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Rick Lawinger, Wisconsin's first NCAA champion wrestler, dead at 67

Rick Lawinger, who was the first University of Wisconsin wrestler to win an individual NCAA championship and then became a respected high school coach in his home state, died Tuesday. He was 67.

Rick Lawinger
Lawinger won his 145-pound crown -- the first individual national mat title for the Badger wrestling program in any weight class -- at the 1973 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, defeating Steve Randall of Oklahoma State for the 1974 NCAA championship, completing a 39-1 season campaign.

Lawinger recently suffered complications from heart surgery, his friend and former Badgers coach Duane Kleven told Madison.com.

"He knew it from the minute he stepped in the door at Wisconsin that he was going to be their first national champion," Kleven said of Lawinger. "No doubt about it."

Lawinger's 1974 NCAA championship started the Badgers on the path to seven more in the following four years, three of them by Lee Kemp, the school's first four-time All-American and only three-time NCAA champion.

In addition to winning the first NCAA title for Wisconsin, Lawinger was also a Big Ten Conference champion in both his junior and senior seasons. He was also a three-time team MVP and ranks fourth in UW history with an .882 career winning percentage (130-17-1).

He also won a bronze medal in freestyle at the 1973 World University Games.

Born July 30, 1952, Rick Lawinger grew up on a dairy farm near Mineral Point, Wis. He didn't start wrestling until joining the powerhouse Mineral Point High School program led by head coach Al Bauman, but he finished an undefeated 1969-70 senior season by winning the state title at 145 pounds.

As a coach at River Valley, Lawinger had the state's No. 1 dual meet team in 1978 and 1979. The team finished as state runner-up in 1978.

Rick Lawinger was inducted into the George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame at University of Wisconsin in 1983.

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