LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature declared Tuesday “Dick Lang Day” in honor of the longtime high school wrestling coach who also served as a conservation law enforcement officer and Royalton town supervisor.
Richard J. Lang, who turns 73 next week, said he was “overwhelmed” to receive two standing ovations from the Legislature and salutes from State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.
Lang has coached wrestling for 30 years, first at Royalton-Hartland High School and then for 19 years at Newfane High School. At Roy-Hart, his athletes included Lou Rosselli, who represented the U.S. in the Olympics, and at Newfane, he coached three-time state champion Ryan Needle.
Lang, who was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011, recently came out of retirement to help out with the Lockport High School wrestling program, where he assisted in coaching the top weight classes.
“Wrestling is a great sport. It’s one on one,” Lang said. “If you’ve got the nerve to participate in a sport where everybody’s looking at you, that makes you a winner.”
Lang worked for 34 years as a police officer for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, retiring in 2003. “I used to get up every day and say, ‘Thank God I got this job,’ ” he recalled.
Maziarz joked that when he attended a dinner of the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs last week, county sportfishing coordinator Bill Hilts Jr. told him, “Dick Lang arrested half the people in this room, and they still love him.”
Lang’s political career was brief: two years as a Royalton councilman and four years as supervisor. “I didn’t want to make a career of it,” he said. “I just wanted to get in, do what I thought was right and get out.”
Corwin said that when she joined the Assembly, “I knew nothing about government, frankly, and Dick was one of the first supervisors to reach out to me.”
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, a former coach and athletic director at Niagara Wheatfield High School, called Lang “a role model … We’re running out of role models, because we can no longer turn to professional sports.”
Lang saluted his wife of 53 years, Gretchen, for putting up with his various jobs even though supper often got cold. “It was always cold because I never got home when I said I would,” he said.
The proclamation came as Lang is facing a serious medical challenge: brain surgery to try to alleviate his Parkinson’s disease. “Now my life has taken another turn. I’m going to the Cleveland Clinic in June,” Lang said. “Hopefully, I’ll get rid of or slow this Parkinson’s down. I wish it was tomorrow.”