Benjamin, Penny, Robinson Enter Hall of Fame
An Olympian, a politician and a wrestling announcer walk into a room. And the punchlines were many at Saturday's induction into the Minnesota chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at the Austin Holiday Inn. Two-time Olympic medalist John Peterson led the invocation. Former U.S. Representative Tim Penny, who wrestled in high school and currently resides in Owatonna, went into the hall as Outstanding American.
Owatonna's Dale Benjamin, a longtime wrestling announcer on KRFO, entered the hall of fame as a Lifetime Service Honoree. While his acceptance speech was brief, his voice boomed through the conference hall repeatedly as he introduced each inductee via a video highlight reel. Benjamin has won state and national honors as "Broadcaster of the Year" and is a member of the Dave Bartelma Minnesota Coaches Association Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Benjamin graduated from Gilmore City-Bradgate High School in Iowa where he earned all-conference honors in wrestling and football and was the student body president. He graduated from Brown Institute in Minneapolis and began his broadcasting career at KRIT in Clarion, Iowa. He debuted wrestling on KRFO in 1980 and was joined a short time later by assistant coach Larry Hovden. The "dynamic duo" broadcast hundreds of matches, plus many sections and state tournaments.
Thirty-year head Gophers' wrestling coach J. Robinson, who turned the University of Minnesota into a national powerhouse, capped the evening. His first national champion Marty Morgan was among the inductees.
Penny was the first to give his acceptance speech, saying he wasn't sure he deserved to be in a wrestling hall of fame. After seeing the opening video with the highlights of Penny's political career, at least one champion wrestler said he wasn't sure that he deserved to be part of a hall of fame that contained Penny.
Donny Wichmann of Marshall entered the hall with the Medal of Courage honor. In addition to his success as a wrestler and coach, he now is fighting brain cancer and says the disciplines he learned as a wrestler are helping in this battle.
Longtime coaches Gerry Bakke from Buffalo, Gary Hindt from Wabasso and John Oxton of St. Cloud State University were enshrined. Hindt joked that he was very inexperienced when he took as coach. He claimed he told his wrestlers that his favorite takedown move was, "sic 'em," like you might instruct your dog. He also told his wrestlers that if they were never on the bottom, they can't lose. Bakke kept the crowd in stitches with his outrageous stories. Dr. Ted Lelwica of Staples rounded out the induction class.
National Wrestling Hall of Fame member and former Owatonna High School coach Scot Davis was the event host, assisted by his wife Mary. Former Indians' and Huskies' statistician Keith Stark helped with tickets and running the audio/video display.