Brands Henson Saunders and Smith headline inspiring Hall of Fame banquet

By Gary Abbott | June 06, 2006, 11:51 a.m. (ET)
Honors Social Photos
Award Banquet Photos

The 30th National Wrestling Hall of Fame Honors Banquet was an inspiring evening that many who attended felt was one of the best induction celebrations in wrestling history.

Each of the four Distinguished Members who were honored at the Student Union ballroom at Oklahoma State Univ. had moving speeches concerning their amazing careers and lives.

The first Distinguished Member honored was two-time World champion, Olympic bronze medalist and USA Wrestling National Freestyle Resident Coach Terry Brands. He joins his brother Tom Brands, a 2001 inductee, as a Distinguished Member. Brands' speech was filled with humor, but also touched on many of the key influences in his remarkable journey. He received his award from his parents, Tom and Bonnie.

"This evening is about the people who made a difference in a wrestler's life," said Brands, who said the night was not about him.

Brands said he could not believe that he had been chosen at this time to be honored. "This speaks highly of my character, morals and integrity. That is how I will believe it. That is what my life is about."

"The defining moment of my life, no doubt, was signing with the Univ. of Iowa and coach Dan Gable," said Brands, who thanked many others including Jim Keen, Bill Farrell, John Smith, the late John Vaughan, Rich Bender and others for their support.

Next came Josiah Henson, an Olympic medalist athlete, Olympic referee and a lifelong leader within wrestling. Henson told a number of stories about his career in the U.S. Navy, including his years as a champion wrestler at the U.S. Naval Academy. He joined his brother Stanley Henson as a Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame. He received his award from his two sons.

He told the story of a former Navy wrestler who had competed in the Olympics, and was among the officers who went down in the first ship that was sunk during World War II, the U.S.S. Reuben James. "My school has a tremendous legacy for wrestling," he said.

Henson spoke about his high school team in Tulsa, which featured a number of great wrestlers, including three-time NCAA champions Joe McDaniel and his brother Stanley Henson.

In thanking people for supporting his career, he especially pointed out his wife, especially during the years that he was pursuing his Olympic dream as an athlete. "The wives deserve a lot of credit for anyone who is able to make an Olympic team," he said.

Tricia Saunders became the first woman inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. She recalled the challenges of her career, which included four World titles and serving as a coach for the first U.S. Women's Olympic wrestling team.

Saunders recalled her days as a youth wrestler in Michigan, where her club coach was Olympian Mark Johnson and her teammate was Olympic and World medalist Zeke Jones. "It was there that I learned that if you work hard and are good at something, you don't have to apologize for it."

She thanked all of the men wrestlers who took the time to teach her moves and give her advice as she worked her way through the sport, especially in the early years when women's wrestling was facing resistance. "These people spent a lot of time with me, and there was no reward in it, and they often took some ribbing for doing it," she said.

Her biggest thanks went to Art Martori, founder of the Sunkist Kids and one of her strongest supporters. Martori was her award presenter. "I want to thank Art. Without Art, I would not have been able to go to tournaments. I appreciate you for believing in me from the beginning to the end."

Pat Smith, the first four-time NCAA Div. I champion, who competed at Oklahoma State, received his award from his father Lee Roy. He joined his older brother John Smith as a Distinguished Member.

Smith told the story of when, as a young boy, he went to watch his brother Lee Roy compete for Oklahoma State. He remembers the day when he joined his friends asking for autographs from the Cowboy wrestlers, and approached his brother Lee Roy for an autograph. "I knew then and there, I wanted to wrestle for Oklahoma State," said Smith.

He thanked his coach at Del City High School, Ronnie James, for working out with him so hard while he was there. "I worked out with him every day. It was like I was already a college wrestler. By the time I got to compete in college as a true freshman, it was like I had been in college already for two years," said Smith.

"It wasn't my dream to win four national championships," said Smith. "My goal was to go to Oklahoma State and to wear the orange singlet. It was my goal to be on the team. It was the greatest experience of my life."

The Distinguished Members were honored after the other special annual awards were presented.

Inducted as an Outstanding American was Kentucky Derby winning jockey Pat Day, who was the career winnings leader in racing and a Hall of Fame member in his sport. Day was a high school state wrestling champion before getting involved in thoroughbred racing.

Day thanked his high school wrestling coach Ralph Starr, who was there with him at the induction. "Wrestling set my life on course for a tremendously successful journey as a jockey," he said. "I want to thank you for making this such a tremendously special evening."

The Medal of Courage went to Randy Meyer, who was blinded at the age of two, and went on to become an All-American wrestler in college and is now mayor of Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

Meyer explained how his parents reacted when they found out that he was going to be blind. "My parents did something amazing. They set the expectation bar normal for me. I can't tell you what a precious thing that was," he said.

"By 18, I has three success lessons through wrestling: expectation, goal setting and the power of change," said Meyer. He explained how in college he learned that he even wanted more. "How about if I try to lead an extraordinary life?" asked Meyer.

The Order of Merit was awarded to Larry Sciacchetano, a member of the FILA Bureau, a past USA Wrestling president, and a successful coach, athlete and leader throughout his life.

"All anybody can ask in life is that they can make a difference," said Sciacchetano. "I hope this award can show, in some small way, that I was able to give something back to the sport I love and was able to make a difference."

"Wrestling gets into our DNA. We are defined by the fact that we are wrestlers. It is a good thing. American needs wrestlers now more than ever," said Sciacchetano.

Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award for Officials was Sam Williams, a longtime international, high school and college referee from the East Coast. Williams was one of the founders of the U.S. Wrestling Officials Association.

"Wrestling is a sport that has its own glory," said Williams. "Of all sports, wrestling is the one that makes the people involved tough. They have to work like nobody else to succeed. I hope my career shows that I worked hard."

The Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award went to David Craig of Brandon High School in Florida, a four-time state champion and Junior National double champion. The award honors athletic and academic achievement, as well as community service.

"I want to thank my father and my entire family for being supportive," said Craig. "I want to thank my high school coach Russ Cozart for urging me and all of the wrestlers on our team to be their best, as wrestlers and in the classroom."