Bentonville’s Desler set for Hall of Fame honor
BENTONVILLE — Bill Desler started a wrestling club in Bentonville in 2005, hoping to give his son, Nathan, the chance to compete in a sport he grew up loving.
He did much more than that, becoming one of the pioneers of the sport in Arkansas.
The ninth Arkansas State Wrestling Tournament recently was completed with Bentonville atop the medal stand in the Class 6A-7A division. That gives the Tigers five state titles and two runner-up finishes, including two state titles before the sport became sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association.
Desler was the Bentonville head coach until this season when he stepped down to take a role as an assistant for health reasons.
He and longtime Little Rock Catholic coach Paul Mammarelli will be inducted
into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Arkansas chapter for their lifetime service to the sport at the sixth annual banquet Saturday evening at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville. They will be the sixth and seventh recipients of the honor for the Arkansas chapter.
“We moved to Bentonville about 14 years ago, and they didn’t have wrestling,” Desler said. “I told my wife we’re gonna have to either move just into Oklahoma or just inside Missouri because Nathan was gonna get a shot at wrestling. He was about three and a half then; stuff happened, and I ended up starting a club here.”
Don Schuler, whose two sons competed for Bentonville, said there’s no question about Desler’s contribution to the sport, which has grown to almost 500 individuals and 50 teams at this year’s state tournament.
“I consider Bill the founding father of wrestling in Arkansas,” Schuler said. “I consider Bill as much a part of that tapestry as anybody.”
Schuler said Desler pushed to have Bentonville wrestlers compete in tournaments in Oklahoma and Missouri — states with rich wrestling history — in order to give the inexperienced youngsters the chance to see a higher level of competition. He also helped establish a youth club to get them started at a young age.
“It’s one of the reasons
Bentonville has been so successful,” said Schuler, who quickly became an advocate for the sport after meeting Desler.
Desler’s photograph and biography recognizing his contribution to wrestling will be in the available in the state chapter area of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Okla.
He is humbled by the honor but said the sport has done plenty for him, too.
“It’s really helped me in most aspects of my life in the fact the discipline that’s involved and the relationships that are built,” Desler said. “You think there are other coaches much more deserving. The coaches who have been put in the Hall of Fame so far, I look up to them.
“They are guys who have been in wrestling. Their life
is wrestling. Guys like Randy Steen, he’s officiated all over the world.”
Steen, who was the Arkansas chapter’s first Lifetime Service honoree in 2013, said there’s no question Desler is deserving of the honor. He coached with Desler for a year at Bentonville, then against him at Rogers Heritage.
“Bill’s been invaluable to wrestling in the state of Arkansas,” Steen said. “He’s been here since the beginning, started a club in Bentonville and hosted the first state tournament. He’s won several state titles. Through thick and thin, Bill’s always had a good program and been willing to give everything he’s had to the sport of wrestling.”
Bentonville assistant wrestling coach Bill Desler (right) talks to his son, Nathan, before one of his matches in the Class 6A-7A Arkansas High School State Wrestling tournament in Little Rock. Desler will be honored for his “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla.