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No. 7 Story of 2013: Death takes Carr, Gadson, Hammond, Kerr, Richards, others

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The wrestling community said goodbye to a number of accomplished wrestlers and coaches in 2013, along with a couple writers who shared their passion for the sport in words.

College Wrestling Examiner paid tribute to over one dozen individuals who made significant contributions to wrestling. Among the individuals who left us this year:

Wrestlers: Jimmy Carr, 57, 1977 NCAA All-American at University of Kentucky who made history by being the youngest wrestler to earn a spot on a U.S. men’s freestyle Olympic team (1972 Munich Games)… Louis Guidi, 78, 1955 NCAA finalist for West Virginia University… Ray Hooker, 107, Purdue’s first All-American matman, earning the honor at the 1929 NCAAs… C.J. McCormack, 28, Roger Williams University wrestler and assistant coach… Paul McNeil, 93, undefeated as a University of Maryland wrestler from 1939-41… Don “Tuffy” Mullison, two-time NCAA All-American at Colorado State… Ron Pellagra, 1976 NCAA Division III heavyweight champ for St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y… and Jerry Wager, University of Toledo conference champ who went on to become a National Wrestling Hall of Fame honoree for his work as a freestyle and Greco-Roman official.

Coaches: Scott Bliss, 56, University of Oregon NCAA finalist who set the record for most wins as a Duck wrestler, then went on to coach at University of Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon State… Willie Gadson, two-time NCAA All-American at Iowa State and long-time head coach at Waterloo East High School in Iowa… Joe Black Hayes, 98, University of Tennessee wrestler who later coached at Middle Tennessee State… TJ Kerr, 64, head coach at California State University-Bakersfield for 26 seasons and tireless champion for the sport of wrestling in the Golden State and beyond… and Mike Olson, 76, whose wrestling coaching career spanned more than four decades at six colleges in the Midwest and South, including Upper Iowa University and Monmouth College (Illinois).

A way with words: Jairus “Jay” Hammond, highly respected wrestling historian who built the extensive WrestlingStats.com college wrestling database and wrote “History of Collegiate Wrestling,” arguably the definitive book on the sport at the college level… and Don Seeley, 62, recently retired sports editor for the Pottstown (Pa.) Mercury who drew praise from high school coaches for his coverage of wrestling.

The Ben Richards tragedy

Ben Richards, a sophomore wrestler at Darton State College in Albany, Ga., died ten days after collapsing in the heat during a five-mile outdoor team run in early September. He was 20 years old.

The passing of a young athlete is always a tragedy, especially for his family, friends and teammates. However, Richards’ death related to heat stroke took on added tragic dimensions in a number of ways that, for some, called to mind the deaths of three college wrestlers 15 years ago in separate incidents in attempts to make weight.

Richards, a native of Tampa, was one of three Darton State wrestlers to collapse in two separate-but-similar incidents on successive days in early September. All three wrestlers were hospitalized in Albany; Richards’ injured teammates were released within a week of their illness. However, Richards’ condition became critical, and he was airlifted to a hospital in Gainesville, Fla. where he died on Sept. 13 from liver and kidney failure.

The death of a student-athlete is not an event a college can plan for; however, Darton State officials put out information that not only caused confusion about Richards’ situation, but may have also added to the heartache of the wrestler’s family and friends.

About a week after the heat-caused collapses of the three wrestlers, a Darton State athletic trainer made statements to Albany-area media that could have been construed to blame the athletes themselves for not being properly hydrated. Later statements issued by the school appeared to back away from those assertions. Just as troubling, early Friday afternoon, Sept. 13, Darton State issued a press statement, announcing Ben Richards’ passing, which was reported by the media… then the school was forced to retract the statement when it was revealed that the wrestler had been kept on life support until out-of-town family members could come to the hospital. Richards’ death was confirmed by Darton State in a second statement issued late Friday afternoon.

One positive to come from this tragedy: Darton State wrestlers have dedicated the season to their late teammate Ben Richards.

Richards’ collapse and subsequent death received limited coverage from wrestling websites or publications, or from non-wrestling media outside the southeastern U.S.

About the photo: Four individuals lost to the wrestling family in 2013. From left: Jimmy Carr (photo from Wade Schalles’ book “They Call It Wrestling”), Willie Gadson (Cyclones.com), T.J. Kerr (Cal State Bakersfield wrestling), and Ben Richards (Darton State College).

College Wrestling Examiner’s Year in Review: For the fifth straight year, College Wrestling Examiner will be taking a look at the Top Ten stories of the year. Now through the end of this year, we’ll be posting our choices for the ten most significant stories in the world of collegiate wrestling in 2013. Want to be among the first to know? Click on the “subscribe” button on this page, and you’ll be notified right away when a new story is posted.

Top Ten Stories for 2013 (so far):

The season is here! Don't miss a thing! Keep up with the biggest on-the-mat developments, as well coach hirings, firings and retirings, new programs, the IOC and Olympic wrestling, and other stories you won't find elsewhere... by clicking the "subscribe" button at the top of the page to make sure you don't miss a single article from College Wrestling Examiner, winner of Amateur Wrestling News' Dellinger Award as wrestling writer of 2011. It's absolutely FREE!

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