Two alumni had each other in a headlock moments after their photo was snapped, as the members of the 1978 University of Richmond men’s wrestling team celebrated their 40th reunion the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 4.
Seven of the 10 teammates returned to UR during homecoming weekend. Jonathan Hölljes, ‘80, organized a dinner at his house, a tailgate and brunch in the Heilman Dining Center with the group.
This was the first year the team had formally come together on UR’s campus since 1978. January 2018 marked the team's first reunion, for the 60th birthday of a teammate. Since then, the team has organized seven events together ranging from barbecues to municipal celebrations.
“Wrestlers have this camaraderie," Peter Sokowski, '80, said. "It’s unlike any sport, I think. We beat the hell out of each other in a room, but we respect each other, we leave and we’re friends.” Sokowski went on to attribute the men's uncompromising relationships to the team and university.
1978 head wrestling coach Don Pate and assistant coach David Powers attended the event and are equally invested in the program.
Pate was recruited to coach from the nationally ranked team of Wayne State College in Nebraska. He started UR's program in 1973, the same year the Robins Center and wrestling facility were built.
“We had some really good athletes, and a lot of them came -- we didn’t have scholarships -- because they liked the school," Pate said, "and they liked what we were doing with the program. If you talk to any of these guys, they’ll say the same thing."
Pate is now the coach of the club wrestling team, which was re-founded this year.
Multiple members of the alumni team said they had prided themselves on being the underdogs in their sport. They competed against teams that gave 10 full scholarships, but they were still able to win state titles.
Talented people have been drawn to UR for the university's quality, Justin Green, '80, and Bill Vucci, '80, said. Green was recently inaugurated into the Richmond City Hall of Fame for his high school wrestling career.
As a high school state champion in Maryland, Vucci was recruited by much larger schools than UR but decided to be a Spider anyway, he said. He went on to be a star for the team. Vucci said he had had an action-packed life, including working for the Secret Service, but still credited the team as his core nucleus.
"I became part of a very strong family in the Secret Service," Vucci said. "I was on the SWAT team and did a lot of special ops and stuff like that, but it was this team that was the family I’ve always kept.
“I made a toast at brunch to make everyone swear that we would never let that time ever pass by again," Vucci said of the party this year that reunited the group.
Contact sports writer Jackson McAtee at email@example.com