Respect and admiration do not diminish after 40 years
November 9yh 2023| Written by: Staff writer



On a whim I went to the best wrestling birthday party I could ever imagine.  It was a moment I shall forever keep re my wrestling career, and long after the lettering on mats always reads “FREE! 60-year-old pain.” 

Whether he knew exactly who I was or not, I got to be, at least, a bystander to watch people who know Stephon Breedlove better than I do to celebrate his life and accomplishments.

Stephon may not have remembered me, but I got to meet Stephon’s wife Marilyn and his daughter Lydia and son Isaac.  Everyone else knew the five of us (Rich, Mike, Scott, Larry and me) were from his 1983 UT wrestling team, and they were all a pleasure to meet.

I know going to this event counts in my top-five wrestling memories of all time.

Birthday celebrants Marylyn and Stephon Breedlove His name is misspelled and he did not compete for Canada, but that's our may

I recently learned  Stephon Breedlove, a teammate of mine from the UT@Austin Texas Collegiate Wrestling Association state championship team of 1984, was suffering from some physical and mental disabilities. So, I thought I would try to get a few teammates to go to Longhorn Classic at UT@Austin on January 27th.  The UT Wrestling Club president said she would introduce us as, well, “wrestling trailblazers,” or the like, to the crowd, prior to the finals.

Two days later I learned Neil deGrasse Tyson was speaking at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans on January 23rd.  I bought “Elite Seats” for my daughter, a friend of my sister’s and me to see him.  Neil, of course, counts as one on that 1983 team.  He did not compete as he was at Texas acquiring hi master’s degree in astrophysics.  I figured I spent enough on wrestling sentimentality that week.  I would have to figure out something else to get some of my teammates together.

Two days later, on a Tuesday – problem solved.  Scott Kirby, from that UT team, informed me that Stephon’s children were planning a surprise birthday party for Stephon and his wife, Marilyn, the following Saturday, November 4th.  I booked a plane immediately and convinced two other members of our UT team to come.  From our 1983 TWCA championship team were Stephon, Scott Kirby, Michal Shanks and Larry Swonke.  From an earlier team was Richard Fulmer.

Rich Fulmer I consider my best friend for the last 40 years or so. We became friends because he was the only one comprehending my little "under one's breath" sarcastic comments during practice.  He was a little heavier than I was and hence was a prime workout partner for me.  That lasted two weeks.  Our coach, Dwayne Keller, forbade us from practicing with one another because we were laughing too much.  All of a sudden we are in fifth-grade and had to sit in desks at the opposite side of the room.

Scott Kirby, deferring to Stephon as the best wrestler on the team, holds “second best” all to himself.   One day Coach Keller asked us to arm-spar each other to put the other on the mats on the wall of the 5th floor Belmont Hall room.  (That’s Texas Memorial Stadium, but they had classrooms in it.)  I got the best of him that day, and he told me that impressed him.  Today I carry that as great a memory, comparable to when Coach Sam, at one practice, saw me stifle Gary Lagasse for a few sparing rounds.  (My thought was Gary must have been sick or something.)  Both of those guys were much better than I was.

Mike Shanks did not wrestle in high school but took advantage of his maturity and of some really good lighter-weight kids, to learn fast.

Larry Swonke was a friend of several of the wrestlers but must have thought pretty fast that becoming a manager for the team would cost him a lot less pain.  (Larry, I think of you every morning when I awaken!)

2023 1983

Larry, Stephon and Mike Top: Scott, Rich, Martin
Bottom: Larry, Stephon, Mike
Rich and Larry Mike, Rich, Larry and Scott

Stephon Breedlove has been blind since he was two-years-old.  In high school he wrestled a ranked Iowa State kid.  The Cyclone won, by a point, and said he had never competed against a wrestler as fast as Stephon.  In 1980, Stephon won the gold medal at the 1980 Paralympic Games in Stockholm (for Canada, for a reason I do not know).  In the three years during which I wrestled for UT I never saw him come close to losing a match.  In the practice room, he did not sweat.  I had about 15 lbs. on him and would grab his wrist, and while I was marveling about how there was no sweat and that his skin just felt like silk, he was finishing his takedown on me.  He was inducted into the Texas Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004.

Being blind was “cake” for Stephon Breedlove.  Of the stories told of him after the party, one involved that, yes, at times he got lost on campus.  UT@Austin has a monstrous campus and he never used assistance to traverse it, aside from his cane.  When he did get lost, he said he listened to AC compressors.  They all had different, individual sounds to him.  When he found one he recognized, he was back on track.

Breedlove Family Isaac and JayCee (J.C.?) Marilyn and daughter Lydia

His new illnesses are of a type that limit one’s memory, short-term and long.  There were times when I believe he recognized Scott Kirby, Richard Fulmer, Larry Swonke and Michael Shanks.  They knew him longer than I did.  He might have recognized me for an instant, but after 40 years that may just be a hope on my part.  In Stephon’s condition one has to consider that he was flustered a little bit after hearing “surprise!”

What I did see is that he has a wonderful family and a great group of friends.  And he can put up those “Hook ‘em Horns” fingers up better than anyone I have ever seen.

Usually, it takes a subpoena for me to travel across the Texas State line.  Yet this was a chance to see four guys I had not seen in 40 years and one I had not seen since 2014.  If Stephon did not recognize me at the party and does not later when people tell him about the party, at least I got to be another one to shake his hand and ask if he needed something.  If he did not know me, yet felt in a safe environment,  perhaps it is enough that he knew someone he did not recognize was at his service.

Mr. Edward (seated with Isaac in the far right photograph) scared the heck out of me.  I got to Poppa’s BBQ around 4:30 pm. to see how the lighting was, as well as get out of a room that was 80% really-comfortable-bed!  Richard Fulmer, whom I met at the UT Wrestling Club, arrived around 5 p.m.  Shortly thereafter he went to a liquor store to buy me a bottle of rum.  While he was on that venture, I went outside to have a cigarette.  Around 5:15 p.m. having my cigarette, a Houston Metro Ride car showed up and parked next to where I was standing.  When the driver got out and opened the side door, I saw a black guy who looked to ne in his 60’s.  I thought nothing more of it until he whipped out a walking cane.  Remember, please, that I had not seen Stephon in 40 years, and the man getting out of the car was black, blind and possibly in his 60’s.  By all means, of course, count that my vision sucks.  I knew of only one blind black man in his 60’s going to this party, and I freaked a little bit.  How did his family lose sight of Stephon.  If he is coming via a Metro Ride van, why is he doing so an hour before the party starts?  I took a chance, opened the door to Poppa’s, and asked if they were here for “an event.”  Mr. Edward said a friend’s birthday party,” and I stopped feeling the need for a valium.

When the party was over I saw us as five ex-wrestling sexagenarians on a Saturday night in Houston (plus Mike’s wife, who is only 29).   So, Mike and Virginia, Scott, Larry, Rich and I went to Bombshells, an establishment that happened to be one building away from my hotel.  Bombshells is like Hooter’s - on crack.  At Bombshells we saw LSU fold against Alabama, and the conversation of the sexagenarians devolved into prostates and colonoscopies. 

Hooters Bombshells (Hooters on crack)

Stephon has been in inspiration to people re his wrestling and his faith in God, as one ex-teammate told me.  Watching him wrestle, just in practice, was something I will never forget.  The grace and dignity he exhibits at a very difficult time of his life, should be something many others can experience,  I apologize that I cannot do  it justice re my verbal acumen.


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