By Roger Moore
STILLWATER, Okla. â€“ The National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum has announced its Class of 2009 inductees in the categories of Distinguished Member, Outstanding American, Order of Merit, Medal of Courage and Lifetime Achievement for Officials.
The Hall of Fameâ€™s Board of Governors approved the selections at its semi-annual meeting held in Las Vegas the first week of December.
â€œI want to thank our Board of Governors and the various screening and selection committees involved in the six-month process that determines our honorees for induction,â€ said Jim Keen Sr., Chairman of the Board of Governors.
Distinguished Members â€“ Pete Blair, Ed Eichelberger, Les Gutches and Dennis Koslowski; Outstanding American â€“ Steve Silver; Order of Merit â€“ Arno Niemand; Medal of Courage â€“ Larry Gibson; and Lifetime Achievement for Officials â€“ Chuck Yagla will be inducted during Honors Weekend in Stillwater, June 5-6, 2009. These eight honorees will mark the 33rd class since the Hall of Fame began operations in 1976.
The Class of 2009â€™s Distinguished Members includes a World champion in freestyle, one of just two NCAA champions for the Naval Academy, one of the United Statesâ€™ first Greco-Roman stars and one of Lehighâ€™s all-time greats.
When signing an autograph, Edward Baxter Eichelberger always adds â€œGalatians 6:14â€ after his signature.
It reads: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
He was coached by a legend in high school â€“ Billy Martin at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va. â€“ and by another legend in college â€“ Gerald Leeman at Lehigh.
Eichelberger was undefeated his final three years of high school, winning three state titles in Virginia. His career at Lehigh included two NCAA championships and a 55-3-1 record with 37 pins. One of his losses came in the 1954 NCAA finals to Myron Roderick of Oklahoma A&M.
He was named the EIWA Tournamentâ€™s Outstanding Wrestler in 1955 and 1956 and the NCAA Tournamentâ€™s OW in 1955.
Employed by IBM since 1956, Eichelberger earned his Masters and Ph.D. from Princeton.
As a senior at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va., Blair stood just 5-foot-6 and did no t wrestle on the varsity. He enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 16, and during his recruit training grew an amazing 6 inches. By the time his two years at Bainbridge Prep Academy were done that total was 7.5 inches.
Blair competed at 177 pounds as a freshman and sophomore at the United States Naval Academy and moved up to 191 pounds his final two collegiate seasons where he would win back-to-back NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956. His career record was 57-5 with no losses over his final two seasons for legendary head coach Ray Swartz.
Soon after beating Kenneth Leuer in the 1956 NCAA finals, Blair pinned five opponents in winning a National AAU title. Two weeks later he was the Olympic Trials champion at 192 pounds and would be elected team captain by his freestyle teammates.
In Melbourne, Australia, at the 1956 Olympics, Blair would earn a bronze medal.
An officer in the Navy from 1955 until his retirement in 1974, Blair served on ships and submarines and taught at the Academy.
Blair died on June 29, 1994, after a brief but concentrated bout with cancer.
A two-time Division III national champion at Minnesota-Morris, Koslowski began the transition to Greco-Roman soon after graduating in 1982. One year later, in 1983, Koslowski would win the first of his 7 USAW Greco-Roman titles.
In 1987 at the World Championships in France, Koslowski earned a silver medal at 220 pounds. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the Minneapolis resident would bring home a bronze medal, and four years later at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the 220-pounder would earn a silver medal. He was the first to win two Greco-Roman Olympic medals for the USA, an achievement only matched by Rulon Gardner.
While at Minnesota-Morris, he was also a three-time All-Conference guard on the football team and is currently the owner of Koslowski Chiropractic, Inc., in the Minneapolis area.
Gutches was the first athlete to win USA Wrestling national titles in all five age group levels â€“ Cadet, Junior, Espoir, University and Senior.
At South Medford High School in Oregon, Gutches won three state titles. He was also a district champion in the 400 meters for the track team.
He was a two-time NCAA champion while at Oregon State, compiling a 134-10 career record. He earned the Outstanding Wrestler award at the 1996 NCAA Championships and the Dan Hodge Trophy that same season. Over his final two collegiate seasons he allowed opponents just one takedown.
Gutches quickly made his mark in freestyle, winning the first of his 5 U.S. Nationals titles in 1996 and also the Olympic Trials title at 180.5 pounds.
In Atlanta, he would finish seventh. However, a year later at the 1997 World Championships in Russia, Gutches would earn a gold medal at 187.25 pounds. He would also earn a bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships.
The 2009 Medal of Courage honoree, Gibson has battled adversity since the age of 12 when he was hit by a drunk driver. After almost two years in the hospital and 13 surgeries his leg was amputated seven inches below the knee.
He participated in both football and wrestling in high school and college, earning four letters and serving as team captain for two years at George Fox College in Oregon.
A life-changing plane crash sent Gibson back to school where he received his teaching degree. He taught history and served as wrestling coach at Omak High School for 16 years.
A club coach since 1972, Gibson was voted Washingtonâ€™s Coach of the Year in 1991. He was inducted into the Washington State Chapter of the NWHOF in 1995 and received his USA Wrestling Gold Level Coaches Certificate in 1997.
Gibson has been a nationally-known motivational speaker since 1988.
Niemand, the Order of Merit honoree, received the FILA Gold Star in 2008 and has provided leadership gifts for new training facilities at his high school and collegiate alma maters. He has contributed major resources to several elite national and local youth clubs around the country.
He was the pioneer sponsor of USA Wrestlingâ€™s Women s National freestyle team through his company, Body Bar Systems. Niemand has also support the National Wrestling Coaches Associationâ€™s educational program Building Leaders for Life and the College Sports Councilâ€™s advocacy against the consequences of Title IX interpretations on the sport of wrestling.
He is currently writing and publishing the book Miracle on the Mat detailing Cornell Collegeâ€™s road to the 1947 NCAA championship.
Niemand is a graduate of the University of Cornell (Ithaca, N.Y.) and has been a CEO, President and Chairman of Niemand Industries and Body Bar Systems since the 1960s.
The founder and owner of the Steve Silver Company, an import furniture business in Dallas which employs 500 worldwide in five nations, the 2009 Outstanding American honoree has been involved in wrestling throughout his life.
Silver wrestled for Spencerport High School in New York and at the University of Alabama for three years under coach Pat Milkovich. Six of Silverâ€™s seven children, including two daughters, have participated in wrestling.
He founded and coached a youth wrestling club in Forney, Texas, hiring 1988 Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday to coach the club, now known as Team Monday. Silver is also a big supporter of Bishop Lynch High, a nationally-known program.
Silver has served as Team Leader for the last four U.S. Freestyle Teams including the 2008 Olympics in China where heâ€™s done business for a number of years.
He was named USA Wrestlingâ€™s Man of the Year in 2006 for his contributions to the sport.
A two-time NCAA champion for the University of Iowa, Yagla has been an official for 24 years. Also a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, Yagla will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement for Officials.
From 1996-07, Yagla worked the NCAA Tournament and was selected as a championship finals official five times. Heâ€™s also officiated six NCAA Division II Championships along with Big Ten (1995-07) and Pac-10 (1997-07) tournaments.
Yagla has worked 12 National Dual Championships and has been officiating college matches and tournaments since 1983. He was appointed Coordinator of Wrestling Officials for the Big Ten and Big 12 Conferences in July of 2008.