They wrestled at schools from New York State to California, Michigan to South Carolina. Collectively, their mat careers extended from the 1950s into the new millennium. Three were tapped to compete for the US at the Olympics. These factors all describe the Distinguished Members of the diverse Class of 2015 welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. during the 39th Honors Weekend June 5-6..
The four honorees – Cornell University’s Frank Bettucci, Cal State Bakersfield’s Joe Gonzales, Clemson’s Sammie Henson, and Greg Johnson of Michigan State – were inducted as Distinguished Members for 2015. Others welcomed into the Hall honoring amateur wrestling’s finest include Mike Golic, Mike Powell, Dr. Dave “Doc” Bennett, and Kenny Ritchie. To honor these inductees, College Wrestling Examiner has put together this photo-tribute…
Frank Bettucci, 2015 Distinguished Member
It was only natural that Frank Bettucci would attend Cornell University, having grown up in Ithaca, N.Y., where he was a three-time Section IV wrestling champ at Ithaca High. For the Big Red, Bettucci won three 147-pound EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) titles (1951-1953), earning Outstanding Wrestler honors at the 1953 championships because he pinned all four of his opponents. That same year, Bettucci went on to compete at the 1953 NCAAs at Penn State, where he not only won the 147-pound title (defeating Michigan State’s Bob Hoke, who passed away in May 2015), but also named the championships’ Outstanding Wrestler. Overall, Bettucci was 50-3 as a Cornell wrestler, undefeated his junior and senior seasons. After college, he won National AAU titles in 1957 and 1960, then earned a place on the US men’s freestyle team for the 1956 Olympics but was unable to wrestle in Melbourne because of a knee injury.
Bettucci was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army and spent most of his post-college career serving overseas on various assignments with the Agency for International Development. He also served as an assistant coach at Cornell. He is a member of the New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame, Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame, and Eastern Intercollegiate Hall of Fame, among numerous other honors.
Joe Gonzales, 2015 Distinguished Member
Joe Gonzales wrestled at 118 pounds for California State University, Bakersfield, where he was twice an NCAA Division II champ (the school was D2 at that time) in 1979 and 1980. In 1980, Gonzales – then a senior – concluded his collegiate mat career by winning the NCAA Division I title two weeks later. (At the time, Division II and III champs were allowed to wrestle at the D1 championships.) Prior to wrestling for the CSUB Roadrunners, Gonzales won a NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) title at East Los Angeles College.
After college, Gonzales made a name for himself in international competition. In the early 1980s, he was a five-time National Open freestyle wrestling champion at 114.5 pounds. Among his other freestyle accomplishments: a five-time US World Team member, a three-time World Cup champion, a bronze medalist at the 1982 World Championships, and champion at the 1982 Tbilisi tournament. Gonzales also was a member of the 1984 Olympic freestyle team. In the late 1980s, Gonzales served as an assistant wrestling coach at Arizona State.
Sammie Henson, 2015 Distinguished Member
A native of St. Louis, Sammie Henson was a three-time Missouri high school state champ who launched his collegiate mat career at University of Missouri. However, after his freshman year, Henson transferred to the now-defunct wrestling program at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he was undefeated as a junior and senior. He won the 118-pound title at the NCAAs in 1993 and 1994, becoming the first Missouri native to win an NCAA mat championship.
After college, Henson showed the world his talent in both freestyle and Greco-Roman competition. Among his greatest accomplishments: winning the World Championships at 119 pounds in Iran, then, two years later, claiming the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2006, he won a bronze medal at the World championships at age 35. Henson had served as an assistant coach at a number of colleges before being named head wrestling coach at West Virginia University in 2014.
Greg Johnson, 2015 Distinguished Member
After winning two Michigan state wrestling titles for Everett High in Lansing, Gregory Monroe Johnson stayed close to home by continuing his academic and athletic career at Michigan State in East Lansing. Once Johnson overcame serious injuries early in his career as a Spartan, the 118-pounder made history by earning three Big Ten individual titles – then the same number of NCAA individual championships — in 1970-72. Here’s what made those titles historic: Johnson became the first Big Ten wrestler to win three NCAA titles in conference history and is also Michigan State’s only three-time NCAA wrestling champion in program history.
After hanging up his Michigan State singlet, Johnson served as a coach at a number of colleges, including Clarion, University of Utah, University of Illinois, and Alfred State Junior College. In addition, Johnson was also involved in Australia’s New South Wales Wrestling Federation during the mid-1980s. In 2001, Johnson passed away from a rare blood disorder at age 52.
Mike Golic, 2015 Outstanding American
Mike Golic, best known as co-host of ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” show, is a strong advocate for wrestling (especially when the International Olympic Committee threatened the sport’s status at future Olympics). But that only makes sense, as Golic once wrestled in high school and college.
Golic wrestled at St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, where he placed third at the Ohio state wrestling championships. He then headed west to University of Notre Dame, where he compiled a 24-1-1 record on the mat for the now-defunct wrestling program, and also played football for the Fighting Irish. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1985, Golic went on to an eight-year career in the NFL, playing defensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Miami Dolphins.
In addition to being an advocate for wrestling, Mike Golic is also actively involved in community service. He is a board member for Hannah & Friends, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and adults with special needs, as well as an active fundraiser for the V Foundation for cancer research. He remains a supporter for the Northern Indiana Food Bank and Center for the Homeless in South Bend, Ind., home to Notre Dame.
Mike Powell, 2015 Medal of Courage
Michael J. Powell has battled tough opponents in his career as a wrestler and coach. However, he is now battling his toughest adversary, polymyositis, a chronic inflammation of the muscles that has affected the physical aspects of his coaching duties. This progressive autoimmune disease forces the body’s immune system to attack rather than protect. Doctors don’t know what causes it or how to cure it, but, as his National Wrestling Hall of Fame Medal of Courage biography states, “Powell persevered in spite of the greatest physical challenge of his life.”
An accomplished wrestler, Powell was a 1994 Illinois state champion for Oak Park-River Forest High School in suburban Chicago. He continued his competitive career at Indiana University, earning NCAA All-American honors in 1996, before completing his collegiate career three years later with an overall record of 68-21 for the Hoosiers.
After graduation, Powell served as an assistant coach at his high school alma mater from 1999-2004 before taking over as head coach for the 2005 season. In a decade of coaching, he led the OPRF Huskies to two dual team state championships, a dual team runner-up finish, a total of six appearances in the dual team state finals tournament, and top team scores at the individual state wrestling tournament four times. Powell coached 10 individual state champions and 31 all-state wrestlers. His overall dual meet record was 213-44. He stepped down as head coach at OPRF in 2014 but plans to remain involved in the program.
Since his diagnosis in 2009, Powell has inspired thousands with his courageous attitude toward the disease. In 2012, ESPN released an E:60 feature presentation, “In Relentless Pursuit: Mike Powell’s Fight.” Sports Illustrated ran a feature-length story titled “Man in Full” by Chris Ballard. Both stories brought positive recognition to the sport and awareness to the challenges that Powell faced as the head wrestling coach of a high school program.
Kenny Ritchie, 2015 Lifetime Achievement for Officials
“Kenny Ritchie has earned a place as one of the top high school and collegiate wrestling officials in the country, working virtually every major tournament the sport has to offer.” That’s the opening sentence of Ritchie’s National Wrestling Hall of Fame biography as recipient of the Lifetime Achievement for Officials award for 2015.
When he’s not serving as a captain and arson investigator at the Oklahoma City Fire Department, Ritchie spends considerable time on the mat as an official. His high school credentials include officiating at 27 Oklahoma state wrestling tournaments, 25 Geary Tournament of Champions, 31 Perry Tournament of Champions, 10 dual state tournaments, two high school all-state matches, and 27 high school regional tournaments.
Ritchie’s collegiate credentials are equally impressive. He has refereed at 12 NCAA Division I wrestling tournaments, including nine championship finals matches. Ritchie has also officiated at the NCAA Division II tournament eight times and the Division III tournament once. Other prestigious tournaments include four Eastern Regional tournaments, one NCAA National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic, eight NCAA National Dual tournaments, 17 Big 12 tournaments, and four Pac-12 tournaments.
In addition to his professional duties and work as a wrestling official, Ritchie is involved with the Wind & Fire Motorcycle Club. The club assists families devastated by fire by providing clothing, toys, and monetary contributions. The Wind & Fire Club also hosts fundraisers for needy children during the holidays.
Dr. Dave “Doc” Bennett, 2015 Order of Merit
Wrestler. Coach. Ophthalmologist. Video scout and technique analyst. Dave Bennett has worn all those hats and more throughout his life, much of it in service to wrestling. The man known as “Doc” throughout the wrestling community got his start in the sport as a member of the inaugural wrestling team at Jamestown High in North Dakota in 1959. He was a conference place winner and qualified for the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) National Championships while attending Jamestown College (now University of Jamestown). In 1963, Bennett transferred to Pacific University to finish his wrestling career, ultimately earning his doctorate in optometry in 1966. After continued study at the University of Washington and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Bennett went into a joint practice of ophthalmology in Kennewick, Wash., in 1978.
He blended a professional career with wrestling throughout his life. Bennett coached high school teams from 1969-1990, holding positions as a volunteer, assistant coach, and head wrestling coach at five different high schools. He helped coach over 40 wrestlers to high school state championships in three states.
Through Sunkist Kids, Bennett became involved in video scouting and technique analysis. He has produced over 60 instructional and educational tapes for coaches, athletes, and officials, featuring some of the top athletes and coaches in the world. He also produced over 40 television shows for broadcast in the United States and abroad. In 1997, Bennett gave up his medical practice to become a full-time staff member of USA Wrestling. Bennett continues to volunteer his services to USA Wrestling, United World Wrestling, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame with digital media productions. He serves on USA Wrestling’s volunteer coaching staff and the expert group for education for United World Wrestling, the international governing body for the sport of wrestling.