Rich Bender into Wisconsin George Martin Hall of Fame
USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender
inducted into George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame in Wisconsin
USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender, a native of Boscobel, Wis., has been inducted into the George Martin Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame in Green Bay, Wis. Bender, who wrestled as a youth and then competed at Boscobel High School, has been an employee of USA Wrestling, the sport’s national governing body, for 28 years. In 2001, Bender was asked to step in as Interim Executive Director of USA Wrestling and months later became the permanent Executive Director. He has served as the organization’s chief executive officer for 14 years, leading USA Wrestling through a period of growth and expanded service. Bender was a three-sport athlete at Boscobel High School, earning multiple varsity letters in Football, Wrestling and Baseball. He received his college degree in Sports Management with a minor in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and is a graduate of the Olympic Sports Leadership certification program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He was nominated for the George Martin Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame by Mitch Hull, an inductee in 1998 who served more than two decades as the National Teams Director at USA Wrestling before returning to Wisconsin to run the Wisconsin Regional Training Center. Bender will be inducted along with Fred Brown of Sheboygan Falls High School, Randy Dammon of LaCrosse Aquinas High School, Dave Karpenske of Glenwood City High School and Weir McQuoid of Watertown High School. The George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame inducted its character members in 1977, however, the development program began in 1975 and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association. The first official order of business was to name the organization. A unanimous choice was made to name the Hall of Fame after George Martin, a longtime wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin and a pioneer in the development of wrestling in the state. In 1978, the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association had the “George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame” display case permanently placed in the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse. In 1981 a second display case was added to the display area in the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse. Bender’s major impact on the sport came at USA Wrestling, where he joined the organization as an intern in the events department in 1988 and hasn’t stepped off this mat since. Bender’s initial hire was as the Events Assistant, and he quickly moved to Manager then Directorof National Events and on to the role of Associate Executive Director for Programs where he oversaw USA Wrestling’s National Events, the National Team and all Developmental Program Activities. Organizing events comes natural to Bender. He previously served as USA Wrestling’s National Events Director, managing the organization’s regional, national and international events. Bender directly supervised major events including the 1995 World Freestyle Championships, age-group World Championships, the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, the U.S. Olympic Festival, the World Cup, the Goodwill Games, and numerous World Dual meets. He also directed the combined ASICS/Vaughan Junior and Cadet National Championships, the world’s largest wrestling competition. Bender also served as the Competition Manager for wrestling at the 1996 Olympic Games, working for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). Bender organized a staff which presented one of the best Olympic wrestling competitions in history. Over 115,000 fans witnessed the wrestling competition in Atlanta. As Executive Director, he has made a commitment to strengthen USA Wrestling’s membership and put the organization on its most solid financial footing in history. USA Wrestling set three all-time membership records in the recently completed 2014-15 season in the categories of athlete members, sanctioned events and registered clubs. USA Wrestling’s combined membership reached over 225,000 last season. USA Wrestling’s budgeted revenue was $6.3 million dollar in fiscal year 2001-2002, Bender’s first full year as Executive Director, in comparison to $18.6 million in budgeted revenue for the current 2015-16 fiscal year. On February 13, 2002 USA Wrestling paid off both its line of credit and its long term loan with Wells Fargo Bank making the organization “Debt-Free”, a status that it maintains to this day. In 2013, Bender formed the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling (CPOW), the U.S.-led group of wrestling and business leaders, who spearheaded the American effort to retain wrestling on the Olympic Program. The International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended removing wrestling from the Olympics, starting with the 2020 Games. Due to the excellent work of CPOW, in cooperation with the international wrestling community, wrestling was selected by the IOC General Assembly as an extra sport for the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. Women’s wrestling has flourished during Bender’s tenure. The sport was added to the Olympic program at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. USA Wrestling’s women’s program has seen the addition of a U.S. Olympic Training Center Resident Athlete Program and the hiring of a National Women’s Coach, which led to a second-place finish at the 2003 World Championships. Most recently, over the last three years (2013-2015) the U.S. Women’s World Team finished in third place at the World Championships. Also during his service as Executive Director, USA Wrestling won its first World Team Title in Greco-Roman wrestling in 2007 and placed third in 2006. The 2003 U.S. Freestyle World Team placed second in the World Championships. The 2013 U.S. Freestyle World Team placed third at the World Championships, and was third in the unofficial standings in men’s freestyle at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. USA Wrestling has hosted numerous major international events during Bender’s tenure, including the 2003 Freestyle World Championships in Madison Square Garden and the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas. USA Wrestling also hosted the 2009 Grappling World Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Team USA won the team title in all four divisions. He has served on the Board of Directors for the United States Olympic Committee, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the United States Olympic Endowment, FCA Wrestling and the National Wrestling Coaches Association. With a broader vision for the sport industry, Bender served on the Advisory Council for the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs’ new Sports Management degree program. Giving back to the Colorado Springs community that has been home to him since 1988 is important to Bender, Rich serves on the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Board of Directors and is its incoming president. He also served on the Colorado Springs City for Champions state presentation team that was successful in securing a grant for over 120 million dollars for key initiatives for Colorado Springs. Bender was elected by his peers as the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s National Governing Body Council in 2010. The members of the NBG Council represent a collective membership of over 13,000,000 members, sanction over 60,000 events annually and represent a combined annual budget of over $650,000,000. He and his wife, Michelle, who grew up together in their hometown of Boscobel, Wis., have three daughters – Madeline, Chloe, and Ella.WI
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