Stillwater News Press

Sports

June 2, 2013

Oklahoma official earns national wrestling hall of fame honor

STILLWATER, Okla. — It only seemed fitting that a tornado warning would delay Pat Fitzgerald’s induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame late Friday night.

Fitzgerald, an Oklahoma native who graduated from high school in Moore, lives less than a mile from where a tornado touched down in Edmond and saw his business in Shawnee narrowly escape last Sunday’s damage.

But not even the threat of another tornado — and the ensuing downpour — could dampen the mood as Fitzgerald was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for Officials.

“It’s just an incredible honor,” Fitzgerald said, tears of joy welling up in his eyes. “It’s beyond words. Certainly when you go out, (as an official) you try to avoid any notoriety, and to get recognized is a little uncomfortable. But it’s a huge honor.”

And for it to happen this week of all weeks? Well, that just made it even more special. If anything, it might even lift the people of Moore’s spirits — even for just a brief moment — knowing that one of its sons found a new place among wrestling’s elite officials.

“It’s tough to see where I went to high school get that kind of notoriety,” Fitzgerald said. “We’d like to avoid that, but it’s Oklahoma and that’s what we deal with. This has been building and planning for a few weeks and to have all the upheaval that we’ve had, it’s tough. I currently live in Edmond and the tornado that we had that Sunday was about a mile from us and my business is in Shawnee and Shawnee was impacted. It just seems like it’s kind of the trifecta.

“We live in Oklahoma, so we get a little immune to it. The one at home we were actually at Penn Square Mall because I thought it wasn’t coming in until later. I was watching a television at Penn Square Mall and we’re having to watch how close it was to our house at that time.”

The trifecta of tornados may have caused a little bit of a scare in the Fitzgerald household, but it’s hard to rattle a veteran official like Fitzgerald — a man whose done 31 Oklahoma state tournaments, 27 Bedlam duals and every NCAA tournament since 1992.

“I’ve been so fortunate to be involved in some really great duals over the years in Gallagher and down in Norman,” Fitzgerald said. “To be an Oklahoma resident and to officiate at such a high level in my backyard, it’s special.”

Fitzgerald has had his share of ups and downs over the years as he jokingly referred to the fact that he’s been called every name in the book at least twice.

But even with all the state championships and Bedlam matches, the real crown jewel for Fitzgerald came at the end of this wrestling season — when he was asked to officiate the final NCAA match of the season between Cornell’s Kyle Dake and Penn State’s David Taylor in the final match of the season.

“Typically I would say that I didn’t have one memorable match, but this year, having been a part of the Dake-Taylor match — that being so fresh — that one sticks out,” Fitzgerald said. “If I sat back and thought for a while, I’m sure I could come up with several more.

“It was an incredible honor. With them changing the format the way they did to highlight that match as the last one of the evening, to be selected to officiate that match was a huge honor for me. We are evaluated at each one of our NCAA championships and this year I was evaluated as the No. 1 official.”

Like the Oklahoma towns he grew up in, Fitzgerald isn’t about being flashy. He doesn’t draw much attention to himself. Even as other wrestlers plaques were unveiled he just sort of milled about the Hall of Fame, almost as if he didn’t belong there among world’s greatest gladiators.

But make no mistake, he certainly belongs there. It’s just the nature of an official that kept him from fully hobnobbing with the rest of the group.

“We try to not get recognition, really,” Fitzgerald said. “It makes me very proud and I’m very humbled. All I did was blow a whistle. I know coaches who have devoted their entire lives to the sport and will never be recognized. I have so much admiration for what they do and what the athletes themselves do and they time they put in. To be recognized for being an official. It’s more than I can describe because I have so much regard for what the real athletes do.”

And as places like Moore, Edmond and Shawnee continue to recover from a week’s worth of devastating tornados, Fitzgerald said he’s looking forward to his life returning to normal — that of course being back officiating on the wrestling mat.

“Where I go from here is I get ready for next year,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve got to kind of get ready to come back in September and October, trying to get in a little bit of shape for wrestling to start in November and December. I go right back and do what I’ve done for 30 years. I rest all summer, but I’m a long way from wanting to stop doing it. I enjoy it too much and have too much fun doing it.”

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