There must have been about 11 of them, wrestlers and coaches, Deuel, now 86 and a resident of a West Side senior living center, recalled recently. Deuel set about finding temporary quarters for the team, bunking some of them in the cellar of his own home and calling on neighbors for help housing others.
That was just one of the challenges confronting Deuel before and during the championships held Aug. 3 to 5, 1978, at the University of New Mexico’s Johnson Gym.
Two hundred boys from about a dozen nations competed in two age divisions, 13 to 14 and 15 to 16. Nations represented included Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, India, New Zealand, Canada, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Peru and the United States.
Deuel wishes he had gotten to see more of it. He kept busy making sure the young wrestlers’ visit was a cultural as well as an athletic experience.
“Frankly, I had so many side things going on I did not get to watch much of the wrestling,” Deuel said. “But I was so thrilled we were able to pull this off.”
One very solid thing from that wrestling championship has remained with Deuel all these years. It’s a small but hefty plaque that recognizes him for organizing and overseeing the wrestling tournament, which, because of its international flavor, is surely one of the more unusual sporting events ever held in Albuquerque.
The Federation Internationale de Lutte Amateur (International Amateur Wrestling Federation) presented the plaque to Deuel. After all these years, he believes it belongs in a place more prominent than his den or bedroom. He’s looking for such a place.
“It should be on exhibit, in a display somewhere,” he said.
Pinning the beast
Deuel was born in Geneva, N.Y. He got into wrestling rather late at Geneva High School, but managed to win a state heavyweight title his senior year by defeating a much larger opponent.
“They brought him into the gym in a cage and were feeding him raw meat,” Deuel joked as he recalled the match. “He did weigh about 240 or 245 pounds, but I pinned him. It turned out he was not a wrestler but a substitute from (his school’s) football team.”
Deuel graduated from high school in 1950 and was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy. He wrestled at the academy until an injury put an end to his competitive days.
Following graduation from the academy in 1954, he decided to make the Navy his career. His first assignment was on a destroyer in the North Atlantic, and he later served for years on nuclear submarines. Then the Navy sent him ashore, posting him in 1968 to Albuquerque, which he loved.
“There were no mosquitoes, no humidity,” he said. But he was later transferred to London.
While in the Navy, Deuel got into officiating amateur wrestling at the international level. In the 1970s, he worked world wrestling championships in Canada and Poland, and he was an official at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. It was at the Munich Olympics that Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli officials and athletes.
Deuel roomed with and had become a friend of Yossef Gutfreund, a wrestling judge with the Israeli team who was among those killed by the terrorists. He still chokes up when talking about the 6-3, 290-pound Gutfreund.
“I was so upset by that I could not stay for the closing ceremonies,” he said.
In 1975, he retired from the Navy with the rank of commander and returned to Albuquerque. During his first stint here, Deuel had befriended Maxie Anderson, the businessman who would win world fame as a balloonist. He worked at Rancher’s Exploration and Development Corp., Anderson’s mining company, and he would later start his own environmental consulting business.
But it was Deuel’s connections to the international world of amateur wrestling that brought the World Schoolboy Wrestling Championships to Albuquerque in 1978.
Mano a mano
The 1978 championships were originally scheduled for Rome, but Deuel and the Duke City got into the picture when the Eternal City backed out.
Veteran Journal sportswriter Rick Wright, 30 at the time, covered the championships for this paper.
“It was the first event I covered (for the Journal) as a full-timer,” Wright said. “It was fun. I like the mano a mano (aspect) of wrestling. And I got to dust off my classroom Spanish to talk to wrestlers from Venezuela and Peru.”
American wrestlers took 22 of a possible 26 titles at the championships. But wrestlers from Canada, Venezuela and India made good showings, too.
Recently, while preparing for a move, Deuel came across his world championships plaque.
“They gave that to me for my good work, but I was just a part of,” he said. “I felt the state (or city) should have it up somewhere.”
How about Johnson Center? There’s a lot more room there now than in 1978 when it was Johnson Gym, site of the World Schoolboy Wrestling Championships.
UpFront is a front page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie Reed Jr. at 823-3916 or email@example.com.