Being involved in the sport of wrestling for 35 years, there are few things that renders Sunlake High coach Russ Schenk speechless.
As an ambassador for the sport in his 25 years of coaching, he has molded many lives, but it was a letter he received from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in December that caught Schenk off guard. The Florida chapter of the NWHOF nominated Schenk for the Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award, and the letter said the Hall of Fame selected Schenk for the honor.
Schenk's wrestling career began in 1977 when his family relocated from Ohio. Schenk enrolled at Tarpon Springs after the move and proceeded to finish as the state runner-up in his junior year. The following season, Schenk won the 3A state title at 155 pounds. He was rewarded with a scholarship to Central Florida where he wrestled under the legendary Johnny Rouse. Schenk wrestled well for the Knights for three years, garnering All-American honors, but UCF's wrestling program was dropped before Schenk's senior season.
With one more year of school left, Schenk's wrestling career was over. Not wanting to be away from the sport, Schenk applied and was hired for the wrestling coaching position at Oviedo High. That season was the springboard for the 25-year coaching career that included stops at Hudson, River Ridge, Tarpon Springs and Berkeley Prep, before landing at Sunlake three years ago.
For someone who has given so much to the sport he loves, Schenk was overwhelmed.
"It's just an honor," Schenk said. "It's humbling. It's a direct reflection of being blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many great assistant coaches, officials and student-athletes throughout my 25 years of coaching."
There is a long list of mentors and influences Schenk plans to thank at the ceremony, but there are three people who are most important: his parents, Ed and Marlene, and his wife, Sherri.
"I was very fortunate to be blessed with parents that were very supportive of me and my brothers and sisters," Schenk said. "It's also been a blessing to have my wife, Sherri, who is so supportive. We've been married 22 years. She's been there the whole time and has been so supportive and helpful through all of this."
Schenk will be attending a series of events starting in March that will culminate with the final ceremonies of the inductions in Orlando on Aug. 9-10.