In a move that is better late than never, Ashland's Tony Champion and a handful of his Portland State wrestling peers will be inducted into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame as part of its 21st annual class on Thursday.
The ceremony will be in Birmingham, Alabama, prior to the NCAA Division II Championships, and marks the second — and most prestigious — Hall of Fame induction for Champion.
Champion, who recently wrapped up his second year as head coach of the Southern Oregon University women's wrestling team, was inducted into the Portland State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.
Champion was a three-time national champion at 177 pounds (1989-91) and four-time All-American at Portland State (he finished runner-up after an overtime loss in 1992). He contributed to two NCAA Division II team championships by the Vikings (1989 and '90) and ranks eighth on the now-defunct program's career win list with 92.
"This is one of those ones where it's kind of strange that it took so long to put us in but I'm glad that they're putting us all in together the way they are," said Champion.
Champion is one of seven PSU wrestlers who will be joined by Marlin Grahn, who coached the Vikings from 1984-2006. The other wrestlers are Dan Russell (1988-91), James Sisson (1989-93), Anthony Amado (1983-86), Hiag Brown (1987-94), Travis West (1988-91) and Broderick Lee (1989-92). West and Lee will be inducted posthumously.
"I'm really honored to be inducted and really happy to be going in with my teammates and especially happy to be going in with Marlin," said Champion. "Going into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame ... that's a whole other level. I was really surprised on social media how it kind of exploded when it was announced. The press release Portland State sent out went viral and showed up in several national wrestling sites and of course the one we did (at Southern Oregon) was really great and we've all gotten a lot of attention from it."
While that attention has been much appreciated, it has also caught Champion a little off guard.
"I was really surprised by the reaction because you'd think being that far out people would kind of forget about you," he said, "but that team during that era here had so many great wrestlers on it. Everybody on that team was an Oregon high school state champion who represented Portland State on a national scene as well as so many of them internationally."
Portland State's 1989 team championship proved to be the only team to go undefeated in NCAA wrestling history, with all five individual qualifiers winning national titles with a combined 19-0 record.
An Ashland native, Champion transferred to Eagle Point High in his senior year of 1987-88 so he could wrestle for legendary coach Bob Bergen, who currently serves as Champion's assistant coach at SOU. In that senior year, Champion won the 191-pound state title and helped the Eagles claim the team championship.
It seemed a no-brainer to join Grahn, who was a teammate of Bergen's at PSU in the early 1970s, and Champion made an immediate impact by posting a 23-6-3 record in the 1988-89 season.
In the years that followed, Champion maintained his elite status, making it to four straight championship finals and, he estimated, representing the United States against 25 countries during exhibition matches. Champion was voted the Vikings' most outstanding wrestler three times.
Champion has gone on to a successful career in the financial industry and returned to Ashland High as the head coach of the boys and girls wrestling programs before starting a women's program at SOU. Since launching the program, the Raiders have finished 10th and 11th in the Women's College Wrestling Association Championships with five individual All-Americans.
"The funny thing about all of this now is, as I was telling Bergen the other day, I'm happy to be going into the NCAA Hall of Fame," said Champion, "but honestly as a coach now, I would trade it to have been national team champions this year. You get so invested in your teams, that's just a fact for me now."
Despite being deep into the recruiting season, Champion expects to be on hand for the ceremony this week with his wife, Sami Jo, and daughters Madison and Mackenzie, who attend college at Missouri and Kansas, respectively.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry