Connect with us


Richard Perry inducted into National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Connecticut’s Richard Perry was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Stillwater, Oklahoma with six people in this photo. From left, front row, Frank Popolizio, Patricia Miranda, Kira Pipkins and Ed Kelly. Back row, from left, Richard Perry, Joe Williams, Rich Bender and Bob Bowlsby. Pipkins was the national winner of the Tricia Saunders Award. (Larry Slater photo courtesy National Wrestling Hall of Fame)

The second half of 2018 was a time of triumph and trial for Middletown High graduate Richard Perry and his family.

In June 2018, Perry earned a spot on the U.S. freestyle national team for the first time – a wholly impressive achievement for a wrestler who competed just two years in high school and never earned All-American status in college at Bloomsburg University.

An accident at training camp with the U.S. national team in August 2018 nearly killed him. Doctors initially didn’t believe he would recover and if he did, he would be bedridden, or at best, in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Perry didn’t flinch. Armed with his faith in the Lord, the unyielding support of his wife, Gina, and their family, Perry drew on his own strength to recover.

It was slow and hard. His injuries left him paralyzed for months, unable to speak, move or eat on his own. But with the determination forged by his desire to be a father to his children again and a husband to his wife, Perry battled with the energy and desire that he had displayed on the mat in his wrestling career.

Perry had to relearn everything – how to talk, move his hands and fingers. He had to relearn how to walk, write, read, chew, shower and to be independent. In November 2018, he walked unassisted out his hospital room, into an elevator, down a hallway and out of the hospital.

In December 2020, following countless doctor visits, cognitive, speech and physical therapy with specialized strength and mobility sessions, Perry returned to the wrestling mat and began training again with the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center in Philadelphia and their Hall of Fame coach Brandon Slay.

Perry and his inspirational recovery, which continues to this day, were recognized Saturday night when he received the Medal of Courage award and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at the 45th annual Honors Weekend.

Perry was recognized along with Patricia Miranda, who earned a law degree from Yale University in 2007 and won an Olympic bronze medal in Athens in 2004, Richard Bender, the long-time director of USA Wrestling, athletes Jimmy Jackson and Joe Williams, official Ed Kelly, tournament director and founder of Journeyman Wrestling Frank Popolizio and Bob Bowlsby, the former commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and athletic director at Stanford and Iowa.

He is the first Connecticut man to be honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame since Avon’s Mike Golic was honored as an Outstanding American in 2015.

“To see how you fought for your life, how you fought for your family, how you fought for the future and the ability to be a husband, father and leader in the wrestling world, you’re an inspiration to me,” said Hall of Famer Brandon Slay, head coach and executive director of the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center in Philadelphia. “You’re an inspiration to all that are listening. You’re an inspiration to the world and anyone that hears your story.

“You inspire through your courage and how you continue to fight,” Slay said. “I am proud of the man you continue to be.”

Perry was the first senior-level wrestler that the Pennsylvania RTC sponsored in 2015. Today, Perry is an assistant coach with the Pennsylvania RTC.

“To wrestle means to struggle against an opposing force. You continue to be a wrestler. You continue to struggle,” Slay said in a video presentation shown during Honor’s Weekend.

Perry received his award from Mark Fong, the long-time Middletown High coach who persistently urged Perry to wrestle.

“What an honor to receive such a prestigious award,” Perry said at the induction ceremony. “Being here is a testament to how good God is. Without the prayers from the wrestling community and all the support, I think my situation ends differently.”

He thanked many people starting with his wife, Gina and their children. “Gina, I would be lost without you,” he said. To his four children, he said, “You are the reason I fought so hard to get better so I could come home and be the father you deserve.”

“What a ride it has been,” Perry said about wrestling. “Wrestling has changed my life. From the first moment I stepped on the mat and every time after. I pray that God continues to use my story to reach the wrestling community and beyond.”

Middletown High graduate Richard Perry. (Photo courtesy Pennslyvania RTC)

Perry finally came out for the Dragon team as a junior, helping to lift Middletown to a Class L state championship in 2007. As a senior in 2008, he won the Class L and State Open title at 215 pounds and was second in New England.

He wrestled at Bloomsburg University, won over 100 matches, won an Eastern Wrestling League title at 197 pounds in 2014 and wrestled in the NCAA Division I tournament three times.

After college, Perry began competing internationally with an eye on the U.S. Olympic team. He made his senior freestyle debut at the 2014 Bill Farrell tournament winning the outstanding wrestler award by finishing first and beating an Olympic silver medalist and a national team member.

He was a two-time finalist at the Dave Schultz international tournament and at the U.S. Open. Perry finished fifth at the 2016 Olympic trials and fourth at the world team trials in 2017.

Perry was hurt in a training camp drill in San Diego. He was involved in a drill with foam-padded clubs. He took a shot to the face and the foam protection dislodged. The baton slipped through a hole in his facemask and struck him the eye, causing trauma to the brain.

As an assistant coach with the Pennsylvania RT, he helps with local collegiate wrestlers from Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, who are redshirting and some Senior level wrestlers. Last summer, Perry was part of the Pennsylvania RTC coaching staff at the U.S. Open and the U-23 national tournaments.

“Coaching those guys makes me realize my purpose is not to wrestle but to be a caretaker of their dreams,” Perry said earlier this year. ”I (share) my experience and knowledge of the sport. It has given me a purpose and makes it exciting to go practice every day.”

Members of the Class of 2023 for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy National Wrestling HOF)

The daughter of Brazilian political refugees, Miranda represented the United States in four senior world championships tournaments, earning silver medals in 2000 and 2003 and a bronze in 2006.

After graduating from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in international policy studies, Miranda was accepted to Yale Law School, but she deferred her admission there to train for the 2004 Olympic Games, the first year that women’s wrestling would be in the Games.

At the Games in Athens, Miranda became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal by winning a bronze. She wrestled for four years with the Stanford men’s program.

Jackson was a three-time NCAA champion and Big Eight conference champion for Oklahoma State. He died in 2008 at the age of 51 while Williams was a three-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American for Iowa, helping the Hawkeyes win back-to-back NCAA titles in 1996 and 1997.

Bender has been the executive director of USA Wrestling since 2001, the longest serving executive director in the organization’s history. Under his leadership, the U.S. has won 26 Olympic medals with nine gold, five silver and 12 bronze along with 100 world championship medals, including 27 gold medals.

Popolizio conceived “Journeymen Wrestling” in 1999 and has been developing collegiate and international tournaments to promote and grow the sport ever since.

Kelly officiated for 27 years and then served 22 years as an evaluator for the NCAA Division I Championships.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

More in News