Wrestling has always been a big part of Rick Link's life.
The 1972 St. John Central graduate has spent most of his lifetime around the sport he so dearly loves.
He has earned various awards and honors, both as a wrestler and coach. Included in those accomplishments are the prestigious Mr. Mat Award that he was presented with at the 2007 Ron Mauck OVAC Wrestling Tournament.
However, last weekend Rick was honored in another way. The former season-opening Doan Ford Union Local Invitational was re-named the Rick Link Union Local Invitational.
"I'm very humbled and honored," Link said prior to the championship finals. "It's just a wonderful thing to have happen. I never expected it, but it very much appreciated.
"More than anything else, it brings back great memories of the kids I coached," he added. "Several of them are helping out as coaches at Union Local now. Jim Bob Lewis is the head coach and is receiving help from former Jet wrestlers, Travis "The Terror" Clark and Ben McFarland.
"Also former wrestler, and coach, Wade Smolira served as Tournament Director. Jay Sigler worked at the same table with me. Just being with these guys and having the opportunity to share stories, laugh about the past, and refresh memories makes this a very special tournament for me.
"Nothing could be more rewarding than to see the kids you coached give back to the wrestling program they were all a part of. Their friendship is something I value very much."
During his prep days for the Irish, he was a state runnerup at 175 pounds when there was just a single division in the Buckeye State. He lost to an opponent from Lakewood St. Edward's, which is widely considered to be one of the premier mat programs in Ohio. He also placed fourth.
His success continued at West Liberty where he earned All-American honors at 190 pounds.
Following graduation from the hilltop, Rick started his 22-year coaching career which culminated with a 17-year stint as head coach at Union Local. He coached three undefeated dual meet teams, five individual OVAC champions, and his teams won five OVAC Class AAA banners.
Under Rick's tutelage, the Jets placed 10th in the state in 1987. Nine of his matmen placed in the state meet, including a trio that stood the tallest on the podium. Those were John Gibeaut (1992), Lewis (1995) and Clark (1998).
Gibeaut eventually became a national champion and competed at the University of Pittsburgh.
Not bad for a kid who played basketball until a junior high hoops coach told him he though he would be a much better wrestler.
"I didn't start wrestling until I got to St. John under Joe Bates," he recalled. "I really enjoyed it and had some great coaches in Joe and Denny Bowman. I appreciated their help and support throughout my career.
"In college, I wrestled under Coach (Vince) Monseau, and that was a great experience," he continued.
On a cold, snowy Saturday night in mid-January 2007, Rick was inducted into a select group of individuals who have given so much to the sport of wrestling.
His named was called as Mr. Mat and he was fitted with the customary light blue sports jacket.
"That night was very special when you consider that three of my former coaches are all Mr. Mats. To be in their company is a fantastic feeling.
"The OVAC wrestling coaches are like one big family," he offered. "We all work together. Everyone pitches in every year to help run the (OVAC) tournament. We just like each other's company. It's like a reunion."
Rick is a health and physical education teacher at Union Local with more than 30 years of service.
Congratulations Rick, you are very deserving of your most recent honor.
North can be reached at email@example.com