Milbank alumnus, George Thompson, added another honor to his long list of wrestling awards yesterday. He was one of 11 former collegiate wrestlers inducted into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame on Thursday, March 10, during a ceremony at the Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
This achievement marks his third Hall of Fame honor. George was inducted into the South Dakota Wrestling Hall of Fame during the State Class A tournament in Rapid City in 2014. He also entered the North Dakota State University Bison Athletic Hall of Fame in October 2015.
“This is a great honor for George and something he did not expect,” said his mother, Barb Thompson of Milbank. “He is a humble person who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but it means a lot to him.”
George began his wrestling career in first grade. “During those days, we did not take sports very seriously,” admitted Barb. “We were dairy people and did not have the time or money to follow him to his events.” He continued to be active in both wrestling and basketball until he entered high school. He then had to choose between the two. He thanks Bob Hirsch, former Milbank High School head wrestling coach, for encouraging him and giving him great advice when he faced that decision.
George’s work ethic and natural talent earned him three state wrestling titles while he was a Bulldog. He won the first one his freshman year in 1990, when the Bulldogs were also crowned State A champions. He collected two more state titles, one state runner-up finish, two conference titles, and four region titles. “We almost didn’t go to the state meet his freshman year,” said Barb. After watching him capture his first state title, though, his family rarely missed an event.
George attended North Dakota State University and capped his collegiate wrestling career with an NCAA Division II national championship title at 134 pounds in 1997. His parents were there for almost every wrestling event, only missing a few times – once for a blizzard and once when his dad, Leon, underwent back surgery.
George was named All-American four times, claimed a North Central Conference title, and was a member of the 1998 national championship team coached by legendary Hall of Fame head coach Bucky Maughan. He was also one of four NDSU wrestlers to receive an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and was selected to the 1998 NCAA Division II All-Academic team.
According to Barb, George red-shirted his freshman year, but was still able to compete in several individual events. He did not rack up many wins. From then on, he used his drive and determination to improve and regularly worked out five hours a day during his collegiate career. His mother said he never does anything halfway. “He always gives it his all and goes full speed ahead.” She laughed and added, “Maybe it was all those years of carrying pails of milk and wrestling with 90 milk calves.”
George graduated with honors from NDSU in 1998 and earned his master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Northern Colorado. He served as the top assistant for seven years under UNC head coach Jack Maughan (Bucky’s son) where he coached several All-Americans and helped guide that program through the reclassification to Division I. He currently is the Director of Operations for Colorado Orthotic and Prosthetic Services and resides in Greeley, Colorado.
In 1999, he co-founded the Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament, which has become the largest high school-sanctioned event in the country. After 16 successful years of running the tournament, George decided to hand the reins over, but he continues to remain involved as a consultant.
He has two children, Leila and Chayse. Chayse is a first-grader at a charter school in Greeley, where several parents approached George about starting a wrestling club. The club is now in its second year with 17 wrestlers. He hopes to increase that to over 30, but the main focus of the club is to provide a fun experience for the kids and avoid pushing competition at that stage.
The class of 2016 is the 20th class to be welcomed into the NCAA Division II Wrestling Hall of Fame. The master of ceremonies and NCAA II Hall of Fame Chairman for the event Thursday was Jim Koch, brother of Charlie Koch of Milbank.