ROYALTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — A wrestling coach and public servant so revered that Niagara County once proclaimed a day in his honor, Richard “Dick” Lang received many posthumous tributes Thursday after it was learned he died following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease at age 81.
Affectionately known as “Pops” Lang to his wrestlers, the Orchard Park native was a varsity head coach for 29 seasons, the first 10 at Royalton-Hartland, then at Newfane, where his Panthers program was named Small School Team of the Decade for the 1990s by the Niagara Frontier Wrestling Officials Association.
An original member of the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship committee, Lang has received numerous local Hall of Fame inductions, from Section VI, Roy-Hart and Newfane, among others. Following his retirement in 2007, the Upstate New York chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame presented Lang with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
When the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship committee formed in 1995, Lang was an “automatic” choice to be a founding selector, Dennis DiPaolo said, “he had all the ideals of helping the youth in the community, and everything that we wanted the committee to be about. He was a man of great integrity and loved not only the sport of wrestling, but he loved the kids. He developed them to be great young men, and everybody he coached, everybody he touched, has nothing but praise for him.”
“He was a pure gentleman,” said Eric Knuutila, the longtime Niagara County Community College coach who has been inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame. “We knew each other for a very long time. He was on every wrestling committee that I was on. He was very dedicated to his kids, and dedicated to the sport. It was always fun to watch him in the corner. He was constantly twisting and turning while coaching his wrestlers. We would all watch him and think he was going to fall off that chair. But he never did.”
“He was an outstanding coach. He built powerhouses at both Newfane and Roy-Hart. And he was a fixture in the local wrestling community for decades,” said Bob Koshinski, the esteemed Buffalo sportscaster who wrestled for University of Dayton, has been inducted into the WNY Wrestling Coaches’ Hall of Fame, and received the Stanbro Media Award from the Upstate NY Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Knuutila noted that even years after he retired from coaching, Lang “never parked his car in his garage. He had a wrestling mat in his garage. He had pictures on the wall of all his wrestlers who went on to be All-Americans. And he’d let kids come over and work out in the garage during the offseason.”
At Roy-Hart, Lang coached Olympian Lou Roselli, who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Games and won the 1997 World Cup. At Newfane, Lang coached Ryan Needle, who set the Section VI record with 240 career victories.
Lang’s legacy extends beyond the wrestling rooms. A member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Lang worked for 34 years as a state Department of Environmental Conservation officer. He served four years as Town of Royalton supervisor after two on the town board.
In 2012, he authored the book “Behind the Badge: My Life as a Game Warden.” An avid hunter and lifetime member of the WNY Poultry Association, he competed in the Empire State Games and the Police Olympics, where he claimed the crown as the state’s “Toughest Cop.” The Niagara County Legislature proclaimed a day in his honor in 2014.
“Dick Lang is a legend in these parts,” tweeted local businessman and writer Bob Confer. “He was a NYSDEC officer, town supervisor, author, coach of an Olympic wrestler, husband, father, and grandfather. Awesome dude. He had such an impact on Niagara County.”
Lang is survived by his wife of 62 years, Gretchen, along with sons John and Michael, and grandchildren Abbey, Hogan, Johnathan, Madigan, Murphy, Kennedy and McCarthy.
John Lang has gained fame for his Bills Elvis persona. Mike Lang coaches the golf team at Roy-Hart. Hogan, Madigan, Murphy, Kennedy, and McCarthy all played golf for NCCC.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal Church in Lockport.