MIDDLETOWN, July 13, 2022 — More than a half dozen fans at the edge of the wrestling surface were running and creating a breeze but it was still hot and steamy at the Overcomer Training Center on Wednesday night.
But the blue and white mat was crowded with youngsters and a few high school wrestling coaches listening to the accumulated wrestling wisdom of Middletown High graduate Richard Perry, who hosted a three-hour clinic at OTC.
It was the second of three free clinics by Perry at OTC. There was also a clinic on Monday and Thursday night.
There are plenty of summer wrestling clinics but there few that are free and even fewer that feature a former member of the U.S. national team.
“The kids around here don’t really know (about Perry),” said Mark Fong, owner of OTC and the former wrestling coach that finally talked Perry into coming out for the sport as a junior at Middletown High. “There are probably no people on this planet that have thrown David Taylor for five (points) and scored four (points) on Kyle Dake in one move. No one in the world is doing that and he is (Perry) is sitting right here.”
Taylor is an Olympic and world champion while Dake won four NCAA championships at Cornell.
Perry did little sitting on Wednesday night with his Pennsylvania RTC (Regional Training Center) shirt drenched in sweat. He demonstrated moves and technique and moved throughout the room offering suggestions and guidance to the young wrestlers on the mat.
“This training center is special to me because my high school coach Mark Fong started it,” Perry said. “It is really important for me to come back to the community that raised me as an athlete and a student as well.”
Perry was a student at Middletown High where he wrestled for two seasons under Fong, who had been trying to get him to wrestle for several years. As a senior in 2008, he won the Class L and State Open title at 215 pounds and was second in New England.
He wrestled at Bloomsburg State, won over 100 matches, won an Eastern Wrestling League title at 197 pounds in 2014 and wrestled in the NCAA Division I tournament three times.
In 2018, he finished second at the U.S. Open for the second time and earned a spot on the U.S. national team. But he was injured in a serious training camp accident in San Diego in August 2018 and didn’t get a chance to compete at the world championships that year.
Perry was involved in a drill with foam-padded clubs. He took a shot to the face and the foam protection dislodged. The baton slipped through a hole in his facemask and struck him the eye, causing trauma to the brain. After he was hurt, Perry was unable to work, talk or eat on his own.
He has spent the last few years rebuilding his life. “I had to learn to walk again, talk again. I was like a baby,” Perry said. “I had to relearn everything. And that was before wrestling (again). I had to learn to move the left side (of my body).”
Today, he is working out four days a week with his teammates at Pennsylvania RTC in Philadelphia. “I am very thankful. So, I am training full time trying to get back to where I was before,” he said.
Part of his work is giving clinics. He works with Beat the Streets and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). And he was thrilled to sharing his wrestling knowledge in Middletown.
“Having the time and the opportunity to come back up here and share this great sport of wrestling with the community that raised me is very important to me and my family as well,” said Perry, now 32.
Pete Veleas, the coach at Berlin High, was in the room Wednesday night. Like most coaches around the state, he received an email invitation from Fong to attend a training session with Perry.
“He is showing simple things that work at a high level,” Veleas said. “He is a (U.S.) world team member. I can go back to my high school team and say this (technique) works against the best guys in the world.
“I only live 20 minutes away so if I don’t take advantage of this, I am an idiot,” he cracked with a smile. “A world team member giving a clinic in Middletown is really something. These kids don’t realize how special he is and that is why I am here. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see this.”
There was a one-hour youth clinic for youngsters followed by a two-hour workout for older wrestlers. Some younger wrestlers stayed all three hours.
Brooke Dixon, a 10-year-old from South Windsor, and her brother attended the entire workout. Brooke’s father, Jon, came with workout clothes, too. “He was showing us the basics and stuff I didn’t know, which was good to know,” Brooke said.
“He is just here for a week to visit and catch up,” Fong said. “But while he is here, he is able to do these awesome clinics and spread the word (about wrestling). Hopefully, he reaches some kid the same way I was able to reach him.”