It was more than 50 years ago that Richard “Dick” Slutzky attended, competed for and earned degrees from Syracuse University in New York.
Now, on Nov. 13, the former teacher, longtime wrestling coach, Harford County Council member and currently its president, will be honored as one of the university’s LetterWinners of Distinction along with four other distinguished SU graduates. The five will be recognized at Goldstein Auditorium in the Schine Student Center at Syracuse.
“I’m just so thrilled that they began this award and somebody nominated me, they wouldn’t tell me who, so I’ll probably never know that,” Slutzky said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
LetterWinner of Distinction is the highest honor awarded by the Syracuse University Athletics Department to a former student-athlete letter winner. The award is bestowed upon a few candidates annually who completed their education at the university at least 20 years ago, earned at least one varsity letter, “gained distinction in their respective careers and communities; and brought honor to themselves and SU through their contributions and activities,” according to the university.
Awardees are chosen by an anonymous committee. Past recipients have included football greats Jim Brown, the late Ernie Davis and Floyd Little, current SU basketball coach Jim Boeheim, former NBA star and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, 1950 National League MVP Jim Konstanty and Slutzky’s former wrestling teammate, the late Jim Nance, who played for the New England (then Boston) Patriots in the American Football League.
Most people around Harford County know Slutzky for his 31-year career as a teacher and esteemed wrestling coach at Aberdeen High School. Many people still address him as “Coach.”
He retired from teaching so that he could enter local politics and was elected to the Harford County Council on his first try in 2002, representing Aberdeen, Churchville and the east side of Bel Air. He served three successive terms as a council member before winning the County Council presidency in 2014. He will retire from politics when his term ends in early December.
Slutzky, 75, who grew up on Long Island, is one of the most decorated Harford County athletes, but has never been one to boast about his achievements. As a coach, he was known for being a positive mentor to his wrestlers even long after their careers on the mats ended.
At Syracuse, Slutzky was a two-time All-American and EIWA wrestling champion, while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in 1964 and 1967, respectively.
Slutzky was an NCAA national runner-up in his senior year and a fourth-place finisher as a junior. He wrestled at 147 pounds over his first three years and at 157 pounds in his senior year.
The young student-athlete really had no plans of going to Syracuse.
“Syracuse was very late in the game. They came in early spring, late winter and most kids have already filled out their applications for college. I thought I was going to Hofstra and Syracuse called, and about half of the top-notch coaches on Long Island went to Syracuse,” Slutzky said. “Syracuse was the hotbed recruiting area for Long Island wrestling, which was at the time, arguably one of the two or three hotbeds of wrestling in the United States. We probably had 10 national champions that lived within 20 miles of my house.”
‘Pretty good damn wrestler’
Slutzky says as a child, the middle son of three, he was an average student. “My mother died when I was 10 and my father owned night clubs on Long Island. There were three boys in the house and both my older and younger bothers were naturally very bright, but I was very average,” he said. “By the eighth grade, after my mother had died, I had pretty much given up on school.”
Slutzky recalled passing just two classes, wood shop and gym, in the eighth grade.
“Passed just two classes and had a minor incident at 12. Police said it was nothing big, but told my father that maybe he should get me out of town for the summer,” Slutzky said.
So Slutzky went away to camp where he met a counselor who told him he had issues. Slutzky recalled the counselor asking “if I could do anything well, and I said, ‘yes, I’m a pretty good damn wrestler,’” Slutzky said.
Slutzky said the counselor replied that colleges pay tuition for guys that are good wrestlers.
“I said what?” Slutzky recalled.
“I said, ‘So if I’m a good wrestler I can get paid to go to college?’ He said ‘no’ and I said ‘why?’ And he said, ‘you’re too stupid,’” Slutzky said with a laugh.
That was all he needed to hear. In ninth grade, Slutzky’s grades started going up. By 11th and 12th grade, Slutzky was not only a good student, but could wrestle really well.
“My dad said I needed to go to Syracuse and take a look. I said ‘no, they just won a national championship in football, that’s a big time athletic program and I’ll never make it there,’” Slutzky said. “I was just 17 and I started to cry. I’m not going there. He said, ‘I’ll let you drive the new DeSoto convertible on the thruway’ for the visit; and I said, ‘You’ll let me drive the new car?’ He said ‘yeah.’ So, I said ‘OK!’”
A week and a half later, a Syracuse coach called and offered Slutzky a scholarship.
As Slutzky had talked to people at Hofstra University, too, he said, he wanted to get back to the coach there.
“I at least owed him that,” Slutzky said. “The Hofstra coach said if you come to Hofstra, you will be a big fish in a little pond. If you go to Syracuse, you’ll be a little fish in a big pond,” Slutzky said.
“I was sort of taken aback by that,” but he told the Hofsta coach he appreciated his help, but declared “I’m going to go to Syracuse and be a big fish in a big pond.”
So, at 17, Slutzky’s father, Jerry Slutzky, drove him into New York City.
“I had a trunk in one hand, a suitcase in the other, a gym bag under one arm and a portable typewriter under the other. He bought me a ticket to go to Syracuse,” Slutzky said.
“I’m so grateful that I made the choice to go to Syracuse and there are opportunities for me in education. There are opportunities for me in athletics. The support that they gave me,” Slutzky said. “I’m as Orange [referring to the university’s color] as you can get. I watch all their football games and basketball games.”
DeSoto ride to success
At Syracuse, Slutzky won the 1964 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association title as a senior team captain. He was a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the national Liberal Arts Honors Society and earned the top class ranking in SU’s Department of Physical Education. He was named to both the Maryland and National Wrestling halls of fame.
“I was the mentor for Jimmy Boeheim, the basketball coach at Syracuse, who has never left Syracuse,” he said.
“We used to have program when I was there, when freshman athletes were coming in, they paired them up with junior or senior athletes to ... tell them about the ropes, and how picking up uniforms worked, and what it was like being challenged as an athlete at Syracuse,” Slutzky said. “Boeheim came in like me; I was 17. I didn’t turn 18 until February of my freshman year. They gave him to me. I didn’t know why they gave a basketball player to a wrestler, but we have been friends ever since.”
Slutzky is not totally sure who all will attend the upcoming celebration, but his wife, Linda, and son, Brent, will attend. Slutzky said he sent out about 40 invites.
“So, I am just eternally grateful that my father let me drive that DeSoto convertible up to Syracuse,” Slutzky said.