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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2009

Ex-UT wrestler was Olympian and educator

Although only 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Dick Wilson was a fierce competitor, and he used the passion that made him a champion wrestler to nurture, coach, and mentor athletes. Although only 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Dick Wilson was a fierce competitor, and he used the passion that made him a champion wrestler to nurture, coach, and mentor athletes.
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Dick Wilson, 75, a retired educator and a former University of Toledo wrestling coach who wrestled in three Olympics, died Wednesday in a Franklin, Tenn., nursing home from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Formerly of West Toledo, Mr. Wilson moved to Tennessee about 2000 to be near his son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Cathy Wilson.

Mr. Wilson was an administrator in public schools for much of his career. He retired in 1993 as dean of students at McTigue Junior High School in the Toledo Public Schools, where he had taught and coached.

He was hired as principal of Fayette, Ohio, High School in 1974 and held the post for several years.

"The highlight of his career, even though he was a good coach and an excellent wrestler, was that he earned a position of superintendent of schools in Athens, Ohio," said Dick Torio, a longtime friend and a former UT wrestler who helped promote the sport around the world.

Mr. Wilson turned down the job offer for family reasons and returned to the Toledo school system.

He was best-known for his wrestling. The Greco-Roman style was his specialty.

"I'm probably the tallest 113 1/2-pound wrestler in the country," Mr. Wilson, who stood 5-feet, 5-inches tall, told The Blade in 1959.

While in the Army, he qualified for and competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. And while there, he met U.S. coach Joe Scalzo, the UT coach.

Mr. Wilson began at UT in 1957. He won Mid-American Conference titles in 1959, 1960, and 1961. He was a NCAA runner-up those years as well. He held three American Athletic Union titles.

He was captain of the U.S. wrestling teams at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where at age 30 he competed and placed fourth despite an injured knee.

"He thought he could win," son Bruce said. "It was something of his passion in life. He was driven, just a driven person."

Mr. Wilson taught and coached at Rogers High School after graduating from UT. He was UT's wrestling coach from 1967-1974. His 1969 team won the MAC championship; three other teams were runners-up, and another finished third.

"He had great concentration," Mr. Torio said. "He was steady, a guy who worked hard. He loved to wrestle and wrestled right through later life. He was quiet-spoken. You wouldn't know he was so tough."

His son said: "He found a lot of pride in coaching all these young men and in making them successful, and he did."

Born John Richard Wilson in Washington, Pa., he received bachelor's and master's degrees from UT.

"It's one of those classic stories, where sports gets someone out of a tougher environment," his son, Matt said. "He loved kids, and he loved coaching. He talked about coaching and his own kids as much as he talked about himself."

He was a member of the Varsity T Athletic Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Surviving are his sons, Bruce, Matthew, and Andrew Wilson; brother, Don Wilson, and four grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending at the Walker Funeral Home.



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