Success Breeds Success for Ed Eichelberger (2009 Hall of Fame Inductee)

By Roger Moore
Even if Edward Eichelberger had never wrestled a match for Lehigh University he’d be remembered as one of the great individuals to ever set foot on the Pennsylvania campus.

“He was a real inspiration to me, a great teammate to have,” said Joe Gratto, a two-time All-American and 1957 NCAA champion. “There was never any question about his integrity and he was a 4.0 (GPA) or close in the toughest major at Lehigh.”

“He was Senior Resident in the dormitories and a very strong member of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Just a class guy.”

After graduating from Lehigh in 1956 with a B.S. in electrical engineering, Eichelberger joined IBM where he would spend the next 38 years until his retirement in 1994. He received his Masters and Ph.D. from Princeton, and along the way received 25 patents in the fields of chip, circuit and test design.

In 1974 he received the “Outstanding Contributor Award” from IBM for technical publications and patents.

“I was never the best student, but it turned out that I was a pretty good engineer,” said Eichelberger, who will be one of four inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum next June as the Class of 2009’s Distinguished Members. “Someone once said that nothing succeeds like success. I had a good wrestling career and some of that work I put in translated into my career after Lehigh.”

His wrestling credentials mirrored his accomplishments from IBM.

He was coached by a legend in high school “Billy Martin at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va. “and by another legend in college “Gerald Leeman at Lehigh.

Eichelberger was undefeated his final three years of high school, winning three state titles in Virginia.

“I wrestled in Billy Martin’s first intramural tournament,” Eichelberger said. “I was actually going to go camping that weekend when I was in the Boy Scouts, but after a long talk with Coach Martin he talked me into wrestling in that tournament.

“He told me ‘I could go camping anytime, but that this tournament was only going to be one weekend.’ It was my first real exposure to wrestling. Nobody knew what wrestling was at that time in the state of Virginia.”

Martin had begun teaching some wrestling as a gym teacher at Granby. As a junior high student, Eichelberger’s first exposure came when a neighbor came home and started talking about something new that was going on in gym class.

A very quick learner, Eichelberger’s career at Lehigh included two NCAA championships and a 55-3-1 record with 37 pins. One of his losses came in the 1954 NCAA finals to Myron Roderick of Oklahoma A&M.

He was named the EIWA Tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler in 1955 and 1956 and the NCAA Tournament’s OW in 1955 when he pinned 4 of 5 opponents.

“There was this interest we had at Granby in winning by fall,” Eichelberger said. “If you didn’t pin it was almost like a loss. We always worked on pinning combinations. (Coach) Martin always let you experiment with things. If you came up with something, and you thought it might work, he’d work with you on it.

“It wasn’t really like that when I got to Lehigh. The pin just didn’t seem as important.”

Martin, a member of the NWHOF’s Class of 1980, was also about competition. His first Granby team had a dual meet against Frank “Sprig” Gardner’s powerful Mepham High School squad in New York.

“That’s where I learned the cross-faced cradle, from those workouts with Mepham,” Eichelberger said. “I wrestled in three National AAU tournaments while I was still in high school. My sophomore year (at Granby) I wrestled the NCAA champion from two or three weeks earlier. Coach (Martin) just told me he was some guy from out west.”

As a senior at Granby, Eichelberger caught the eye of Lehigh coach Billy Sheridan. Already wanting to be an engineer, the move from Norfolk to Bethlehem was an easy one.

However, Leeman, a silver medalist in freestyle at the 1948 Olympics, would be Sheridan’s hand-picked successor and took over in the fall of 1952.

“(Leeman) was about my size so I got to train with him,” Eichelberger said. “My weakness was takedowns and he was one of the best. He really worked with me.”

For dual meets, Leeman would often weigh-in both Eichelberger and Gratto at 147 pounds.

“There were a lot of coaches who tried to duck Eichelberger in duals,” Gratto said. “If they threw out a back-up, I’d generally take him apart and Ed would whip their starter up a weight.”

“I was always pleasured to participate in a dual meet because it meant a day away from Eichelberger in the practice room. He was mild-mannered “¦ and there was nothing cocky about him “¦ but you were generally on your back within about 45 seconds when you wrestled him.”

Added Eichelberger, “We had three 147-pounders and we’d kind of flip a coin to see who was going down to 137. The other guy would wear a coat and wrestle at 157.”

As a senior, Eichelberger wrestled most duals at 157 pounds.

His competitive days would soon come to an end after 1956, spending most of his time focused on his new job at IBM.

“It was a little of a lot of things,” he said. “A friend who wrestled at Harvard came to IBM the same time I did and we worked out some together, but it was hard to stay involved with so little competition around.”

“I went back to Princeton for graduate school and worked out briefly with their team, but oddly enough the coach didn’t really want me around.”

After returning from Princeton, Eichelberger helped coach a high school team in Endicott, N.Y., for a semester.

A devout Protestant, Eichelberger always added Galatians 6:14 to his signature.

It reads: But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

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