with the Beat the Streets program in New York City, developing wrestling programs in the city's middle schools and high schools.

Medal of Courage winner Joe Russell, an assistant coach at the Univ. of Minnesota, questioned why he would win an award for courage, then quipped "it dawned on me that I have been J Robinson's assistant for 12 years."

Russell explained what happened in the motorcycle accident during his junior year in high school, which gave him severe damage to his brain and body. He explained the lessons that he learned from that accident that shaped the way that he lives.

"I learned how important my faith is. It is your rock. My faith got me through the tough times," said Russell. "I learned don't take your relationships for granted in life. It is so easy to take your family and friends for granted. I learned how important they are and how they bless your life."

"I learned that little things can have a big impact on a person's life. When I was in high school, I was vain. I loved my hair. After the accident, they shaved my head. So, my friends and my brother also shaved their heads. It was a little thing but meant so much to me," he continued.

"I learned to have no regrets. After the accident, I tried to come back to wrestle. I came back and was pretty pathetic. But I did come back. The fewer regrets you have, the better you will be. I also learned that empathy is a great gift. It is the ability to walk in another's shoes."

Russell was one of the nation's top high school wrestling stars before his accident. He came back to wrestle in college and earn a law degree. He is an assistant coach for the NCAA championship teams at the University of Minnesota and a top freestyle coach within USA Wrestling.

Order of Merit winner Mike Chapman told of his lifelong interest and respect for wrestling. He explained how he read the stories of Iowa wrestling legend Frank Gotch, and watched pro wrestlers Verne Gagne and Lou Thesz on his television. It was while in the Navy, where he wrestled, that he talked for hours about the history of wrestling with friend Jim Duschen, and his passion was fueled.

"It broke my heart to see the lack of coverage, lack of respect and lack of history for wrestling," said Chapman. "I learned that maybe my calling is to write about wrestling." Chapman explained how he made wrestling front-page news as a journalist in Iowa covering the championship teams at the Univ. of Iowa under Dan Gable, then went on to write many books about the sport.

"Wrestling is America's form of self defense. Randy Couture and Dan Severn have proven that about wrestling. I want to sell to educators about the tremendous historic value that wrestling has," he said.

Chapman talked about how the oldest literature in civilization, the Epic of Gilgamesh, featured wrestling, and the story of Jacob wrestling with the Lord in the Bible. He also explained the importance of the wrestling match between Abe Lincoln and tough guy Jack Armstrong put him on the path to becoming an American president and leader.

Chapman made his impact in wrestling as a journalist, an author, a museum curator and a promoter of the sport. His sports journalism career included positions in Iowa, Illinois and Colorado He developed W.I.N. Magazine, a national wrestling publication. He also founded the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, based in Iowa.

Lifetime Service Award for Officials winner Mike Allen joked that he was now able to talk to coaches, and that "it is the first time I've had an opportunity to stand up in front and say what I'd like." He spoke about how important it was as an official to represent himself in a manner he could be proud of.

"I always want to be a gentleman to the students. I always want to be a gentleman to the universities, the high schools and the middle schools. I always want to be a gentleman to the coaches. I always want to be a gentleman and by doing so, represent my family and my children. As long as I am being a gentleman and am being fair, everything will work out," he said.

Allen is one of the nation's top wrestling referees. He wrestled in college at the University of Northern Iowa. He was a coach for Central High School in Iowa and is currently the athletic director at Waterloo East High School. Allen has been a referee for 26 years. He has worked 20 Iowa state high school championships, and has been a referee at 15 NCAA Div. I National Championships.

Zach Sanders of Minnesota was awarded the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award, presented for outstanding achievements as an athlete, student and for community service. A five-time state high school champion, Sanders won Cadet and Junior National titles in freestyle as well as national folkstyle titles on the mat.

"I would like to thank my family for supporting me and my dad for coaching me," said Sanders. "I came from a small town. I wish to thank USA Wrestling and the NHSCA for allowing me the opportunity to wrestle at the national level."

There was special mention of the 60th anniversary reunion of the 1947 NCAA Championships team from Cornell College of Iowa. Nine members of this team attended the weekend to visit and celebrate their journey together. This Cornell College "Dream Team" won the all-division NCAA Championships that year as well as the AAU National Championships, an amazing feat for a school with an enrollment of 650 students.

It was a busy morning for those attending Honors Weekend. The annual golf tournament was held, in spite of the tremendous rains that flooded the community on Friday night. In addition, the Club Faire portion of the program included a poker tournament, a fashion show and a guest speaker, storm chaser Chad Bradley.

When it was all over, the 300 friends and family who had gathered to celebrate the sport left with smiles and joy. It was a great chance to recognize the best our sport has to offer and to appreciate what wrestling means in their lives.

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