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Ex-Penn State wrestler, high school coach Nunamaker dead at 74

Ray Nunamaker, Penn State wrestler who became a legendary mat coach at Nazareth High School in the wrestling hotbed of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, died Tuesday in his home after being diagnosed with a brain tumor last year. He was 74.

Ray Nunamaker
"Ray Nunamaker 'revolutionized' the sport of wrestling in the Lehigh Valley, building a state and national powerhouse at Nazareth High School while always teaching, and learning, something new," is how The Morning Call newspaper described the former Nittany Lion grappler. "Nunamaker transformed Nazareth wrestling into a nationally recognized program. In 34 years as head coach, Nunamaker never had a losing season. He retired in 1997 with a career record of 468-95-7 and coached nine wrestlers to state championships, including son Ryan."

Ryan Nunamaker, who is now head wrestling coach at nearby Parkland High School, said, "It certainly makes you feel extremely proud and blessed to have someone in your life that has positively impacted so many people. Over the last 10 months, we've really learned a lot about that. He impacted a lot of people through wrestling, but in 39 years as a teacher, he also impacted lot of students as well, and they've shared their stories and feelings with us."

Ray Nunamaker wrestled at Penn State from 1959-63. "Although I was never a 'starter', I was always made to feel an important part of the team," Nunamaker said in a profile in the 2008 book "A Century of Penn State Wrestling." After describing a scene in which then Penn State coach Charlie "Doc" Speidel had stopped him on the way to class to demonstrate a move -- and how much that simple act meant to him -- Nunamaker said, "I doubt very much if I would have been a wrestling coach if I had not been for the influence of Charlie Speidel. He changed the direction of my career (I was in mechanical engineering) by suggesting I would make a good teacher and coach. He was instrumental in getting my first and only coaching job at Nazareth High School ... Doc's concern for his wrestlers impacted me and how I treated my wrestlers."

Current Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson issued a statement, saying, "The Penn State wrestling family was saddened to hear of the passing of one of our own, Ray Nunamaker. Ray was a former Nittany Lion wrestler who went on to give back to the sport he loved as a coach. We send our condolences to his family and join them in mourning his loss."

The family plans a 'Celebration of Life' for Nunamaker on Aug. 16.

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