The late Russ Thurman of the Class of 1959 makes history as the first former Wildcat to be inducted into the Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame based primarily on wrestling achievements.
Not only is this a rare occurrence for an institution that sponsored wrestling as an intercollegiate athletics program for just about a quarter of a century, it is also an honor that no one, not even Thurman himself, could have envisioned.
Following in the footsteps of an older brother, Thurman matriculated to Linfield via Coquille High School. A two-sport prep star in basketball and track, the latter was to be his sole focus in college. He turned out for the Wildcat squad as a freshman, the first of four seasons spent competing for the varsity team as a specialist in the 110- and 220-yard hurdles, as well as the pole vault.
But prior to his sophomore year, head track and field coach Hal Smith convinced Thurman to join Linfield’s inaugural wrestling team. Unknowingly, Thurman’s decision started him down a lengthy, successful and fulfilling career path.
Thurman donned a Linfield wrestling singlet for three years. As a senior, he claimed an individual championship at the Northwest Conference Tournament, a feat that catapulted him to the Pacific Coast Championship. In those days, the regional meet showcased athletes from all three divisions on the West Coast, from big-time programs like the University of Oregon to low-profile squads like Linfield.
Not intimidated by the atmosphere, his opponents or his relative inexperience, Thurman placed fourth in his weight class.
Thurman graduated from Linfield with a bachelor’s degree in 1959 and spent a fifth year at his alma mater to serve as an assistant wrestling coach and complete a teaching certificate. After that, he briefly continued his wrestling career with the Multnomah Athletic Club, but also served two years of volunteer active duty for the United States Army while stationed in Korea.
Upon his return to civilian life, Thurman secured his first teaching and coaching position at Philomath High School. Two years later, he relocated east of the mountains to Crook County High School in Prineville.
Thurman coached, taught and, for a time, served as athletic director for the Cowboys for 28 years. During that span, his wrestling teams posted a 500-76 dual-meet record – including nine undefeated dual-meet seasons – while winning 17 district championships, two state titles and placing in the top 10 at the state meet a grand total of 18 times.
With respect to his leadership and success, Thurman was honored as the Oregon state coach of the year three times. In 1996, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in recognition of his Lifetime Service to Wrestling.
Thurman elected to spend his retirement years in Powell Butte, Ore., with wife Mary. He passed away May 30 of this year at age 74 following a prolonged illness, leaving behind Mary and four grown sons: Matt, Lance, Brian and Brent.