Flashback to 59 years ago: Jim Richards founded Bellevue High School’s first ever high school wrestling team.
Nearly six decades later, Richards will be honored as one of the most influential wrestling coaches in the nation. Richards received a letter in December of 2018 informing him that he will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on June 2, 2019.
The 83-year-old Richards, who was inducted into the Washington State Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992, is ecstatic about being selected to the most coveted wrestling Hall of Fame in the country.
“From a wrestling coach’s point of view, this is the final level. It doesn’t go further or higher. It is an extreme honor is just a really special situation to be put together with some very elite high school wrestling coaches that we’ve had in this state (Washington). It is really a special treat and honor to be selected to the National Hall of Fame. I feel very humbled and fortunate,” Richards explained.
Richards was the Bellevue Wolverines head coach from 1960 through 1975. Richards also was the head coach of the Sammamish Totems wrestling program from 1976 through 1984. One of the fondest memories of Richards’ career was leading the Wolverines wrestling team to a state championship in 1963. Roy Brewster (106) and Bill Strickland (heavyweight division) won individual state titles. Noel McMurtry (135) competed at the tourney but didn’t place.
“We took three boys to the state wrestling tournament. We did start the evening of the finals knowing that our 106-pounder (Roy Brewster) and our heavyweight (Bill Strickland) were in the finals. Our third wrestler Noel McMurtry had been eliminated but he had scored some team points for us. Roy won his match, which was a really tough match but he came out the winner. He ran off the mat and jumped into my arms,” Richards recalled. “After that, there were about six other matches during the evening that all had to fall exactly right to give us a chance to win the state championship. Going into the heavyweight title match, we were in second place by three points. Bill Strickland went out on that mat and won his match by a pin and we won the state tournament by two points. We are still the only KingCo (Conference) wrestling team that has ever won a state championship.”
Richards said high school wrestling in 1960 compared to now couldn’t be more different.
“Our mat area at that time was a 20-by-20 square foot area, which was very small for upper weight wrestlers. It was almost like if you took two steps, you were out of bounds. It was a much different style of wrestling with a great deal of more riding, holding and positioning. You didn’t want to get trapped in the corner of a square mat,” Richards explained of wrestling in 1960. “We probably didn’t have the larger circle mats until we go into the early 1970s. There were some holds that you could use back in the early 1960s that are now illegal like the double overhead arm bar and figure-four leg lock. I have seen a lot of rules changes.”
Weight rooms were virtually non-existent during the 1960s and early 1970s, which forced high school grapplers to find other ways of conditioning themselves.
“The tradition at that time was a lot of stair running. We also did a lot of rope climb work. That rope climb was our big upper-body strength workout,” Richards said.
Richards has fond memories of coaching tenure at Samammish High School as well. The 1984 team was a squad he will never forget.
“We had some super strong teams through the late 1970s into the early 1980s. In 1984, we had six wrestlers that all qualified for the state tournament and four of them were regional champions and two were runner ups (second place at regionals). We thought we really had a good shot at the state championship. The Monday after the regional tournament, we got ready for practice and two of our guys showed up with the flu. By Tuesday, two more had it and the day we were going to leave to go to the state meet, the final two came down with the flu,” Richards explained. “They all wrestled at the state meet. They recovered and all wrestled really well. We finished in 18th place.”
Following his retirement from coaching, Richards remained active in the wrestling community. Richards was the Mat Classic Class 3A state tournament mat chairman for 15 years (1989 through 2003). The Mat Classic state wrestling tournament had its inaugural tournament, which featured tournaments in a myriad of different classifications in 1988.
“The Mat Classic is a major event for the sport of wrestling and is actually the largest high school tournament in the United States,” Richards said.