By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Dr. Gary Breece has given a lot to wrestling over a career that saw him win two high school state championships and a national championship at Oklahoma as well as serving as a volunteer youth coach for more than 20 years in Enid.
Recently, wrestling gave something back to him.
Breece was honored as the outstanding American for Oklahoma recently at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame honors banquet.
“I felt a little silly accepting the award,’’ Breece said. “I told them in my speech I was no more of an outstanding American than anybody else in the room. I’m no more deserving than anyone else.’’
Breece was only the sixth recipient of the outstanding American award for the state. Six others were honored for lifetime service awards.
“It’s very humbling,’’ he said. “It’s nice to be recognized by your peers.’’
Wrestling provided Breece an avenue for success in athletics and in life, becoming an orthodontist following his athletic career.
“Without any doubt, I wouldn’t have been the same person today if I hadn’t been introduced to the sport of wrestling,’’ he said. “It’s a tough sport. I don’t have to tell you they don’t come any tougher.’’
Wrestlers are a different breed. They have to make sacrifices such as cutting weight.
“I don’t think if anybody hadn’t wrestled before, they truly don’t know what sacrifice is,’’ Breece said. “It’s a sport that has a high attrition rate. A kid will come out and the next thing you know, they’re quitting because it’s so tough.’’
Breece came from a family that produced four collegiate wrestlers. His parents made sacrifices that helped make Breece not only the wrestler he was, but the husband, father and grandfather he would become.
Breece and his wife Susie have been married for 35 years. They have three daughters and four granddaughters.
“My parents taught us a work ethic that you don’t quit,’’ Breece said. “I always prided myself on being able to out-work everybody. The harder I worked, the luckier I got.
“That carries over to every phase of life, whether it’s marriage, relationships with children, friends ... you don’t give up on anything easily. You make it work.’’
Breece was undefeated in high school at Edmond Memorial and Tulsa Memorial until he fell to U.S. Grant’s Everett Gomez in the 106-pound finals of the state tournament as a senior.
Gomez’s brother, Charlie, a former coach at Ponca City, was one of the six lifetime honorees. Breece gave Everett Gomez a hug and even had him stand up.
Breece told the story about going to the NCAA championships a few weeks later and seeing the previously undefeated Iowa State legend Dan Gable losing in his last match in the finals to Washington’s Larry Owings.
“That’s why they make you play the game,’’ Breece said. “In football, you get picked for the championship game. In wrestling, you wrestle for it.’’
Everett Gomez had beaten Breece’s brother, Steve, earlier in the tournament. Steve wrestled for Tulsa Edison. The Breece brothers wrestled against each other twice.
“I was supposed to go down to another weight class, but I wanted to go at 106 so I would have a chance to wrestle in college,’’ Breece said. “It kind of backfired. Gomez beat Stephen and me and neither one of us came away with a state title.’’
Breece has a chuckle when he sees himself in a picture of 1974 individual national champions. He has long hair, not the prototype of a wrestler.
“I’ve gotten a few more gray hairs since then,’’ he said. “At least I got hair ... of course, there’s a few more wrinkles.’’
Breece was on the last OU team to win a national championship. He beat future OU coach Jack Spates in the 118-pound final.
Breece has helped out with youth wrestling over the years. He had an award named for him at Enid High School.
“You’re always taught to give back,’’ Breece said, “especially something that has opened doors for me like wrestling has.’’
Breece, a past president of the Oklahoma Orthodontic Society, has slowed his coaching duties down to keep up with his granddaughters.
He places significant importance on coaching at the youth level and always preferred to work with novice wrestlers.
“I liked working with grade school kids because they don’t know anything,’’ Breece said. “You can start developing good habits from the word go versus a kid who has been at it a few years and has developed some bad habits. They’re (bad habits) hard to break.’’
He feels the real heroes of the sport were YMCA and junior high coaches like Wilt Conine, who is credited for building the foundation of Oklahoma City John Marshall’s powerhouses in the 1960s (state champs in 1968-70). Conine was recognized a few years ago as a lifetime contributor.
He is high on new Enid High wrestling coach Corey Clayton, who is about to begin a second tour of duty after a stint at Union.
“We have had some good coaches in Enid and I certainly like the one we have now,’’ Breece said. “He will do a heck of a job. It’s a tough job in Enid because it’s a football town first. If they had the same mindset toward wrestling that they do football, we would have a stronger wrestling team for sure.’’
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.