Wrestling, Fred Fozzard, and Me

4

June 28, 2012 by David Gillaspie

(I invite wrestlers and former wrestlers to share their best stories with the greats of the sport. This is one of them.)

GUEST POST BY TIM SYTSMA

Wrestling is an independent, individual sport. You are a team player, but you step on the mat alone, in one on one battle. Sometimes we learn from the best yet don’t realize till later what we know, or the Master who taught us these lessons.

My earliest wrestling experiences were in high school.

There was a rather genially flamboyant assistant coach at my high school, Sandy Union High School (where Lee Allen won four state championships), who way back in 1979, would, after group practices take the top tier wrestlers to another practice room.

You knew you had arrived if Coach selected you to work out in the upper wrestling room.

Reserved for the most skilled wrestlers, practice was super intense. Drills, live wrestling, wrestle-offs, everyone on the team wanted to work out in the upper room, but he only took a handful out each day.

And you knew you had been dogging it if normally selected you suddenly were left down with the rest of the team.

This coach was so quirky.

By day he often substitute taught at the high school, and was known to challenge students to a hacky sack competitions between classes.

But he was quirky in other ways, also.

Before practice my freshman year he often challenged two of our seniors. He would let the seniors grab him on his back, and get a good tight hold, and pin him. They just had to let him have a forearm, or lower leg, or his head loose.  Those were the terms.

One thing, it could be any of these things, just one. Their choice.

This guy had a muscular side, and a side that looked as scrawny as the most junior inexperienced wrestler. Downright poultry material. But whatever they left loose, began the motion.

This guy could WRESTLE.

Later I learned he contracted polio at age 2, and just grew up out working everyone, going harder and longer than everyone else on the mat.

In high school wrestling practice against our best two seniors, it just took a bit of motion. Suddenly, 178 and 167 pound 4 year competitors, stud senior wrestlers, went flying, and one or both wound up pinned.

Elapsed time, maybe 30 seconds.

Sometimes 15 seconds.

Literally.

It was just amazing.

I still remember the first time I was *Picked* to accompany Coach Fozzard to the upper Wrestling Room. End of the season, and he looked at me and said: “Think you can keep up, bub?”

I knew no way in HELL…..but admit that to him? Nope. Rather die trying. Years later, I found out this partly scrawny coach with the amazing skills was the legendary Fred Fozzard.

Coach Fozzard never went to the Olympics, but he was a three time all-American for Oklahoma State, winning the title as NCAA Division I Champion once. He also won the title of World Championships in 1969, one of only two Oregonians to reach that level as non-Olympic World Champions, winning it all at 180.5 pounds. Rick Sanders was the other champion in 1969.

For years I thought he was just the good natured animal in the wrestling room, the fiercest competitor, a guy who also substitute taught in the Alternative High School and was a killer hacky sack player.

It was not until later I realized I had been blessed to be coached and taught by one of Wrestling’s Master Competitors.

Congratulations Coach Fred Fozzard on your recent induction as a member of the 2012 class in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Its about time, Coach. Kudos and best wishes from all the grapplers you taught, led, and affected in such a great manner.

Coach Fozzard now lives quietly near Ashland, Oregon, his wrestling career long over. For those he taught, the lessons, skills and memories will forever live on.

I wonder if he still plays Hacky Sack?

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4 thoughts on “Wrestling, Fred Fozzard, and Me

  1. Bill Blackford says:

    I was one of those lucky ones who spent three years in that upper room with Fred Fozzard. We kept in touch after high school. He even lived at my house for several months in the late 80s. You may remember me as team captain. Won my first 30 matches. Lost my last in the state finals and finished
    2 nd in state at 30 and 1. This was in 1979. Raythe busswell also placed 2 nd that year behind terry jones from estacada. Fred actually called me when he was up here for his induction and called me up to meet for a beer.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Hi Bill, 30-1 is the right sort of year. Those losses are such a surprise and never at the right time.

  2. Wendybn says:

    Loved reading your memories of Coach Fozzard. I never met him but this story made me want to know him!

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Sports gives so much, and the memories even out to some of the best of a lifetime. When you read about someone like Fred Fozzard you know those memories are safe.

      Thanks for coming in Wendy,

      David

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