|Rochelle Robinson, left, |
with partner Tekla Balulkas
and coach Gene Dermody
at 1998 U.S. Nationals
Four LGBT wrestling pioneers were unanimously elected to the WWB Don Jung Hall of Merit at WWB Cup III held in September in San Francisco. The wrestlers will be formally inducted into the Hall at the inaugural Runyon Wrestling Classic in Las Vegas, Jan. 14-15. This year's inductees are:
- Rochelle Robinson, GGWC, 1998 Gay Games and U.S. Nationals champion
- Michael Ognibene, Metro WC, three-time Gay Games gold medalist
- Albert "Ace" Rocek, GGWC, three-time Gay Games gold medalist
- Mike Rio, SCWC, longtime coach of SCWC
"What an honor," Robinson said of her selection. "As a youngster, I always wanted to wrestle. It was such a privilege to get the chance when I was 37 or 38, something like that, and to be able to achieve that at that age was something. It was a great club to work with and a great coach."
WWB Treasurer Gene Dermody, who coached Robinson at the 1998 Nationals, credited her and Rocek with crucial team leadership and fundraising. "Ace was one of the last wrestlers to come out of 'the' Notre Dame program that was dropped," Dermody said. "I relied on him for years to handle the bigger, more experienced wrestlers, and I credit him for keeping GGWC credible and stable during those lean years 1990-1998. Rochelle was a good fund-raiser and did us all proud at the U.S. Nationals in Orlando. She made no bones about promoting Gay Games."
Dermody said Ognibene provided effective coaching for Metro Wrestling Club in the 1990s.
"He worked for the New York 2012 Olympic bid, and I worked on the San Francisco 2012 Olympic bid," Dermody said. "The day of the announcement choosing New York over San Francisco was exactly 5 minutes after my gold medal match at the Sydney 2002 Gay Games. We spoke on mobile right after my match, and good naturedly teased each other."
Rio, who acted in Hollywood under the name Mike Rivers, coached SCWC under founder Pete Runyon, a former Hall of Merit inductee, and was responsible for the technical expertise and dominance of Gay Games wrestling by SCWC from before 1982.
The Hall of Merit was started in 2007 to honor those who helped shape the world of LGBT wrestling and WWB.