The National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum has served to honor these bonds between wrestling and the military in a number of ways, including an exhibit at the Stillwater, Oklahoma hall, a fan fest event to coincide with the 2009 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at St. Louis, and a brand-new, 100-page book, Glory Beyond the Sport: Wrestling and the Military, written by Roger Moore, with contributions by Jay Hammond, Jamie Moffatt, and Don Sayenga, published by the Hall of Fame.
The results of a grassroots campaign
The genesis for these tributes was very much a grassroots effort that tied into programs already underway at the amateur wrestling hall.
"The idea came from some University of Oklahoma wrestlers who were military veterans," according to Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum. "They approached us, asking us to recognize the connections between wrestling and the military, and honor military contributions."
"This was a natural that fit into our educational outreach programs," Smith continues. "We've been working on subjects that broaden awareness of the sport, by telling the stories of Hall of Fame members. We've had programs honoring the contributions of African-Americans to wrestling, and our Pins to Patriots, which told the stories of U.S. Presidents who once wrestled. The idea of doing a 'wrestling and the military' tribute seemed to be an appropriate extension of our educational outreach. We've had so many Hall of Fame members involved in the military."
"Because there are so many who have wrestled and served in the military, we had to set some sort of criteria," says the director of the Stillwater Hall. "We focused on NCAA champs, Inter-Service champs, Olympians, World Team members, and Hall of Fame members. Our thought was, �Let's try to get as many profiles as we can, and create a database.'"
The process started with a committee charged with creating a military exhibit. The chairman of the committee was Bud Belz, Sergeant, United States Marine Corps (USMC); with Committee Ambassador Edwin Corr, Captain, USMC. Other members included Major Wayne Baughman, U.S. Air Force (USAF) (Retired); Col. Dave Bennett, USAF (Retired); Capt. John Heiner, USMC; Capt. Josiah Henson, Navy; Gen. Ron Fogelman, USAF; Gen. Charles Krulak, USMC; Bill McNamara, U.S. Army; Gen. Dean Sangalis, USMC (Retired); and Lt. Col. Dale Sullivan, Army � along with Bobby Douglas, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Distinguished Member; Jim Keen Sr., Chairman of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame; and Lee Roy Smith.
The main focus was to create a permanent exhibit, with a kiosk that will allow visitors to pull up names of individuals, and learn their stories.
The Hall of Fame then contracted Roger Moore, respected wrestling writer who had covered the sport for the Stillwater News-Press, to do the book, Glory Beyond the Sport, which, as Lee Roy Smith describes it, "served as a roadmap for research."
Commemorating service and sacrifice
The book Glory Beyond the Sport is organized into major sections, starting with "A Short History" that provides an overview of how wrestling and military history go hand-in-hand. Next, a chapter titled "A Presidential Sport" which tells the stories of the thirteen U.S. Commanders in Chief who at some point in their lives were wrestlers� from the well-known, such as Abraham Lincoln, to those in the 'who knew?' category, like Calvin Coolidge and William Howard Taft.
A state champion wrestler in high school in Illinois, Donald Rumsfeld was a three-year starter at Princeton (University). He later became Secretary of Defense during George W. Bush's presidencyOne president singled out for special consideration in the book was Theodore Roosevelt, who had been a sickly child, but, thanks to involvement in active sports such as boxing and wrestling, became an advocate for incorporating combat sports in military training.
"Teddy Roosevelt thought it was important that wrestling would be the supreme combat method for military training, over other combat methods such as jiu-jitsu and judo," according to Lee Roy Smith.
Glory Beyond the Sport then tells the stories of individuals who are National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum's Outstanding American honorees, were once wrestlers, and served in the armed forces. Among the individuals profiled in this chapter that are familiar names outside the world of wrestling: George Washington, Norman Schwarzkopf (Commander in Chief of Operations for Desert Storm in the early 1990s), and Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush).
Chapter Four serves up profiles of the 55 Distinguished Members of the Hall of Fame who have military and mat backgrounds. "It was striking how many served their country, but they don't talk about it," says Smith. "They didn't think twice about serving."
Among the stories told in this section of Glory Beyond the Sport include all-time wrestling legends Bill Koll, Gerry Leeman, Dan Hodge, Doug Blubaugh, Tommy Evans, and Lloyd Keaser.
Doug Zembiec wrestled at the US Naval Academy. In 1995, he earned All-American honors at 177 pounds. He was a rifle company commander who led 168 Marines in the first conventional ground assault on Fallujah, Iraq in April 2004, where he earned the nickname "Lion of Fallujah." Zembiec was killed in May 2007 in BaghdadNext, the "Above and Beyond" chapter shares stories of wrestlers who have served their country with honor, from World War I to the present day.
"One of the most impressive is Tom Norris, a two-time ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) champ at the University of Maryland who was a Navy SEAL. Disguised as a Vietnamese, his heroic actions rescued pilots who were shot down over Vietnam, despite having been shot in the head." Norris later was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The chapter titled "The Ultimate Sacrifice" profiles a half-dozen individuals who gave their lives in military service, including Ray Mendoza, Big Ten champ for Ohio State in the 1990s, and Doug Zembiec, known as "the Lion of Fallujah" who was an All-American wrestler at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Glory Beyond the Sport concludes with chapters on present-day opportunities for athletes to participate in wrestling while serving their country� and a chapter celebrating diversity, and how the military has opened doors for wrestlers well beyond the mat.
To purchase a copy of Glory Beyond the Sport, visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum Web site at www.wrestlinghalloffame.org, or by calling 405.377.5243.