By Gary Abbott
Every year, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Honors Weekend is kicked off by the Friday night unveiling of the plaques. A social hour is held, bringing the wrestling family together for a time of celebration, and then each of the inductees get the chance to see their Hall of Fame awards and displays for the very first time.
It is a relaxed time where the inductees’ family and friends have a chance to enjoy some very special moments, and many photos and videos are taken for posterity. Others from the wrestling community all over the nation come to Stillwater to support the new inductees and celebrate their achievements together.
There is one thing that is very apparent every year during the unveiling of the plaques – the wrestling community is a big family that has a tight connection. There are a ton of connections, just within the Hall of Fame Class of 2019, including these:
• Distinguished Members Brandon Paulson and Townsend Saunders won Olympic silver medals at the same Olympic Games, the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, with Paulson in Greco-Roman and Saunders in freestyle.
• Cohlton Schultz of Colorado is the first Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award winner with the last name of Schultz. (Nancy Schultz Vitangeli, wife of the late Dave Schultz, presented the award to Cohlton, and told everybody that there was no relation)
• Medal of Courage winner Jim “Doc” McCloughan and Outstanding American Steve Cannon both served in the U.S. Army
• An Arizona State connection exists between Distinguished Member Townsend Saunders and Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award winner Cohlton Schultz. Saunders competed for the Sun Devils and coached there for a few years, while Schultz has signed with the Sun Devils and will begin his college career there shortly. Supporting them both tonight was Arizona State grad and current Sun Devil head coach Zeke Jones, who was on numerous World Teams with Saunders and will be Schultz’s college coach.
• Tricia Saunders High School Excellence Award winner Emily Shilson has been coached for many years on the club level in Minnesota by Distinguished Member Brandon Paulson
• Meritorious Official Dave Errett officiated numerous matches that Distinguished Members Brandon Paulson and Townsend Saunders wrestled in, at major events all over the United States and at different phases of their careers.
• You can’t get any more East Coast than Distinguished Members Rich Lorenzo and Carl Adams. Lorenzo went to high school in New Jersey, while Adams went to high school in New York. Lorenzo was a Div. I coach in Pennsylvania, while Adams was a Div. I coach in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. When Adams was in college, Lorenzo coached Penn State athletes who wrestled Adams. When they were both Div. I coaches, they coached against each other. There is a high level of respect and friendship between them.
• Order of Merit winner Dave Curby won a title at the very first USA Wrestling Junior Nationals in Iowa City, Iowa in 1971. The announcer for the Hall of Fame plaque unveiling ceremony, Sandy Stevens, was the public address announcer in that very first Junior Nationals which Curby won.
The Friday night social is also a chance for the inductees to share the moment with their families, many who also have a strong wrestling connection.
• Supporting Distinguished Member Townsend Saunders was his wife Tricia Saunders, a four-time World champion in women’s freestyle wrestling and a Hall of Fame Distinguished Member in 2006. They become the first husband and wife to both be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
• Supporting Meritorious Official Dave Errett was his son Zach Errett, a two-time Olympic referee and one of the best international wrestling referees in the world today.
• Supporting Medal of Courage winner Jim McCloughan was his son Jamie, who won state high school titles in Michigan and was a Fargo All-American.
• Both High School Excellence Award winners, Cohlton Schultz and Emily Shilson, have fathers who wrestled and coached and were there to support them.
• Brandon Paulson’s father Doug, who coached Brandon during his career and was a support for many other Minnesota wrestlers for years, was with the family there.
Pretty much every inductee had family at the ceremony and every family was connected to wrestling in some way. Wrestling is a big part of the lives of every family there on Friday night.
Add in the wrestling heroes who were there to help to honor the current honorees, including:
• Olympic champion, Distinguished Member and current Penn State coach Cael Sanderson was there for Rich Lorenzo
• Two of Iowa State’s greatest stars, Nate Carr and Carl Adams, both Distinguished Members, enjoyed time together.
• Olympic champions John Smith and Dan Gable were in the house, supporting wrestling and supporting the inductees.
• Officiating legends and past Meritorious Officials Rick Tucci, Bill Stecklein and Jerry Kuntz were among the many referees and pairing officials there to support Dave Errett.
There were many more connections between the inductees, and many more stories of wrestling family connections going on at the Friday plaque unveiling. These were just a few. Friday night at Honors Weekend is a very special time.
Author’s note: There is also a connection between the author of this article and Distinguished Member Carl Adams, who served as the head coach at Boston University in 1981-82. That was my senior year as a wrestler at BU, and Carl coached our team to the New England Conference title, a first for our program. Carl was a great coach for me and an even better mentor and friend. Today was a day of joy and celebration for all of us who have had their lives impacted by this great man.