Lawinger Finally Receives Space in UW Hall of Fame
Abbie Ruckdashel – 9-19-2016 – Wisconsin Wrestling Online
Rick Lawinger, rightfully received a space in the University of Wisconsin’s Athletic Hall of Fame Friday night. Lawinger, along with seven other of Wisconsin’s finest, were officially inducted in a ceremony narrated by Matt Lepay, in front of family and friends.
In case you need a refresher in who Lawinger is, let’s start from the beginning. Lawinger grew up on a farm just outside of Mineral Point. He and brothers and sisters did hard work on the farm, which according to Rick, gave him his highly envied work ethic.
Lawinger wrestled at Mineral Point for four years under Hall of Fame wrestling Coach Al Bauman. During his acceptance speech, he made sure to thank him, becoming a little choked up.
He won the state title his senior year. Lawinger then moved on to wrestle at UW-Madison, after Bauman pointed him in that direction.
Lawinger was recruited by UW coach George Martin, who passed away just before his arrival. He was then coached by the legendary Duane Kleven. Lawinger joins both of them in The W Club.
In 1974, Lawinger became Wisconsin’s first NCAA national champion defeating Oklahoma State’s Steve Randall, and subsequently paving the way for the talent that would follow.
Although Rick was Wisconsin’s first National Champion, he is the last of Wisconsin’s champions to become inducted. Lee Kemp, who was the first wrestler to be inducted in 1991, was in attendance Friday night.
Kemp credited Lawinger for giving him the confidence he had heading into the NCAA finals.
“I received a telegram from Lawinger right before I was about to head out on the mat. It said something along the lines of, I believe in you. Go out there and show ‘em what you got. It was just the confidence boost I needed, knowing one of the guys I looked up to believed in me,” Kemp said.
Apparently Lawinger’s boost had a phenomenal effect. Kemp went on to lose only three matches his entire college career, bringing three NCAA titles home to Wisconsin. He was also the only guy to beat the legendary Dan Gable.
Kemp isn’t the only person Lawinger had an effect on. In fact, as I was wandering around speaking with many of those there to support Rick, it seemed as if everyone had a story about him. It’s clear Lawinger had a love for the sport and everyone in the community, leaving a mark wherever he went.
Dale Evans recalled Lawinger’s senior year when Rick decided to cut weight down to 142 in order to stay away from Michigan’s Jarrett Hubbard. He and Hubbard had a storied history going back and forth each time they met on the mat. Lawinger wasn’t one to leave anything to chance, as Evans pointed out.
“During the week before the NCAA’s his senior year, I went into the wrestling room to help him lose the weight. I thought he was crazy, but knew if anyone could do it, it was Rick. His work ethic and passion was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He had a goal and he was going to accomplish it. It was truly inspiring,” Evans said.
Many current Wisconsin athletes and coaches were in attendance to support Rick and show respect for the man that started to make a name for Wisconsin wrestling. In the crowd were current UW head coach Barry Davis and assistants Mitch Hull, Trevor Brandvold and Kyle Ruschell. A large contingent of fans from Mineral Point and River Valley, where Lawinger left the biggest mark, made the trip to Madison for the important event.
Olympic Wrestler and Wisconsin Hall of Fame member Russ Hellickson was in attendance. Though Hellickson eventually moved on to coach at Ohio State University, he made sure to make the trip back to see his pal Rick accept his place. Hellickson recalled Rick’s pre-match ritual.
“Watermelon was Rick’s favorite food, post-weigh-in. In fact, I remember his head all the way inside a half of a watermelon. And remember, wrestling season is in the winter, so sometimes it wasn’t easy for us to find it for him,” Hellickson laughed.
No one was more excited for Rick than his family. All his siblings were in attendance, as well as his kids and grand kids. Lawinger’s second cousin pointed out how big of a deal this was to their family.
No one was more appreciative than Rick himself. He made sure to thank everyone he could think of starting with his family and coaches, ending with the fans he had in his time at UW, River Valley and Mineral Point.
It seems as if granting his spot in the hall of fame is long overdue. Though his spot in Wisconsin wrestling history was already solidified, it’s now official. Congratulations, Rick. You deserve it.