Norman Osteen could carry his entire Strength and Courageous wrestling club to tournaments without renting a bus the year he began.
That’s because the club contained just one wrestler in 1989.
As the years passed Osteen would need a fleet of buses to carry everyone and trailers to hold all of the awards they won.
The Hendersonville-based wrestling coach’s dedication to the sport has earned him a spot in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, which is located in Stillwater, Okla. He will be inducted on May 15 during a banquet in Chapel Hill at the Hall of Fame’s North Carolina chapter. Osteen will be honored with the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award.
Former Edneyville wrestler James Short remembers that first year of the Christian-based club as he and Osteen toured the landscape in the coach’s truck.
“That first year I learned a tremendous amount from Coach Osteen. That first year was a learning experience for both of us,” said Short, who now runs a strength and conditioning business in Denver. “It was exciting. I had someone who was willing to take me wrestling tournaments and expose me to the sport that I was learning to love. He opened a whole new world of wrestling to me.”
Short, who won a high school state championship and junior national Greco wrestling championship before he signed with Clemson, is one of many success stories from Osteen’s club. His development with Osteen’s help might have meant more than others.
“Based on his success, at least that’s what I think because no one has ever said it to me, the next year I had about 35 kids,” Osteen said. “The third year it just exploded. It went crazy.”
Osteen was in his 20s when he began the club. He was coaching at Edneyville High School and wanted to have a way to keep his wrestlers more interested in sport throughout the school year.
The club became more than just a place for his wrestlers to get better. Wrestlers would come from all over Western North Carolina and some came from South Carolina to participate.
Osteen would run practices at multiple schools, and in its heyday in the ‘90s with more than 400 club members, would practice a group in the afternoon and another at night. He would do that four days a week.
“It’s where you come to put in that extra time with high-quality partners and what he does is he brings these guys together and they form a tight group,” said Enka coach Mark Harris, who nominated Osteen for the honor. “They go back into their high school programs and have improved leaps and bounds because of the experience. Norman is the mastermind. He’s put together this program where kids can come from all over.”
Osteen learned of his induction into the Hall of Fame several weeks ago when he received a letter from the club’s president. He wasn’t sure what the letter was, though, as he infrequently gets letters asking for donations from the group.
“I don’t know exactly how to express it,” he said of his happiness and shock. “I thought if it ever happened it would be way later on when I was old and people were looking back. I didn’t think it would be while I was still coaching kids.”
Osteen’s resume doesn’t just include the Strong and Courageous Club, which has produced more than 900 All-Americans. He coached North Henderson High School to a state championship, coached the Olympic developmental team for Puerto Rico and coached on the college level at Gardner-Webb University and Wofford (S.C.) College.
His wrestlers aren’t so sure that the 54-year-old didn’t deserve the honor earlier.
“It’s something that is probably way overdue,” said former Enka wrestler Kacee Hutchinson, who is a junior at Greensboro College and helps coach the club team when he can. “He is someone who has been involved in wrestling in North Carolina and South Carolina for 25 to 30 years. He deserves it because he has produced the best wrestlers this area has ever seen.
“Aside from the wrestling aspect he puts an emphasis on being a good Christian and shaping good men and, ultimately, he probably pays more attention to that than wrestling.”
Wrestlers didn’t just take what Osteen taught to use on their high school mats. Many went on to college and several have moved into coaching.
Former Enka wrestler Daniel Ownbey began with Strong and Courageous as a second grader. He is now the coach at Ferrum College in Virginia and when he competes in tournaments still wrestles under the club’s name.
“Pretty much everything I’m using I learned from (Osteen). Everything he preached is everything I believe in,” said Ownbey, who was a two-time NCAA Division II national champion at UNC Pembroke. “He was amazing. His knowledge of wrestling is so vast and pretty much everything I know is a credit to him. He’s a big believer in basics and he’s driven that into every wrestler he’s ever coached.”
Osteen believes in teaching the basics because he didn’t know them well as prep wrestler. He wrestled for three years (two at East Henderson High School and one at West Henderson) and became more interested in the sport when he earned a spot on the wrestling team after he joined the Air Force.
“I tell my kids all the time that they are all better wrestlers than I was in high school,” Osteen said. “I didn’t know basic skills … In the last 35 years I’ve had one person after another who has helped me. I learned how to wrestle after I was grown and out of high school.”
Osteen then teaches those skills to his wrestlers and he’s built a hall of fame coaching career from those lessons.
“The award is ‘Lifetime Service to Wrestling,’” Harris said, “and Norman has been the standard in Western North Carolina with his club.”