It's not every city that can claim two legendary wrestlers who share a combined six NCAA titles, two Olympic medals, and Distinguished Member status at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Now Perry, Okla. will be honoring hometown mat heroes Dan Hodge and Jack Vanbebber each with a statue in the Perry Wrestling Monument Park, the Hall of Fame announced Tuesday.
The Stillwater, Okla. Hall posted this message on its Facebook page Tuesday: "Danny Hodge and Jack Vanbebber, who were inducted as Distinguished Members in the inaugural National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum class in 1976, are going to be immortalized with statues as part of the Perry Wrestling Monument Park in their hometown of Perry, Oklahoma ..."
In September, the Perry Wrestling Foundation unveiled a model of the new park, to be located in downtown Perry, on the north side of the town square, with the message, "If all goes well, we will have the grand opening in May 2016."
The statues of the two wrestlers are being crafted by Jim Franklin, whose sculptures are on display across Oklahoma. He has a studio on the square in Perry.
Current wrestling fans probably recognize the Dan Hodge name, as it graces the Hodge Trophy which is presented each year to the nation's top collegiate wrestler. Daniel Allen Hodge wrestled for Perry High School, where he won the 165-pound Oklahoma state title in 1951. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Hodge enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he compiled a perfect 46-0 record, claiming three Big Seven and NCAA titles at 177 pounds from 1955-57. He won 36 of those matches by pin, earning him the nicknames "Dangerous Dan" and "Homicide Hodge." In addition, Hodge earned a silver medal in freestyle at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Furthermore, Hodge owns the distinction of being the only amateur wrestler to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as an amateur wrestler (1957) in the more than 60-year history of the magazine. Hodge still resides in his hometown of Perry.
Jack Francis Vanbebber made his mark on the wrestling mat decades earlier. Despite having been run over by a wagon wheel at age 6 (causing serious injury to his chest), Vanbebber became a wrestler at Perry High, becoming an Oklahoma state champ ... then took his talent to Oklahoma State, competing for all-time great coach Ed Gallagher. Vanbebber put together a flawless 22-0 record, winning three NCAA championships in 1929-31 at 155 and 165 pounds. After graduation, Vanbebber headed west to Los Angeles to compete at the 1932 Olympics ... bringing home a gold medal in freestyle as a middleweight by defeating the defending world champion. After a long career in the oil industry, Vanbebber passed away in 1986 at age 78. His inspirational life is immortalized in the book "A Distant Flame."
Hodge and Vanbebber aren't the only native Oklahoma wrestlers to be honored in statue form. A few years ago, 1960 Olympic gold medalists and Oklahoma State mat greats Shelby Wilson and the late Doug Blubaugh were immortalized with statues at their high school in Ponca City, Okla. Wayne Baughman, Olympian and 1962 NCAA champ for the Oklahoma Sooners, displayed his chiseled physique for a U.S. Air Force Monument installed in the mid-1960s in downtown Oklahoma City.
Individuals wishing to offer financial support to the effort to honor Hodge and Vanbebber in statue form may make a tax-deductible donation, made out to the Perry Wrestling Foundation, and mailed to P.O. Box 55, Perry, OK 73077.