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Memorial services set for Setrak Agonian, 2003 USA Wrestling Man of the Year

Setrak Agonian is flanked by Sonny Greenhaugh (left) and Lee Roy Smith
Setrak Agonian is flanked by Sonny Greenhaugh (left) and Lee Roy SmithPhoto courtesy of USA Wrestling, used with permission

Memorial services for US amateur wrestling leader Setrak Agonian have been set for this Sunday and Monday in New York City, USA Wrestling, the organization responsible for Olympic wrestling in the US, announced Thursday.

Visitation for Agonian, 2003 USA Wrestling Man of the Year who passed away earlier this week in New York City, will take place Sunday from 3-5 p.m. Eastern at St. Illuminators Armenian Apostolic Cathedral, 221 East 27th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), in New York. A prayer service will follow that evening at 8 p.m. at the same location. The funeral will take place Monday at 10 a.m. at the cathedral, followed by burial at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Agonian was active in USA Wrestling, the New York Athletic Club, the Metropolitan Wrestling Association (MVA) and in many other wrestling-related organizations. In addition to his USA Wrestling Man of the Year award, Agonian was inducted into the Downstate New York Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

As president of the New York City-based MWA, an organization affiliated with USA Wrestling, he was a leader in the promotion and development of the sport in the East. The MWA was the local wrestling group that played a key role in the organization and presentation of the World Championships of Freestyle Wrestling, held in Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2003.

The Worlds were originally scheduled to take place in New York in September 2001. Two weeks before the event, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 took place, causing the postponement of the championships, which were later relocated to Bulgaria and Greece by FILA, the international organization for Olympic wrestling.

“Agonian and his New York peers did not want the terrorist act to destroy the tremendous opportunity for USA Wrestling and for the sport on the international level,” according to USA Wrestling. “The plan was to attempt to bring the event back to New York in 2003. Representing USA Wrestling, Agonian was the lead negotiator with the Slovakian Wrestling Federation (who had been slated to host the 2003 Worlds)…” For successfully bringing the World Freestyle Championships to New York City two years after the 9/11 attacks, Agonian was awarded the FILA Gold Star, the highest honor awarded by the international wrestling federation

His first major wrestling assignment was to serve as U.S. assistant team leader and interpreter for the 1971 World Championships, held in Sofia, Bulgaria. He was recruited into the effort by the legendary Bill Farrell. The next year, at the 1972 Olympics, Agonian assisted Farrell in the U.S. wrestling effort, helping handle the needs of the families of the athletes.

“Our sport lost a legend today,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender. “Setrak was not only a friend and mentor to many, myself included, but more importantly a friend and champion for anyone who ever had a dream to make themselves and those around them better. He was the epitome of an individual who lived to improve the lives of those around him. He was truly the ‘American Dream,’ a self-made man who made the world a better place. Never has our sport had someone more fiery or passionate about its success. Set will be dearly missed by our sport. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his lovely wife, Dede and their thousands of friends around the globe that truly loved this man known by many as just ‘Set.’"

Al Bevilacqua told TheOpenMat.com, “The wrestling community lost a great friend, Setrak Agonian, USA Wrestling Man of the Year in 2003 after bringing the FILA World Freestyle Championships to New York in 2001.

“After it was cancelled, he single-handedly traveled to Slovenia in 2002 and coerced, begged and on his own nickel brought them back to the NYAC where we together got them to notify FILA that they wanted New York City to host the 2003 World Freestyle Championships.

“As an outgrowth of the effort, in part was with the goal of bringing the Beat the Streets initiative to New York City. During the development & the promotion of the greatest world championships ever produced with more countries, more wrestlers and above all over 12,500 fans. To this day, it is the largest championship on all levels in international wrestling.”