Roderick Reunion a taste of rich Cowboy wrestling history

By Gary Abbott | Jan. 11, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
It's the night before the big Oklahoma State vs. Iowa college wrestling dual meet, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown that has everybody talking. At the Student Union on the Oklahoma State campus, in a small meeting room, a group of men and their wives meet for dinner. All are guests of wrestling legend Myron Roderick, who made his fame as an OSU athlete and coach. This is the Roderick Reunion. All of these people were either teammates of Myron Roderick when he was a champion athlete here, or were wrestlers who competed under Roderick when he was a champion coach here. These men, all middle age or older, have traveled across the nation to share a weekend with their friend and mentor. During the 15 years that Myron Roderick was either a wrestler or coach in Stillwater, OSU had some of its greatest seasons. There were 10 NCAA team titles and 26 NCAA individual champions. Four of the athletes won Olympic gold medals and 10 made U.S. Olympic teams. The Cowboy dual meet record at this time was 156-10-9, an amazing mark. During the six years between 1960-66, Oklahoma State won an amazing 84 straight matches. Of the 29 men in the dinner on Saturday night, some are enshrined in wrestling's most hallowed halls. Included in this group is 1960 Olympic champion Doug Blubaugh (OSU 1953-57) and Olympic bronze medalist Gene Davis (OSU 1963-67). Others were not even starters or stars competing alongside Roderick, but are as important and welcome as all of the others here. It is a relaxed time, with groups sitting around dining tables, talking of old times. At many of the tables, men are talking wrestling, reliving old times, even showing some wrestling moves from long ago. Unless you knew better, it could be any collection of adult men at any reunion of any kind. That is until Myron Roderick stands up and gets things going. In his unique and engaging style, sharpened by years as the president of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Roderick gets his group to loosen up and enjoy themselves. Roderick invites alumni Ned Blass (OSU 1952-55) and Joe Lobaugh (OSU 1950-54) to the front, along with his wife Joanne. In a comic story, Roderick tells everybody how Lobaugh was the person who married Myron to Joanne, while Blass stood alongside as the best man. As all of the people there will also attend the dual meet on Sunday, Roderick invites current OSU head coach and 2x Olympic Champion John Smith (OSU 1984-88) to address the group. Smith tells the men about how the Oklahoma State legacy is very important to the team that he coaches. He explains how he teaches his current Cowboys about the history of the school, and it serves as an inspiration to the athletes. "They know our tradition,"says Smith. "They know who you guys are, and it is something that they are proud of. It is a stiff tradition, hard to live up to. It is something I don't take for granted." Smith notes how his team is doing everything it can to return to the top of college wrestling. "We have to earn that back," he tells them. When Smith is done with his emotional discussion of his current team, the wrestlers all applaud. Then Roderick asks each former wrestler to stand up, tell when they wrestled and greet each other. One by one, 29 different people stood up and talked. The oldest was perhaps Joe Strevey (OSU 1949-53), who was a senior when Roderick came along as a freshman. Among the youngest was Dwayne Keller (OSU 1966-71), who wrestled for Roderick and Tommy Chesbro, Roderick's successor Chesbro was also there (OSU 1958-59) who also wrestled for Roderick. The guy who traveled the farthest may have been Everett Knott (OSU 1960-64), who came from Portland, Ore. Then there was Doc Cooper, the team's medical doctor for so many years, the expert at treating cauliflower ears. Some of the men said more than just their names and years in school. All were very positive about their time at Oklahoma State and their relationship with Roderick. Ron Clinton (OSU 1960-62) was short and efficient with his words. "Great years, great coach, great team," he said. Bill McDaniel (OSU 1960-64) told the story about how he was on the national television reality series entitled The Mole. "It was just like wrestling for Myron," he joked. "Deceit, lying, cheating and stealing." Gerald Craft (1954-58 OSU), who went on to play football professionally, was a bit more serious in his praise for Roderick. "Over the years, I had many coaches, a lot of football coaches. The best coaching I ever had was from (Art) Griffith and Roderick," he said. "He has a real gift. He is truly interested in the person. He always spoke to you and had time for you." Basil Tallent (OSU, around 1958) got up for an extended and humorous speech with many memories that he shared with others in the room. When all the introductions ended, and everybody got to stand up and talk, the evening function was over. On Sunday morning, there will be a brunch with the group, another chance to break bread. As many as 30 more former Cowboy wrestlers will arrive and join this group as part of the Roderick Reunion. By the time that the OSU/Iowa dual meet starts, as many as 60 people who shared Oklahoma State wrestling with Myron Roderick will be together. In the sea of thousands of fans at the dual meet, a small section of individuals will go unnoticed. That is, until the public address announcer points them out and tells everybody about their great achievements and the legacy of Oklahoma State during the Roderick years. Anybody who knows Myron Roderick is aware of the greatness of the man. He has done so much for wrestling for so long, and continues to make the sport better. To me, he is a great friend and inspiration. As a wrestling junkie, it was a tremendous honor to share a meal with such a great group of wrestling legends. As the only non-Oklahoma State person in the entire room, it was an even a greater privilege to get a small taste of the rich tradition of a proud championship wrestling program. Thanks for letting me sit in and listen and write. TheMatside View is published on Tuesdays (except today which is a Saturday)