Gary Schaefer has received several letters from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame over the years. The Lilburn resident would usually read them and then throw them away.
Schaefer got a letter this winter from the hall of fame that he will keep forever. This one said he had been selected to be inducted into the Georgia chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
A few minutes after opening the letter, his good friend and fellow hall of fame member Bud Hennebaul called him.
"I was lost for words," Schaefer said. "It means just about everything. Basically, I'm kind of surprised by the whole thing. I didn't think way back in 1981 when I got involved with wrestling that I would get something like this. It's certainly an honor and a privilege."
Schaefer will be joined by Brookwood youth coach Dennis Jackson as the two members with Gwinnett County ties. The rest of the hall of fame class, which will be inducted today at the Atlanta Hilton in Norcross, are Fayette County coach Jim Bailey, former Lovett assistant and Roswell youth coach Randy Faires, Georgia High School Official Ed Kanner and Whitewater coach Mickey Statham.
Schaefer, 64, has more than 30 years of service to wrestling and will receive the Lifetime Achievement award. He spent 15 years as an official and seven years as a community coach. He's been president of the Atlanta Takedown Association for 16 years, which helped bring all five traditional state championships to the Gwinnett Arena.
"We wouldn't be where we are today with the state tournament if it wasn't for Gary," said Hennebaul, who is the vice president of the ATA. "Even with the ATA, he's been the bond that has held that together. He's done so much for wrestling it's unbelievable."
Jackson, who battles with a physical disability, will be honored with the Medal of Courage award.
"It means a lot, especially to be recognized by the wrestling community," Jackson said. "I was born with cerebral pasty and for them to support me like that means a lot."
Jackson, 30, cerebral palsy because he was born with his umbilical cord around his neck, cutting off circulation to his brain. He wasn't officially diagnosed with the disorder until he was 21/2 and was a late walker.
That didn't keep him from trying to get on the wrestling mat though. As a freshman in Louisiana, Jackson wasn't able to pass a physical to wrestle on the high school team. He convinced a doctor to allow him compete on a freestyle team. He was able to wrestle on the high school team as a sophomore in Texas and his family moved to Georgia in 1998. Jackson made the varsity team at South Gwinnett, wrestling at 140 pounds as a senior.
After high school, he stayed involved with the sport. Jackson coached the youth team at South until 2003 and then two years at Parkview. He was the youth wrestling coach at Brookwood from 2005 to last season.
"He's always donated a lot of time to wrestling," Brookwood coach Chris Cicora said. "He's always been passionate about wrestling."
"He's one of the guys that never gets noticed, but he's had such an impact with the kids," Hennebaul said. "You can't have enough guys like Dennis."
Jackson has coached hundreds of wrestlers over the last decade, but one wrestler in particular has been special for him to coach. Jacob Olbknow, 12, has cerebral palsy and has worked exclusively with Jackson.
"I like that we are able to mold them and start them off early," Jackson said. "It's great because you get to mold them and watch them become young men."
Schaefer and Jackson are part of the growing contingent from Gwinnett County that are in the hall of fame. Dennis Stromie, Steve West, Walt and Bud Hennebaul, Cliff Ramos, Kyle Maynard, Steve Ranus, Brent Shiver and Paul White have also been inducted into the hall of fame.