MIAMI — The father of wrestling at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College has died.
Ray Judkins passed away Sunday, Oct. 20 from complications of Alzheimer’s.
He launched the Golden Norse wrestling program in 1975.
“I am proud to follow in the footsteps of him and do what we are doing,” current Norse wrestling coach Joe Renfro said. “He was probably one of the first people I met when I came to campus seven years ago. It’s a great loss not only for NEO wrestling, but for NEO as an institution and the Miami community.”
Renfro helped rebuild the NEO A&M program in 2013 and restored it as a community college power, winning three national championships.
With Judkins at the helm, NEO won two regional championships, two conference titles as well as a number of invitational tournament championships.
A 2009 inductee into the NEO Athletic Hall of Fame, Judkins compiled a 36-19-2 record.
He played for Red Robertson at NEO in 1955 -56. He was also a starter for the NEO baseball team and was an AAU wrestler.
Judkins transferred to Northeastern State College in Tahlequah and was a member of Tuffy Stratton’s 1958 NAIA national championship team.
“When you look back over the years, how many guys played here then turned around and coached here and had the success Ray had, not only in football, but starting the wrestling program?” said former NEO athletic director and head football coach Dale Patterson.
“You can just go on and on and look at the things Ray did. Not many people fall into what Ray Judkins accomplished at NEO and for the kids.”
Judkins coached 12 NJCAA All-Americans and was a regional coach of the year.
“I brought Ray from McCook Junior College to coach with us in 1970,” former Norse coach Chuck Bowman said in an email. “He was a great Norseman as a player and an even greater one as a coach.”
Former Wardog coach Mark Malcom wrestled for Judkins, remembering that NEO competed on the club level in 1974 before becoming a full NJCAA member in ’75.
Malcom said the Miami youth wrestling program agreed to purchase the first singlets for the team.
In return, players helped coach the younger wrestlers.
“He was a big inspiration for a lot of people,” Malcom said.
“It’s been four or five years ago and I took him out to the Miami Tournament because four or five of those teams there, their coaches wrestled for Ray,” said Malcom. “They just insisted that I go get him.”
Howard Seay wrestled two seasons for Judkins, placing seventh in the NJCAA national tournament as a freshman in 1983.
He was undefeated in ’84, but suffered season-ending torn rib cartilage during a workout two days before the regional.
“God didn’t make a better man than Ray Judkins,” said Seay, now living in Sapulpa. “He was just a class act. He was a wonderful coach; a wonderful man. It breaks my heart to hear that news.
“Coach Judkins was just a wonderful mentor. He was one of those kind of guys that nobody could ever say anything bad about him because there wasn’t they could say.”
Bill Yocum, who originally had been hired as a football assistant by Lee Snyder, followed Judkins as Norse wrestling coach.
“I had some big shoes to fill,” said Yocum, who also is an NEO Athletics hall of famer, being inducted in 2018.
He also was inducted in 2014 as member of the 1969 national champion football team.
“He set the foundation,” Yocum said.
Yocum remembers Judkins for his compassionate way of coaching.
“He was such a gentle coach,” said Yocum, who now lives in Lewisville, Texas. “I don't hear that every often. He was just a nice guy.”
Judkins served two stints at Miami High School, first as assistant principal and then as principal.
He also was an administrator at Picher-Cardin High School and Columbus, Kansas.
A celebration of life for Judkins will be held Friday, Oct. 25 in the Calcagno Family Ballroom in NEO’s Carter Student Union.
A reception will begin at 2 p.m., followed by a brief memorial program at 2:30 p.m. with Bowman among the speakers.