Assistant coach Dick Lang likes to give his Lockport wrestlers a little water before their matches, but it doesn’t go into their body, it goes over their body.
“He takes one of the water bottles and dumps it on my head; it’s one of his old school ways,” said 220-pounder Marshall Taylor. “It just wakes you up. Then he looks you in the eye, asks if you’re ready and can you wrestle in the moment? He gets your head where it’s supposed to be.”
Lang’s methods through four decades of coaching are far from all wet.
In 2011 he was inducted into the New York State Chapter of National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He retired from coaching in 2007 after a combined 29 years at Newfane and Roy-Hart. Lockport coaxed the 72-year-old coaching icon out of retirement this year to work with its heavyweights. It’s a move they’ve scored big points on.
During practice Lang still gets on the wrestling mat with his athletes to better explain the different holds. While that may seem like a tremendous challenge for the obvious reasons, it’s compounded by the fact Lang has Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosed with the muscle crippling condition 10 years ago he says: “It’s a battle, but I’m still winning.”
Taylor remembered the first day of practice when his coaches introduced Lang to the team. “We were like, ‘Who is this guy? None of the wrestlers knew who he was, he wasn’t a part of our generation,” said Taylor.
Taylor said the team’s attitude changed once they learned he coached Olympian Lou Rosselli at Roy-Hart and three-time state champion Ryan Needle at Newfane. Lang’s career spanned 10 years at Roy-Hart from (1978-1988) and 19 at Newfane (1988-2007)
“All the kid’s eyes lit up,” said Taylor. “He’s wrestling kids with Parkinson and he’s putting some of these kids on their back. He’s a 72-year-old guy. I think it takes a lot of guts to come into practice every day with Parkinson’s and bust his butt like he does. All the wrestlers respect him greatly.”
Lang has led a people-oriented life. He dabbled in politics, serving a four-year term as the Town Supervisor in Royalton, population 6,500. Two years prior to that he was a councilman. He spent 34 years as a New York State conservation officer, recently publishing a book on his career entitled “Behind The Badge: My Life as a Game Warden.”
While public life suits him, he also cherishes his quiet time riding his Ferguson tractor over the 85 acres he owns in Royalton. There are five different marsh ponds on the property. “It’s like therapy to me, you don’t have to talk to anybody, you get lost in the moment, you don’t have to think about anything that’s earth-shattering,” he said.
Lang appreciates his surroundings more than ever, and he is especially grateful to the Lockport wrestling family for welcoming him and not treating him different.
“We’re really lucky to have him in our room,” said Lockport coach Joe Scapelliti. “He keeps saying thank you to me and I’m like, ‘Dick, I should be thanking you.’ He’s working with our big guys and look at all the success they’re having, and I don’t think that’s a mistake.”
Both Taylor (220) and Marcelus Hinton (285) are ranked No. 1 in WNY.
Lang said he’s got a left arm that loves to shake, and he has to take medication ever two hours. “We just don’t talk about it,” said Lang. “Everyone knows it’s there, it’s like the elephant in the room, but nobody seems to pay any attention. When I’m active it doesn’t really show up that much, if at all. I certainly don’t get on the mat like I used to, but I still do.”
Lang is excited to be a candidate for a three-part surgery this spring called DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation). It’s a difficult surgery, but it could return him to 90 percent. “I’ll take that,” he said. “I’ve got my ups and downs, and I get too anxious sometimes. We do the best we can with what we got. I’ve gotten older. I’ve have slowed down. I still get kids to believe the old guy knows something.”