Two standouts from previous glory days of the Eastern Oregon wrestling program will have one of the top accolades in sports placed next to their names forever: Hall of Famers.
Craig Woodward and Norm Berney will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in a May 4 ceremony in Tigard, according to a press release from Hall of Fame Board Officer and Secretary Bob Allen. Woodward is being enshrined as an Outstanding American, and Berney is being recognized for a lifetime of service to the sport of wrestling.
“It’s really a nice thing to get honored like that,” said Berney, who is currently the head track and cross country coach at Corban University in Salem, and a Hall of Fame head wrestling coach from his days leading Clackamas Community College. “This is just the capping moment for me to be honored in the Oregon chapter of the Hall of Fame.”
Berney was a solid wrestler during his time with the Mountaineers in the 1960s, but he made his name in coaching. He was a five-time state coach of the year while at CCC and was named the national coach of the year in 1987.
He also played a key role in saving what has since become a powerhouse program when wrestling faced the potential of being cut at Clackamas in 1984. He said at the time it was the last community college in Oregon to sponsor the sport, and he helped drum up the support of the wrestling community to back keeping wrestling at CCC — including Woodward.
“The one thing I’m honored (about) through this is (being able) to hang in there with good support from people like Craig and (assistant coach) Larry Owings,” he said. “Getting the support of those guys to keep the program going is probably my (best) contribution to wrestling.”
Wrestling, which has endured cuts in programs throughout the country, is seeing a resurgence, including in the Northwest. Berney is part of that comeback: He helped save CCC’s program, and he most recently was instrumental in establishing a new wrestling program at Corban.
Berney feels it’s important to keep the sport around because of what it teaches those who compete in it, and because it’s a sport “everyone can be involved in,” regardless of size — and, now, regardless of gender, with women’s wrestling gaining popularity.
“(It) really teaches you competitive skills, survival skills in the world that have been lost,” he said. “It prepared me for life.”
Woodward, of Prineville, whose contribution to the sport has been in more of a philanthropic and supportive role, said he was humbled by his nomination.
“I can’t put myself in the same category as other recipients — others like Norm (who have coached the sport),” he said. “Those guys are in the Hall of Fame (because) they dedicated their whole life to the sport.”
Woodward, who wrestled as a Mountie in the 1960s, played a part in the movement to bring wrestling back to Eastern Oregon three years ago after a 3-1/2 decade hiatus. He was one of the main drivers to raise the funds to help get the program restarted.
“The president (Tom Insko) was really supportive of it, and said if we could get it rolling they would make it continue,” he said. “We did what we could to get the money raised.”
Like Berney, Woodward is encouraged by the turn the sport has taken in recent years. He also said it’s impacted him in the lessons he learned even after he last took to the mat.
“The school and the coaching staff always made me feel like a leader. I hadn’t thought of being one, but I became the captain of the team so I felt I had a responsibility to the other team members to be a mentor to them,” he said. “That’s carried on through into business as well.”
EOU wrestling Head Coach Dustyn Azure said it’s “obviously why they’re getting inducted” when one considers their contributions to the sport, adding that even decades later, former Eastern wrestlers getting honored “shows the history behind EOU wrestling.”
The inductees were teammates for two years during Eastern Oregon’s heyday in the 1960s, with Berney graduating in 1968 and Woodward in 1969. Berney, who was also a high school state champion wrestler at Canby, was a conference and regional champion while at Eastern. Woodward was a two-time all-American during his collegiate career and is also a member of the EOU Hall of Fame.
The two are among nine Oregonians who will be inducted during the May ceremony.