Wrestling legends attend camp

Two-time Olympian and a seven-time national champion Gray Simons looks on as St. Andrews wrestling campers practice against one another on Tuesday.

LAURINBURG — Campers at St. Andrews University welcomed a pair of wrestling icons into their midst Tuesday during the second day of the week-long Knights Wrestling Fitness Overnight Camp hosted by head coach Joe Baranik.

Two-time Olympian and a seven-time national champion Gray Simons, along with NC State coaching icon Bob Guzzo, visited the school to assist Baranik with his annual youth event.

The 10-year coach said the presence of the two wrestling legends gives his camp instant credibility.

“These aren’t your run-of-the-mill coaches,” Baranik said. “It’s like having Bobby Knight or (Mike) Krzyzewski come in here for a basketball camp or Vince Lombardi at a football camp.”

Simons tallied 91-2 record at Lock Haven University from 1959-1962, never losing after his freshman campaign. At one point, he reeled off 84 straight victories and finished his wrestling career with four NAIA national championships and three straight NCAA national championships.

Simons then moved to the sidelines where he compiled 324 wins in 36 years. He coached five All-Americans and 27 wrestlers who qualified for nationals.

Baranik developed a close bond with Simons when he served under him as an assistant coach at Old Dominion for three seasons, and their relationship continues to bring Simons to his camps.

The Virginia Sports Hall-of-Famer, who turns 76 years old in August, said he’s “lucky” to be able to continue helping Baranik and other close friends with their camps and plans to do so as long as “my health is good.”

“It’s good, I like seeing Joe and the kids,” Simons said. “I like the teaching part, explaining how wrestling works and how you can get better.”

Bob Guzzo, who retired from NC State after 30 seasons, amassed 356 wins during his coaching career. At the time of his retirement, he was the second-winningest coach in ACC history. Guzzo mentored 24 All-Americans and four national champions during his tenure.

As a wrestler at East Stroudsburg State University, he won the 1966 NAIA national championship at 123 pounds.

Baranik, Simons and Guzzo share the same enthusiasm for a sport they’ve been around for decades, and the St. Andrews coach hopes some of that exuberance rubs off on the campers in attendance this week.

“It’s good because the younger generation can appreciate them,” Baranik said.

Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.