FULTON — Four legends of the illustrious Fulton varsity wrestling program were part of Saturday’s Class of 2019 and second annual hall of fame induction ceremony.
Mike Kitts, Rick Pawlewicz, John Noel, and Mike Conners were inducted into the Fulton Wrestling Hall of Fame. They join last year’s inaugural class of Randy Gillette, the late Tim Moore, Greg Stevens, and Ron LaBeef.
The selection committee includes Fulton varsity wrestling head coach Jeff Waldron, Nick Duskee, Dick Farfaglia, Wayne Bleau and Mark Woodworth.
“Last year was the first year, and it was awesome,” Waldron said.
Here are profiles of this year’s inductees.
Kitts has a long list of accolades that defined his wrestling career with the Raiders. On top of being a member of four Section III championship teams and two state-championship teams in the 1990s, Kitts compiled a 103-18 record on the mat. He was a Section III and state champion in 1996.
In addition to his excellence as a wrestler, Kitts also excelled in football and baseball. He earned all-state recognition on the gridiron and an all-league nod on the baseball diamond.
Following a military and wrestling stint at West Point, Kitts transferred to Cornell University to join the Big Red’s wrestling program.
Kitts is currently the varsity football and wrestling head coach at Hannibal High School.
Conners, a fellow Class of 2019 inductee, presented Kitts with his hall of fame recognition.
“I appreciate the honor tonight,” he said.
Kitts reminisced on his wrestling career and when his brothers, Nate and Mark, were part of the Raiders’ program. He also touched on how his mother and father spent a countless amount of time traveling to wrestling matches and tournaments.
“Wrestling was a tradition in my family,” Kitts said. “To say we were wrestling for Fulton was an understatement.”
Present and future Fulton wrestlers were included in Kitts’ closing remarks. He stressed how important it is “to be a good teammate and support each other.”
“When you grow up in Fulton, there’s no better feeling than wrestling for your teammates and seeing those guys to the side cheering for you,” he said. “It’s a time in your life you’ll never forget.”
After witnessing the first class of the Fulton Wrestling Hall of Fame get inducted last year, Pawlewicz was blown away by his selection for induction this year.
“To be put in the same category as them is incredibly humbling,” he said. “This is really cool.”
Pawlewicz is a two-time Section III champion and state finalist. He almost had three sectional titles, but a cauliflower ear that led to a staph infection, and being hospitalized for nine days put an abrupt end to his season.
Pawlewicz’s first sectional crown was a memorable one. In his junior year, he was involved in a freak cross country skiing accident. Pawlewicz sustained a five-inch gash across his kneecap, requiring 30 stitches to keep the skin on his knee together.
The accident occurred four weeks before postseason tournaments.
“It turns out I’m not much of a skier,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it, but then I realized my season could be over.”
Miraculously enough, Pawlewicz was able to bounce back quickly. He went into the postseason and started off by winning a title at the OHSL Metro Tournament. Pawlewicz fell short of a class title, but went on to grab a sectional title after pinning the top-seeded wrestler in the tournament.
“Some people say my run to that sectional title was legendary,” he said. “My goals of winning a sectional title didn’t change, but the path did.”
After his wrestling career with the Raiders, Pawlewicz went to be a three-time NCAA Division III Tournament qualifier and All-American at St. Lawrence University, under hall of fame head coach and Fulton native John Clark.
Pawlewicz mentioned how the wrestling community in Fulton all “has something in common,” and that everyone can agree, “wrestling is a special sport.”
“I owe everything I have in life to Fulton wrestling, and wrestling in particular,” he said. “There’s something about this sport and being a wrestler. Wrestlers are rare breeds.”
Pawlewicz gave praise to his family, including his brother Dan Pawlewicz, who presented Rick for induction.
“Danny pushed me every day of my life,” Pawlewicz said. “He pushed me to be gritty, to work hard, and made me who I am today.”
Pawlewicz thanked the Fulton wrestling program putting him in the position he’s in today. The program is noted for shaping its wrestlers for the future.
“Wrestlers are fierce competitors in every aspect of their life. It teaches you how to build a strong work ethic and how to set goals,” he said. “It has helped me to be a better person, father, husband, and educator.”
During his time with Raider wrestling, Noel won a sectional title and placed fourth at the state tournament. Compiling 97-18-4 career record, he was a member of three sectional dual meet championship teams, three sectional tournament title teams, and three state championship teams for Fulton.
Noel soon got into coaching wrestling. He started out by coaching Fulton’s youth wrestlers, and has since made his way up to assistant coach for the varsity team. He also helps out with Fulton’s Peewee program.
“This is a great honor,” Noel said of the induction. “I was surprised to be picked for this because I was just an average wrestler on four great teams. I’m so humbled.”
Noel knew at 7 years old he wanted to wrestle for the Raiders.
“I was part of a program that was rich in our small town’s history,” he said.
When asked why Fulton has such a successful wrestling program, he said, “It’s not just a sport in Fulton. It’s a community.”
For the sport of wrestling, Noel said how it goes beyond what occurs on the mat during every match.
“Wrestling is not just a sport, it’s a way of life,” he said. “Our coaches just don’t teach you about the sport. They teach you hard work and to promote positivity and good values in life.”
Noel mentioned how thankful he is for wrestling preparing him for challenges down the road.
“It gave me the structure I needed and the strength to find perseverance in my life,” he said.
Conners is entering the Fulton Wrestling Hall of Fame as a coach. During his 25-year span at the helm of the Raiders, Conners garnered 500 dual-meet victories, with his teams winning 18 sectional dual meet titles.
Conners’ teams also won 142 tournament titles that included a mix of sectional interclass and class crowns. He coached 38 individual sectional champions and 20 state place-winners.
“It’s been a wonderful career,” Conners said.
The 1987-88 season was Conners’ first year at the helm of Raider wrestling. Most notably, it was a season that got off to a rocky start for Fulton.
The Raiders kicked off their season with a 32-25 loss against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill. It was Fulton’s first home match loss in eight seasons.
“Not only did we lose, it was the first time Fulton lost a home match since I was a senior in high school,” Conners said. “I realized then and there I had a tremendous amount of growth and work ahead of me with this group.”
Following the loss, the Raiders responded well, which included a match where they “kicked the tar out of,” rival Baldwinsville.
Fulton went on to win the league, class, and sectional titles that season.
“We seemed to get better every match,” Conners said. “Everything started to roll at that point.”
Coming from a blue-collar family, Conners felt right at home when he joined the community in Fulton.
“Coming to Fulton was kind of a blessing for me,” he said. “The people had the same values and work ethic as I did.”
Conners said those values were also “deeply ingrained” in the wrestling program.
“I was lucky to work with so many great people in this community,” he said. “I developed good relationships with people that kept our program growing.”
Coaching Fulton wrestling for a quarter of a century, Conners sees the development and future of the program heading down the right path.
“Fulton wrestling has continued to grow, work, and go in a direction that I love to see,” he said.