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Severe rain and flooding canít stop Hall of Fame from celebrating its honored guests



Friday Photos

Larry Slater's Hall of Fame photo gallery

STILLWATER, OKLA. - The Water here was anything but Still.

Locals felt that this was one of the most intense thunderstorms in memory. The sports editor from the Stillwater News Press said the media was reporting that there was six inches of rain in less than an hour and a half. The torrent seemed to come down sideways, in great sheets of water. All of the roads were flooded, many of which were impassable.

None of this stopped the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum from hosting its Friday night social, which including the unveiling of the plaques for the 31st annual induction ceremonies at 6:00 p.m.

The Distinguished Members and honorees came to the Hall of Fame, along with their friends and families and hundreds of invited guests. Many arrived drenched from the rain, but once they were inside the building, the spirit was upbeat and joyous. Members of the Hall of Fame staff had towels for guests to dry themselves off with as they entered.

Prior to the formal ceremonies, guests mingled and exchanged stories from their journey to the hall. Some of them were very interesting.

Colonel Billy Walker of the U.S. Air Force, who was attending the weekend to support Outstanding American honoree General Ronald Fogelman, didn't quite make it to the Hall of Fame. He was driving a rental car, and while going through an intersection a few blocks from his destination, the car got totally flooded and stalled out. Water was up to the top of the car doors, and Colonel Walker called a friend at the Hall of Fame to get help. A passing truck assisted by pulling the disabled car out of the flooded intersection and off the road. Walker arrived in time to see the formal program.

The photographer for the Stillwater News Press who was supposed to cover the event could not leave his flooded home, so the newspaper borrowed photos from the official event photographer Larry Slater.

One of the honorees, Outstanding American Michael Novogratz, was delayed due to flight conditions and missed the formal ceremonies due to the weather. He did make it to Oklahoma during the evening

You just can't keep the wrestling people from enjoying a chance to talk about wrestling and visit with friends.

Hall of Fame Executive Director Lee Roy Smith started the formal program about 30 minutes after scheduled, to allow some of those who needed extra time to get there to arrive. Nobody seemed to care.

The unveiling of the plaques is a tradition on the first night of Honors Weekend. This year, in spite of the challenges, a large crowd of guests went into the John Vaughan Wing of the Hall of Fame to enjoy the festivities. This was the first time that the honorees and the public were able to see the official Hall of Fame plaques for those enshrined, and photos were taken with each person at their award, along with their families.

Master of Ceremonies Sandy Stevens read a short biography of each winner, then presented them to the audience alongside their displays.

First up was Medal of Courage winner Joe Russell, the amazing assistant coach at the Univ. of Minnesota. Russell was severely injured in a motorcycle accident when in high school, but battled back against all odds to become a college wrestler, then an attorney and a coach for the national champion Gopher team. Russell posed with family and friends, many who came out from his native Oregon. He took an additional photo with wrestling legend Alan Rice and Olympic medalist Brandon Paulson who were there to support him.

Mike Chapman, the winner of the Order of Merit, posed first with a longtime friend, wrestling legend Dan Hodge. Chapman made his mark in the sport as a journalist, author, historian and promoter. Hodge was a subject of one of Chapman's 13 books about wrestling. Said Chapman, "I couldn't have Frank Gotch come, so I had Dan Hodge come." Next came a photo with a large number of family members.

Mike Allen, the Lifetime Service for Officials award winner, in his own quiet way, was introduced in the Vince Zuaro Officials Room at the Hall. He posed with his awards presenter Bobby Walton, then brought up his children and a grandchild for photos and smiles.

Outstanding American General Ronald Fogleman was presented next, in the section where so many great former wrestlers who made a major impact on society are enshrined. Fogleman became Chief of the U.S. Air Force and had a distinguished military career. Just like somebody used to command, Fogleman organized the photos taken at his display, first with family, then with friends, then with a wrestling teammate and coach.

The final awards presented were to the Distinguished Members, those who are forever members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. They were presented in alphabetical order in the most congested area of the facility.

Barry Davis, the Olympic medalist and 3x NCAA champion, posed first with his wife and children, then invited a huge group of family and supporters to stand with him in front of his plaque. Davis was wearing a shirt with a big W for the University of Wisconsin, where he serves as the head wrestling coach.

Greg Gibson, the U.S. Marine Corps star who won medals for the USA in freestyle, Greco-Roman and Sombo, broke out in a big smile, something not common for a man known for his serious look. He then posed with his high school, junior college and college coaches, then added in one of his World Team international coaches. Later, Gibson would also pose with two of his teammates from his days competing for the U.S. Marine Corps wrestling squad.

Larry Kristoff, the longtime heavyweight freestyle star, took some ribbing from friends about how handsome the person in his plaque looked. Kristoff, who was one of the nation's top coaches in his 30 year career at SIU-Edwardsville, was having a tremendous time during the presentation alongside his family.

Bill Weick, respected as one of the top coaches in the nation, could not maintain his gruff approach, goofing around when his photos were taken. When Weick's family and friends lined up for a picture, there were too many for the photographers to fit into one frame. Then they had to try to squeeze in one of the athletes he had mentored, fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Baumgartner. After the large group broke up, a special photo was taken with three master coaches, as Weick was joined by Dan Gable and Jim Peckham in front of the display case.

After the formal ceremonies, the 1947 Cornell College NCAA championship team had its 60th anniversary, celebrating one of the most amazing achievements in wrestling history. This small school with just over 600 students beat all the larger colleges in the nation to take the NCAA team title, then added in an AAU team national title to boot. A special powerpoint presentation on this storied team, prepared by Arno Niemand, was shown in the theater room at the Hall of Fame.

By the time the ceremonies had ended, so had the rain, as the crowd went off to enjoy more friendship in the warm Stillwater night. There is much more to come on Saturday, but already the 2007 Honors Weekend had been memorable.
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