West Virginia Wrestling

Sixth Annual "Hall of Fame Day" Banquet

October 26, 2008
Embassy Suites, Charleston WV

Over 200 wrestling friends and fans assembled for the Sixth Annual West Virginia Chapter National Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Banquet, held this day at the Embassy Suites in Charleston. The attendance this year was one of the best ever, as the interest in and prestige of the event continues to gain momentum. Eight new members were inducted.

Jeff Courtney of Fairmont was honored with the "Medal of Courage" award for his outstanding achievement and contribution to the sport, while overcoming the adversity of being hearing impaired. Jeff gives the credit to his family primarily, and also to his coaches and team mates through the years. Courtney noted that he has always been deaf, and that his family learned to sign with him -- noting that he has learned, as a counselor for the deaf at the Michigan School for the Deaf, that today many parents of the deaf are reluctant to learn signing. Courtney summed up his remarks, made by signing and interpreted for the audience by an interpreter, by sharing a bit of wisdom passed on to him by his father: Once while wrestling in a dual meet, and being bumped up a weight class for the benefit of the team, Jeff was faced with a formidable opponent indeed. His father reminded him "It doesn't matter the size of the person -- only the size of your heart."

Father George Nedeff was recognized with the "Outstanding American" award. Nedeff's journey through life has taken him through the sports arena, the wrestling mat, an academic career at WVU, and finally into the priesthood. Nedeff noted that wrestling is a unique sport. It builds character, develops perseverance and courage, requires you to think for yourself when on the mat, and pull yourself back up when things get tough. Certainly traits that many wrestling afficionados can relate to -- but Nedeff adds that these traits are in reality a gift from God, and that God expects us to use these gifts to help our fellow brothers and sisters.

All in attendance would agree that it was great to see Spencer/Roane County Coach Garry Bender back on his feet and in attendance to he honored for "Lifetime Service to Wrestling." Coach Bender lamented that he missed last year's ceremony because of a "bout of encephalitis" -- a rather understated description of the terrible blow which he was dealt and is recovering from. Other than that one reference in passing, Coach Bender seemed to be a man who had never seen a dark day in his life. Bender pointed out that it had been his lifetime ambition to be a teacher, paying tribute to his family and fellow professionals, noting "You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." The corollary for wrestling, of course, is the notion that one "must wrestle the best to be the best." Coach Bender recalled an illustrative anecdote from his collegiate days at Ashland. While wrestling at the Freestyle Nationals, Bender heard his match announced.... "Now wrestling on Mat X, Garry Bender and Bobby Douglas." Apparently not familiar with Bobby Douglas, Bender surmised that Douglas must be "somebody" when he glanced up into the stands and saw his college Coach Chris Ford with his face in his hands. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Wayne Bennett of Beckley was also honored for "Lifetime Service to Wrestling." Coach Bennett has been, and continues to be, a stalwart of the sport in the Beckley area, having served as coach, official, school administrator, educator, and sportswriter. Bennett noted that his wife has been his greatest supporter for "not making me grow up too fast," and also made note of notable similarities he shares with Hall of Famer Coach Bill Archer of Huntington: both men are blessed with wives named Dianna, both men have two sons, both have been a coach. But, while noting with a grin that Archer has been described as "brash and overbearing," Bennett has been a wrestling official -- that being where the similarity ends -- or does it?

On hand to receive the award for Jim Feltz was his son John Feltz, who accepted the honor on behalf of his father and family. Feltz was remembered for his enthusiasm for the sport, in fact, his enthusiasm for whatever task was placed before him. Faced with the prospect of coaching wrestling at West Fairmont, and with little background in the sport, son John recalled the hours his father spent studying film at home, learning from whatever source was available, and doing the things required to make champions - which he did.

If Webster's Dictionary had a listing for "Wrestling Coach - old school," the definition might be "See Fred Schrom." Schrom was the Coach for the legendary Big Creek teams from the mid 1970's. Schrom recalled the difficulties in maintaining the program in the very southernmost county in West Virginia, the absence of teams in nearby counties, the long trips in winter snow storms, and his conviction that if you want to be successful in wrestling you must travel to where the competition is. (Hint: Leave early in the morning, before the administrators have time to cancel school). Having retired in 1989, Schrom is still active in the classroom serving as a substitute teacher at age 71. He notes that many of his students are the children or grandchildren of former students. Recently, while subbing at a school, Schrom asked his students "Do any of you know who I am?" One young student replied "I know who you are. My dad said you'll....." Well, never mind. As Schrom concluded, "If you have been out of teaching a while, it's not like it used to be."

Certainly, Dr. Bill Welker needs no introduction for those who follow wrestling in West Virginia. Welker has amassed an outstanding resume for the sport including former PA State Champ, coach, official, journalist, author, and currently serves as the West Virginia State Rules Interpreter. Dr Welker was in his usual good form this day, recounting a few anecdotes illustrative of the trials of being a wrestling official. In regards to the need for consistency on the mat, Welker humorously recalled the time when Parkersburg Coach Joe Handlan said of his officiating: "Welker, you've been terrible the first two periods, the third period is not the time to start improving." On stalling: Welker has frequently written on the difficulty in the "stall call." One match in particular while serving as referee, a wrestler was taken down to the mat in a clean leg shot. Then the wrestler seemed to be just laying on the bottom, doing nothing. With much reservation, a conclusion was made that, yes, this bottom wrestler was indeed stalling, and the call was made. At which point the wrestler's coach burst onto the mat and said "Welker, this boy isn't stalling - he's knocked out!" And, indeed, the bottom man did seem to be, er, um, rather knocked out. Don't know if this is exactly true, but a story this good must be told anyway.

Coach Ed West is the latest inductee from the coaching ranks at John Marshall High School. In his introduction, Coach Bill Archer noted that John Marshall has produced more Hall of Fame members than any other school, as West joins Bill Hinegardner and Ed Dugas on the honor roll. West noted that his induction into the hall was a "highest honor" and paid tribue to his colleagues Larry Chambers, Hinegardner, and Dugas, and his family.

2008 Hall of Fame inductees: Seated, L to R: Fred Schrom, Garry Bender, Ed West, and Father George Nedeff
Standing, L to R: Dr. Bill Welker, John Feltz (accepting for his father, Jim Feltz), Jeff Courtney, and Wayne Bennett

2008 Hall of Fame inductees with the important people who wind them up and keep them going.

Coach Garry Bender (right) may have won the award for "most former wrestlers and their families in attendance," including current Hurricane Middle School Coach Lee Cummings (center), and his mother Dianne Cummings.

O.K., here is the trivia question of the day: What former NCAA Division I head football coach and current well known television analyst/commentator was defeated 3 times in two trips to the West Virginia State High School Wrestling Tournament, by the same wrestler?

Answer: Terry Bowden, while wrestling at Morgantown High School, was teched by Big Creek's Steve Payne in the first round of the 1973 State Tournament at 145. Payne went on to place runner-up that year. The following year Payne defeated Bowden in the quarterfinals at 155, and met him again in the same tournament in the finals for 3rd and fourth. Payne finished third that year, and Bowden fourth. Payne was in attendance honoring Coach Schrom, and is pictured here with his wife Patsy. Payne was the 155 lb State Champ in 1975, the last year the State Tournament was wrestled as all-divisions in one tournament.

You need a program to keep track of the Courtney family.
Pictured here, from left to right...

Chris Courtney (AAA State Champ, Fairmont Senior, 275 lbs, 1993) and wife Toma;

Don Courtney (Father of the group, State Champ West Fairmont, 175 lbs, 1970) and wife (and mother) Pam;

Jeff Courtney (current Hall of Fame inductee, 2X AAA State Champion Fairmont Senior, 171 lbs 2001, 189 lbs 2002) and wife Holley;

Ryan Courtney (2X AAA State Champion, Fairmont Senior, 171 lbs 1996, 189 lbs 1997) holding his daughter MacKenzie, and his wife Whitney holding daughter Samantha;

and a member of the Courtney family who refers to herself (with a smile) as the "unknown Courtney," sister Heather Courtney Frazier with husband Raymond.

Coach Welker beams with his original wrestlers of the 1970s. Left to Right: Dr. Dan Doyle (Wheeling Central '73), Coach Welker, Bernie Shalvey (Wheeling Central '75), Dave Camilletti (Wheeling Central '74), and Bill Taggart (Wheeling High School '73). They are all highly successful in their careers. Dr. Dan Doyle is a school superintendent, Bernie Shalvey, who played football under Joe Paterno at Penn State, is a top business executive, Dave Camilletti is a practicing attorney, and Bill Taggart, a retired USMC Major, is an expert in military technology.

Army Staff Sgt. Daniel E. Welker and his family flew in from Seatle, Washington, where he is based, to witness his father's induction into the Hall. Sgt. Welker, who plans to make the military his career, has spent tours of duty in Bosnia (6 months), Irag (13 months), and again in Iraq (15 months). He is likely to return to Iraq this summer. His parents, Bill and Peggy Welker, are very proud of him.

West Virginia State Chapter, National Wrestling Hall of Fame

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