Dick Meldrim’s path changed with one meeting.
After a home meet, the Cortland native — then an assistant wrestling coach for the Purple Tigers — met with Fred Brown, who talked with him about becoming an official.
More than four decades on the mat as a referee later, Meldrim was honored for his contributions to the sport when he was inducted into the Section 3 Wrestling Hall of Fame at Lakeshore Yacht & Country Club in Cicero earlier this month.
“I’m a pretty humble guy,” Meldrim said in a phone interview Friday. “I think I was inducted as an official for my longevity and for a good body of work, but I don’t think officials should be in the hall of fame.”
Meldrim, who joined the Syracuse Wrestling Officials Association in 1978, has been selected to referee the section finals over 35 times and the state championships twice. He served as the president and rules interpreter of the Syracuse chapter, as well as several stints on the executive board.
Meldrim was elected to the New York State Wrestling Officials Executive Board in 2010 and served six years as president and vice president.
“Dick Meldrim has always given back to the sport he loves and the honor of being inducted into the Section 3 Wrestling Hall of Fame is well deserved,” said Section 3 wrestling chairman Brad Hamer, who was one of Meldrim’s teammates at SUNY Cortland. “He has earned this honor by a lifetime of hard work and dedication to Section 3 Wrestling.”
With no organized youth wrestling in the area at the time, Meldrim began to learn about the sport like many in wrestling families do.
“My wrestling was on the rug with my brothers in the living room,” said Meldrim, who is the youngest of five brothers who wrestled for Cortland High School. “I never won a match.”
That changed in high school.
Meldrim was a freshman on the 1969 Cortland team that won the Section 3 championship, and under the coaching of fellow hall of famer Gary Dillingham, Meldrim was undefeated in Section 4 for two years, won section titles in 1971 and 1972, and took third in the state in 1972.
“Practice was unbelievable,” Meldrim recalled. “Gary Dillingham was the coach … He was tough and he was old school.”
Meldrim’s collegiate career was derailed by injuries, but he soon got into coaching under Dillingham.
“It was a pretty easy transition,” Meldrim said. “I knew the program. No problems with that at all. I’d been schooled and knew what to do.”
But after four years as Dillingham’s assistant, Meldrim was convinced by Brown to try officiating.
It sparked a passion he still has to this day.
“It was a challenge and it was intriguing,” Meldrim said. “I always felt that sports make you what you are. I felt by officiating I was still contributing and giving back.”
Meldrim maintains the main focus over four decades has been “getting it right,” but he also makes sure to help younger officials — something his predecessors did for him. Meldrim’s son, A.J., is now an official as well.
“I’ve always gone out of my way to help younger officials and make them feel comfortable,” Meldrim said. “It’s not just about the rules or making the calls, but befriending them and guiding them along.”
But for Hamer, Meldrim’s contributions were still more than what he accomplished on the mat.
“Before we formed the Friends of Section 3 Wrestling, Dick was the Friend of Section 3 Wrestling,” Hamer said. “He and the officials began a tradition of giving the sectional champions a warm up top to wear at the state championships. After that, other sections found a way to do the same, but Dick started that tradition.”
Meldrim was also instrumental in forming the CNY Pee Wee League, which helped build the sport by providing opportunities for kids outside of the regular tournaments.
To this day, it’s one of the accomplishments Meldrim is most proud of.
“On like Friday nights, kids would get two or three matches, and then at the end of the year we’d have a tournament,” Meldrim said. “We’d put the kids in groups they could compete. It just took off. … The good kids are still going to be good and can still go to those (bigger) tournaments, but the other kids that just aren’t ready didn’t have a place to go.
“It helped build and keep young kids involved in the sport. I’m very proud of that. Looking back it was the right thing to do.”
Now 65 years old and set for neck surgery, Meldrim won’t be ready for the start of the upcoming varsity wrestling season. He still plans to keep officiating, although he is starting to cut back on his workload.
“I’ll stay involved,” Meldrim said. “I took my name out of consideration for sectionals two or three years ago. … I didn’t want a younger kid sitting on the sidelines because I would be selected to do it. I did my time.
“I still go to tournaments and help however I can.”