During an outstanding wrestling career that took him from Altoona Area High School to Princeton University to the United States Olympic freestyle trials, not much took Johnny Orr by surprise.
It was a different story, however, when the former Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and two-time NCAA runner-up was informed of his induction into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Orr got the news this past winter and was flabbergasted, despite the fact that he posted a scintillating 86-6-1 high school record at Altoona and went on to compile an equally impressive 89-9 Division I collegiate mark at Princeton.
"I couldn't believe it, to be honest,'' Orr said of his PWCA Hall induction, which will take place during a formal ceremony on Sunday afternoon, May 22, at the Ramada Inn in State College. "There are a lot of good wrestlers to come out of Pennsylvania, and to be lumped with that group is quite an honor.''
Orr, 48, - who now lives in Flemington, N.J., with his wife, Wendy, and three teenage sons - was quite a wrestler himself at both Altoona and Princeton. In his high school days at Altoona, Orr was a three-time District 6 champion, a Northwest Regional champ, and a two-time PIAA, Class AAA state placewinner.
In his junior year, he finished second to Parkland's Doug Billig at 98 pounds, dropping a 5-2 championship decision at the HersheyPark Arena. The next year, as a senior in 1980, Orr suffered a separated shoulder in his quarterfinal-round match at Hershey - which he ended up winning - but was forced to default out of the tournament before the semifinals and wound up placing sixth at 112.
"I just remember that they had the mats on the ice there back then,'' Orr said of the injury that cost him a chance at the state championship in 1980. "I got taken down, and [the mat] was as hard as a rock. [The shoulder] hurt like hell. I knew I did something right away. I finished that match, and threw my opponent to his back at the end, but I don't know if I could have gone to overtime in that match if I would have had to.''
Long-time former Altoona coach Marty Rusnak, himself a member of the PWCA Hall of Fame, felt sorry that things turned out the way they did for Orr in his senior season.
"What a shame,'' Rusnak said. "John was doing a really great job up until that point, and he tried to wrestle with it, but he couldn't go [in the semifinals] after that.''
Rusnak said that Orr - who finished fifth in the 1988 United States Olympic freestyle wrestling trials at Pensacola, Fla. - was one of the most physical wrestlers he coached in his 36-year tenure at Altoona.
"He just worked so hard, and he was always wrestling lighter than his weight class,'' Rusnak said. "If he was wrestling at 112, he was weighing in at 108 or 109, but he was so physically tough that he didn't have a problem with that. He just worked so hard, and he was so tenacious. He was the type of wrestler that coaches dream of coaching.''
At Princeton, Orr went on to become a two-time NCAA runner-up at 142 pounds in both his junior and senior years. Orr dropped a 19-11 finals match to Jesse Reyes from Cal State Bakersfield as a junior, despite putting Reyes on his back before the buzzer, and a 4-3 decision to Iowa State's Joe Gibbons as a senior in 1985.
"To get to the finals was an unbelievable experience, but you want to win,'' Orr said. "I wanted to be a national champion, and there still isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it.''
Orr, who will be one of 10 new inductees in the 2011 PWCA Hall class, is also a member of the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame and the District 6 Wrestling Hall of Fame.
"I wasn't the biggest wrestler size-wise, but I always had an aggressive attitude, and I just wanted to go out and wrestle as hard as I could, and whatever was going to happen, would happen,'' he said.