Staff photo by Eric Lusk
COTTONWOOD'S Tom Hall has been inducted into both the California Wrestling Hall of Fame and Cal-Poly's sports Hall of Fame.
The Cottonwood resident beamed over the fact that his beloved of 45 years (Marcia) and all six of their children could attend the May 31 banquet in his honor in San Jose. Some had traveled from as far away as Wisconsin to be there.
"Here are five of my kids," Hall says, pointing to a photo taken of a sharply dressed group at the ceremony. "The other one is behind the camera."
If it wasn’t for wrestling, Hall admits, he may never have had the opportunity to create the family he now cherishes so much. The sport opened plenty of doors for him, including the chance to meet Marcia while a student at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo.
"If it wasn’t for wrestling I wouldn’t have gone to college," he says. "If it wasn’t for wrestling, I wouldn’t have met my wife.
"It’s hard to explain but the wrestling did something for me. I was probably the shiest boy in school. I had a terrible speech impediment. But I had a coach that got me so inspired that I wanted to continue. I just kept getting better and better."
Hall first really discovered wrestling as a junior at James Lick High School in California. Though inexperienced, he managed to work his way onto the wrestling team at Cal-Poly as a freshman walk-on.
Here is where his career really started to take off, under the direction of coach Sheldon Harden.
"He wasn’t just my coach, he became my adviser and just became a very good friend," Hall says.
Harden was so impressed with Hall after his freshman season – he had won 15 of 18 matches in the 147-pound weight class – that he vowed to find a way to bring him back even though Hall couldn’t afford school on his own.
Hall did return and won every match except for one as a sophomore. He placed third in the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate championships, again at 147 pounds.
At that point, Hall took a break from college to enlist in the Armed Services. He didn’t take a break from wrestling, however.
He competed in national AAU tournaments as part of U.S. Army teams, taking fourth in the national Greco finals in 1955 and winning the national Greco championship in his weight class in 1957. The All-Army squad from Fort Campbell won the AAU team Greco championship in ’55.
In 1956, Hall turned his attention to making the Olympic team and came within one place of earning a spot. He finished 5-0 in the Olympic Trials held in Hollywood but was eliminated due to bad marks.
"I think I’m the only one who ever won five matches and didn’t make the team," he said. "I placed fourth in the trials and they took three. It was heartbreaking, it really was.
"One of the guys I beat was Joe Henson from Navy, and he won the Trials in 1952 and placed third in the Olympics. He was favored to win (the trials in ‘56)."
Hall returned to Cal-Poly in 1958 and went undefeated over the next two years in dual matches. During his senior year, he won every match by pin. He was selected MVP of the PCI championships in ’58, leading Cal-Poly to the team title.
Hall took another crack at the Olympics in 1960, winning the Northern District Trials but was unable to wrestle in the final rounds of the trials in New York due to injury.
From there, Hall moved into coaching. He directed a high school team in California before changing jobs to spend more time with his family. He taught driver’s education from 1963-94, keeping his foot in wrestling by being an official for more than two decades.
"Driver training paid a heck of a lot more (than teaching and coaching)," Hall says. "I had to make a change because of finances. We just kept having kids. Family has to come first. Wrestling is a very intense sport, and it takes a lot of time. I just couldn’t take that time from the kids."
After retiring in the mid-1990s, Hall moved to Cottonwood. He chose the Verde Valley over Oregon and says he has never regretted that decision because the Pacific coast is always "so damp."
He had open heart surgery in 1999 and last year had hip replacement surgery. These days, though, Hall is feeling much better. He drives for Oxendale, and his wife works at Wal-Mart.
A long-time friend encouraged Hall to put his name up for consideration for the California Wrestling Hall of Fame. "I didn’t even realize they had a California Hall of Fame," he admits.