North Allegheny wrestling great Ray Brinzer to join WPIAL Hall of Fame

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Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Ray Brinzer writes software and manages databases as a computer programmer, which seems a world away from a wrestling mat for one of the WPIAL’s all-time greats, but the former North Allegheny star can see similarities.

“The common thing for me is complexity,” said Brinzer, a 1990 graduate who’ll be inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame this spring. “I could not stand doing a boring sport, and wrestling is an endless well of choices and decision. Exploiting that and learning to navigate that system was very good for me. Software is the same sort of thing.”

His string of good decisions let him win 109 consecutive matches over his final three high school seasons while capturing consecutive WPIAL and PIAA titles from 1988-90.

The WPIAL Hall of Fame class was announced Jan. 18. The group includes 13 individuals and two teams, and will be inducted June 2 at a banquet at the DoubleTree in Green Tree.

“It is gratifying that they’re still interested, because it was so important to me and to my friends,” Brinzer said. “I was on an extraordinary team. We had an exceptional coach. It was an important part of our lives, and we really did everything we could to be the best that we could.”

Brinzer, 51, was a big part of a dominant North Allegheny wrestling program, was named a high school All-American three times and he was the ASICS High School Wrestler of the Year in 1990.

He wrestled in college at Oklahoma State and later Iowa, where he was a two-time Big Ten champion at 177 pounds, earning All-American honors in 1993 and ‘95. He placed third at the NCAA tournament both years, falling each time to the eventual national champion.

On an international scale, Brinzer was the U.S. Greco-Roman runner-up in 1998 and competed with the national team that year.

Yet, Brinzer ranked none of those accolades as his favorite accomplishment. The most fulfilling successes were instead those he made as a coach, said Brinzer, who was named the Cadet Greco-Roman Coach of the Year in 2006, and ran a very successful wrestling club.

“The Angry Fish had a good run in the early part of this century,” Brinzer said. “We helped out athletes like Jake Herbert and Coleman Scott — both of them went on to become world and Olympic medalists. Phil Davis has won in Bellator a number of times. And there were a number of other really extraordinary athletes.”

Brinzer said he continued to coach consistently until a couple of years ago, when the pandemic interrupted normal life. Now back living in Western Pennsylvania, he spent the past couple of years off the mat, but says he might look for ways to get involved again.

“That felt like really doing something,” he said of coaching. “That was an opportunity to change people’s lives and they took us up on it. I don’t feel that we were responsible for them. We didn’t create them. But we opened up a path for them to create themselves. That’s probably more meaningful to me than my own accomplishments.”

Brinzer was familiar with wrestling from a young age, in part because his father wrestled at Slippery Rock. To him, competition on the mat became a way for him to focus his youthful energy.

“I was just an aggressive, contentious little kid,” he said. “I got in lots and lots of fights. When I wrestled, I didn’t get in trouble. So, more or less, it was an outlet for me to be as violent as I wanted to be.”

Also chosen for WPIAL Hall of Fame induction at athletes were Valley’s Tom Pipkins (basketball) and Greg Meisner (football), South Fayette’s Jonathan Hayes (football), Serra Catholic’s Laura Grimm (basketball), Bethel Park’s Emily Carter (swimming) and Peters Township’s Sarah Riske McGlamery (tennis). Two retired coaches, Serra Catholic girls basketball coach Bill Cleary and Sto-Rox softball coach Bill Palermo, also will be inducted, along with softball umpire Bob Osleger and TribLive HSSN broadcaster Don Rebel.

The late James “Lash” Nesser, a former boys basketball coach at Uniontown, was the heritage selection.

Seneca Valley senior Virginia Fronk, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma before the fall soccer season, will receive the WPIAL Courage Award.

The teams picked for induction were the 2000-01 Oakland Catholic girls basketball team and the 1981-82 Monaca boys basketball team.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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