February 2, 2012
Hall of Famer Wright has fond mat memories
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Charlie Wright (right) is presented with his Cortland High Hall of Fame plaque by past inductees Dick Meldrim (left) and Larry Hinkle during Wednesday’s ceremony prior to the Purple Tigers’ home match against Oneida.
Charlie Wright’s standout memory from his Cortland High wrestling career involves weather, a setback and, ultimately, revenge.
Wright was inducted into the Cortland High Wrestling Hall of Fame Wednesday night in ceremonies prior to the Purple Tigers’ 62-11 win over visiting Oneida in their dual-meet finale. He laughed as he recalled how, during a snowstorm his senior year, then-CHS coach Gary Dillingham rode out to his Virgil home on a snowmobile to get him so he could join the team in competing at the Fulton Christmas Tournament.
“The main roads were open, but not the ones to Virgil,” Wright said. “With the combined weight of the two of us, we made it halfway back before I had to get off and push that snowmobile the rest of the way. We ended up making weigh-ins just in time, and I always said I wouldn’t have made weight if I hadn’t done that pushing.”
Wright finished second in the 165-pound class that day, losing on “a very controversial call” to a wrestler from East Syracuse-Minoa named Dunn — “Some names you don’t forget,” he said — in the finals.
“But I got my revenge at sectionals,” he said with a smile. “I beat the daylights out of the guy.” Wright went on to win that 1970 sectional crown at 167 pounds (with a two-pound allowance added after the holidays) and later, on crutches due to a severely sprained ankle, went on to finish second at the state meet.
“I just handed my crutches to coach Dillingham and hopped out on the mat,” he said.
Wright was also an all-leaguer in football, in which he played center and linebacker, and baseball as a catcher. He won the Ross O. Shafer Award as the school’s Outstanding Senior Male Athlete in 1970. Wright was a mainstay during a golden era of Purple Tiger wrestling under Dillingham, whose teams won Section 3 titles in 1967 and 1969 and were runners-up by one point in 1968.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame here is a great honor,” he said. “We’ve had some really excellent wrestlers at Cortland High, and it’s nice to be thought of in that way. Gary Dillingham was an excellent coach and teacher. I give a lot of credit to him for pushing me. He’d wrestle with me; especially by the time I was a senior there weren’t a lot of guys good enough to make me work hard.
“He was, and one of my best workouts was wrestling against Benny Mastronardi, who was smaller and younger than me but would beat the daylights out of you if you didn’t work hard,” he added, Mastronardi a fellow Hall of Famer.
After a stint at the U.S. Maritime Academy following graduation, Wright transferred to the University of Buffalo, where after sitting out a year due to the transfer he was a member of the wrestling team for three seasons. Over his final two seasons, 1974-75 and 1975-76, he compiled a dual-meet record of 31-5 while competing at 190 pounds and heavyweight and was nationally-ranked consistently.
Wright was named UB’s Most Outstanding Wrestler for the 1974-75 season, during which he was a champion at the NCAA Eastern Regional Tournament and was second at the New York State Collegiate Wrestling Championships as well as winning at a number of Open tournaments.
He had also represented the US at 190 pounds in the 1972 Junior Olympics in Trieste, Italy, wrestling twice before separating his shoulder. His replacement, the man he had beaten for the berth on the squad, wound up finishing second at the weight class.
Following his college career, Wright was involved in numerous wrestling clinics and was widely regarded as an expert clinician. The 59-year-old is currently a teacher’s aide for a history class at George Junior Republic and is also a residence counselor for the William George Agency, a position he has held for more than 17 years.
In remembering how he first got involved with wrestling, Wright laughed and said that “I had five brothers. You learned to fight your way out of stuff, and I wasn’t a good fist fighter. I always enjoyed wrestling because it’s both an individual and team sport. Coming to Cortland High from Virgil, I was an outcast until I got into sports, got bigger and stronger and accomplished things.
“Wrestling is one great equalizer; I’m a team player, but it’s great to know you can go out, do your best and win and still feel good about yourself even if the team loses.”
Wright joins Dillingham, Shafer, Mastronardi, Robert Stevens, Larry Hinkle (his brother-in-law), James Meldrim, Rob Price, Dick Hartford and Bob Valentino as members of the Cortland High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.
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