WRESTLING'S QUIET LEGEND
Josiah HENSON 1922 - 2012
When Cael Sanderson completed his NCAA wrestling career in 2002, undefeated after four years of collegiate competition, the television announcer mistakenly said that it was the first time any wrestler had gone undefeated in his entire college career. This was not entirely correct. It was indeed the first time a wrestler had done it over a four-year career. But prior to 1968, college athletes could not compete at the varsity level for four years, only three, because freshmen were not allowed to compete during their first year of college. There were in fact a small number of other outstanding wrestlers also went undefeated during their entire collegiate careers, but none had ever done it over four years (but only because no one was allowed to wrestle varsity more than three years in their day).
It is typical of the quiet modesty of another man who also never lost a college match that few people are aware that he also did so. He did not do it over four years like Sanderson because he finished college in three years with a heavy course load in order to go into World War II. The opinion of most who knew him was that he probably would have continued that winning streak. For example, when Pennsylvania mat star Leonard "Gus" DeAugustino of Lockhaven met Norton Compton of Illinois in the NCAA finals in 1953, the "quiet legend" had already beaten him three times the year before (and had beaten Compton twice). DeAugustino's quarterfinal opponent and third place finisher that year was Penn State standout and Pan American champion Gerry Maurey of the NYAC, whom the quiet legend had also beaten three times. None of these three greats even scored on him.
This "quiet legend" beat a number of NCAA champions in his career (including some multiple champions, like two time champion George Layman of Oklahoma A&M, now called Oklahoma State, who also could not score on him). In fact, by the time his competitive career essentially ended in 1952, he had beaten every NCAA champion that he had ever wrestled and not one scored a point on him.
Who was this quiet legend?
That man was Josiah Henson of Bristow, Oklahoma, also known as Joe. He was captain of the Naval Academy wrestling team and EIWA champion in 1944 and 1945. Although a number wrestling historians have called him the greatest wrestler of all time, he is not as well known as many other contenders for that title because he never won an NCAA championship (although he did win the freestyle nationals). The reason for this is simple and beyond his control. There were no NCAA championships while Joe Henson was in college because the event was suspended during World War II. Noted mat historian Don Sayenga, who picked a "coaches poll" national champion team for the war years said that the Navy teams of those years were the best in the country. He also described Joe Henson as "one of the greats."
Joe was coached by Hall of Fame coach Ray Schwartz in college and by Hall of Fame coach Art Griffith in high school, both disciples of the legendary E.C. Gallagher. Henson was Navy's top gun in those days and wrestled up and down the weight classes to assure the Navy squads of that era went undefeated in dual competition every year he was on the team. Henson's record and that of the Navy both were flawless while Joe was on the team: Joe Henson never lost a match; Navy never lost a dual meet.
Members of those Navy teams were a dominant force in the Olympic trials in 1952, led by Henson who was the named the "outstanding wrestler" in the 1952 AAU nationals. No one scored a point on him in the entire tournament. According to one printed source after his showing at the final Olympic Trials at Ames in 1952, many coaches and judges proclaimed that Joe Henson "knows more about Olympic style wrestling than any other wrestler in the country."
Olympic teammate Dan Hodge, Hall of Fame member and the only wrestler ever to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated remembers Joe this way: "He was the best wrestler I ever saw. He was my idol and my mentor on the Olympic squad in '52 and many of us looked to him for leadership. He was my hero and the record I wanted to beat: Joe beat everyone and no one could score on him, so I made up my mind that I had to pin everyone to be better than Joe." When asked how Joe would stack up to wrestlers of the modern era, Hodge had no doubt that, in his prime, Joe could have beaten them all. "Nobody would score on him," according to Hodge, who was absolutely insistent on this point. Hall of Fame member Alan Rice confirmed the assessment when he noted "I wrestled with Joe every day for ten months on the Armed Forces squad and could not score a single point."
The assistant coach at the Naval Academy while Joe was there was his older brother and Hall of Fame wrestler Stanley Henson, a three-time NCAA Champion from Oklahoma State. Both Stan and Joe wrestled in high school under Hall of Fame coach Art Griffith. Stan had seen the best, in his career, but when he commented on his younger brother he declared "at his peak, there was none better." Olympic silver medallist Dick Voliva confirmed this by stating "Joe Henson was one of the best wrestlers ever." Joe showed his promise early on as a teenager when he hitchhiked from Oklahoma to Ames, Iowa to wrestle in the National AAU Senior Freestyle Wrestling Championships. Although still in high school, he placed second in the event.
Several coaches have commented that Joe was one of the most technical wrestlers of all time. According to a member of the Baltimore YMCA, where he trained after college, Joe was simply "quick and slick." He invented his own special move that was "so fast you could not figure out what happened." Eventually, Hall of fame coach and renowned technique expert from Granby high school Billy Martin, Sr. (father of the Granby roll) asked Joe to show it to him and used it successfully for years, calling it simply the "Henson takedown." Later it became known as the "shrug."
Joe Henson became the first American wrestler ever to beat a Russian in the Olympic Games when he convincingly beat Dadachev of the Soviet Union. To that point, the Soviets had handled most of the competition and Joe became one of the early news stories with his victory. His name and photo made the national news, one of the rare first media successes for the sport. He was celebrated as America's first victorious "cold warrior" in the political cold war following World War II that dominated the Olympics for the next fifty years. Following Joe's victory, Hall of Fame teammate Henry Wittenberg, a gold medallist from 1948 and silver medallist in 1952, also beat his Soviet opponent. Both went undefeated against iron curtain countries, as the U.S. Soviet Olympic rivalry began to emerge for the first time. A number of U.S. athletes in other sports began to follow suit and by the end of the games the United States had surpassed the Soviet Union in total medals won. But "Joe Henson turned the tide" said Coach Schwartz.
According to Olympic Teammate Henry Wittenburg, "Joe Henson was the toughest and most courageous wrestler I ever knew. He actually broke his nose, but continued in the Games despite medical recommendations. We did not have all the gadgets in those days and he fought his way along with just some tape on his face." In addition to a broken nose, Joe suffered a concussion in the final trial match for the Olympics (which in those days were held on site just before the games began). Joe was fearful that the doctors would not let him wrestle, since boxers with concussions were not allowed to continue, so he deliberately failed to report to the medical staff and wrestled despite the concussion. Impressed by that kind of courage, Wittenberg said Joe Henson was "one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, if not the greatest."
Neither Henson nor Wittenburg won the gold that year, but were clearly the best wrestlers there, according to Olympic Coach Ray Schwartz. "The problem was that none of us even knew all the rules before we got there, unlike today." Americans were unaccustomed to the defensive and relatively passive wrestling style of some countries and were completely unaccustomed to the way back points were scored during that era. "Dan Hodge lost matches to guys he should have beaten because of little technical points." The disadvantaged Americans had to learn the rules as the tournament went on and only figured out the point scoring when one of their teammates lost a point.
After the first few rounds, the Americans began to understand these foreign rules and the majority of them were able to still earn medals despite early losses. According to Bill Smith: "I was lucky to be in a heavier weight class, which means that I wrestled later and could see some matches before I competed. Had we all been able to watch a few matches to learn the rules, we probably all would have gotten gold medals, not just me. We were clearly the best wrestlers there in terms of sheer wrestling talent. If we had wrestled under our rules, we would not have lost a match."
Joe Henson was the perfect example of this problem. Although he was clearly dominating the eventual gold medalist in his weight class, he gave up the decisive points because of unfamiliarity with the rules. After going off the mat, he walked back to the center, assuming the clock had stopped. But the clock did not stop in international wrestling those days when wrestlers went out of bounds and the match. It continued without stopping. As Joe Henson unknowingly turned and walked back to the center, the disbelieving Turkish wrestler ran up from behind, grabbed him and took him to the mat across his shoulders. It was the only time anyone had ever turned him. From that point onward, the Turk wrestled defensively, under old rules that did not penalized stalling the way it is done today. The Turk went on to win the gold medal at those Olympic Games and Henson ended up with the bronze. Years later, that gold medalist told Henson's son at a FILA world championships in Turkey that he had scouted Henson from the beginning of the tournament and thought that Joe Henson "was the cleverest wrestler he had ever seen."
The 1952 Olympic team faced hardships modern teams do not: They traveled by boat to the games, not by air. They had brief training camps and could not train together for more that 30 days, under the then prevailing rules. They had little contact with the dominant Europeans and entered competitions with unfamiliar rules and foreign officiating. Despite these and other handicaps, however, the 1952 team did remarkably well and was "one of the best U.S. Olympic wrestling teams ever," according to Swartz. Seven of the eight wrestlers on that team, plus coach Swartz, are now in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (only NCAA champion Bill Borders is not).
Henson's competition career essentially ended after the Helsinki Olympic Games. A married father of three and decorated military officer, he set about an outstanding career in the U.S. Navy. He became the third naval officer in his family when he originally received his appointment to the United States Naval Academy from Will Rogers, Congressman-at-Large for Oklahoma (not the noted humorist). He was graduated early from the Academy on 7 June 1944 with the war-accelerated class of 1945 as a member of the 4th Company, finishing college with a degree in electrical engineering in only three years.
After graduation and short aviation indoctrination at NAS Jacksonville, Joe reported for duty as a gunnery officer aboard the USS California in the 7th Fleet, Pacific. The California had been sunk at Pearl Harbor, but was raised and refurbished with the latest fire-control equipment for the 14-inch main guns and 5-inch Anti Aircraft batteries used for shore bombardment during the island hopping invasions. It participated in some of the most important sea battles of the war, including the battle of Leyte Gulf while they were escorting MacArthur's forces back to the Philippines. The USS California was part of the legendary battleship duel at Surigao Strait in the Philippine Islands, one of four engagements that made up the battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest sea battle of all time (which is likely to retain that distinction forever, now that modern rockets have changed naval strategy by not allowing ships to get close enough to engage in direct conflict).
Leading a fleet of old battleships, all but one of which coincidentally had been at Pearl Harbor, U.S. Rear Admiral executed the classic naval "Crossing the T" maneouver made famous by Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. The battle was fought at night and there were few Japaniese survivirtls. The ultimate result of the battle was that the Japanese fleet [effectively ceased to exist and he United States won undisputed command of the sea. Japanese Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, stated that he the defeat at Leyte Gulf 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines' and said it felt that this was the end.
The USS. California was one of the first ships ever attacked by Kamikaze suicide planes and was credited with sinking one Japanese cruiser.
Joe Henson's military service and campaign medals include:
• American Campaign Medal
• National Defense Service Medal with star
• Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal with 4 stars
• American Defense Service Medal
• Navy Occupation Service Medal
• Philippine Liberation medal with 2 stars
• World War Two Victory Medal
• Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation badge,
• Armed Forces Expeditionary medal (Cuba)
Immediately following the declaration of peace in the Pacific, Joe Henson was detached from sea duty to begin flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas and Pensacola, Florida. He became a missile officer and afterwards earned his wings and become an accomplished pilot (one of the few navy pilots to have flown every major type of naval aircraft in his career, including VP multipurpose patrol warplanes, VF Fighter planes, VS antisubmarine planes, VA attack planes and VU utility planes). He served in VP-40 in Panama, VU-10 in Guantanamo Bay and flew the first swept wing jet fighters aboard carriers with VF-74, the legendary squadron that later achieved international fame for successfully intercepting the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and more than 400 passengers in the Mediterranean seas off the coast of Egypt. In that episode, the terrorists had demanded that Israel free 50 Palestinian prisoners and killed 69-year-old disabled American tourist Leon Klinghoffer, then threw his body overboard with his wheelchair. After a two-day drama, the hijackers surrendered in exchange for safe passage. However, when they attempt to get away to freedom in an Egyptian jet, the U.S. Navy F-14 fighters of VF-74 intercepted it and forced it to land in Sicily, where the terrorists were taken into custody by Italian authorities.
In his career, Joe made over 400 carrier landings, one of the most difficult maneuvers in flying.
His last sea duty was as Commanding Officer of VS-31 at NAS Quonset Point and aboard the USS Wasp during EASTLANT and Caribbean cruises, including the Cuban Missile crisis and quarantine.
Advancing rapidly from Ensign in 1944 to Captain in 1965, He served in the Naval Air Training Command, Studied at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and was a gunnery and aviation instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was an alternate Navy member of the Regional Airspace Sub-Committee at Fort Worth and in Atlanta. He was the Navy's aviation and missile officer with the Military Assistance Advisory Group operating out of the American Embassy in Paris France. He subsequently served as executive officer and commanding officer of VS-31 aboard the USS Wasp during EASTLANT and Caribbean cruises, including the historic Cuban quarantine during the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis made famous by the diplomatic success of President John F. Kennedy. He completed his career as Director of Officer Services and Records Division and finally Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel, where he oversaw the development of the Basic "Unit Plan" that modernized the Navy's personnel record system.
During a normal tour of shore duty at the USNA from 1950 to 1952, he was an Instructor of Midshipmen in the Aviation Department and assistant wrestling coach, which enabled him train for and win the AAU National Freestyle Championships and make the Olympic team. The Navy assigned again Joe to the Naval Academy in 1956 to enable him to try once more for the games. Then 34 years old, and not having wrestled for four years, he was not really prepared for the task. His role became more to work with the younger men on the team, including longtime friend Don Rumsfeld, later White House Chief of Staff and twice U.S. Secretary of Defense. Joe did not make the team, although he did earn a spot as alternate for the Greco-Roman team. He probably did more for the U.S. effort because he did not make the team, however. He became America's first internationally qualified referee and dramatically impacted future results.
Remembering the problems that U.S. wrestlers had faced in 1952 because of the international rules and their interpretation, Joe got involved with refereeing and made sure that never happened again. For example, when the U.S. Team arrived at the Helsinki Olympic Games, the wrestlers did not know what the international rules were, and they differed substantially form what they were used to at home. Many U.S. wrestlers pinned themselves with the European rolling fall without realizing it and thought they were scoring points when they were not (because takedowns were not awarded points). After the 1952 Olympic Games, a concerned Joe Henson got the latest rules and had them published in English for the first time ever, so that Americans would be ready next time. "Had we known the rules ahead of time," according to Coach Schwartz, "we probably would have won every match."
Joe accompanied the 1956 team to Melbourne, where he became the first American (of only three) ever to be a mat chairman at the Olympic Games (which he did at an amazing four Olympic games).
Years later, while on assignment to the American Embassy in Paris from 1959 to 1961, Joe became personal friends with FILA President Roger Coulon of France. As a result, he was in a position to be a regular advocate for the American position within the international political circles of wrestling. He joined a local wrestling club in Versailles, France and made many lifelong friends for himself and for the United States by his work promoting wrestling there.
With few exceptions, America has rarely had individuals with strong influence within FILA. By getting to know the dominant Europeans on their home ground, however, Joe achieved some profound successes that have had a lasting influence on international wrestling. In those days, FILA operated out of the offices of the French Wrestling Federation, where FILA president Roger Coulon was headquartered (Coulon later moved FILA headquarters to Switzerland). Taking advantage of the opportunity, Henson was a regular visitor and, as Amateur Wrestling News once reported, "created a friendly relationship with Roger Coulon, President of FILA, that helped pave the way for rules changes that favored the U.S." When American FILA member Al DeFerreri was visiting in France, for example, Joe took the opportunity to invite him to dinner with FILA president Colon and visiting FILA Vice-President Hatta of Japan. At that dinner, Joe convinced them that FILA should adopt the "controlled" fall, rather than the rolling fall that had been a problem for American wrestlers (who were not used to losing points for casual exposure). DeFerrari later called it "the most important rule change ever made for the Americans."
Joe also successfully lobbying for the other most important rule change ever to benefit Americans: Scoring one point for a takedown. 1952 Olympic Teammate Bill Smith commented, "Takedowns scored nothing in Helsinki. Had we wrestled under the rules that Joe got put in before the 1960 Olympics, we would have won every match in 1952." Under the new rules championed by Joe Henson, the U.S. won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, despite predictions by some sources, including Sports Illustrated, which did not expect America to win any medals in wrestling. Former FILA Head international referee Steve Evanoff once said "every wrestlers who ever scored a takedown point in international competition should thank Joe Henson."
Joe Henson essentially created the USA's international officials corps by registering American referees with FILA for the first time. Joe Henson was the first American to ever officiate a FILA World event by refereeing the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956, where he was quickly accepted and respected by those that remembered him from the previous Olympic Games in Helsinki. Joe also encouraged other Americans to officiate internationally, including Joe Scalzo (who also was given mat time in Melbourne). Joe was the first of only three Americans ever to serve as Mat Chairman at the Olympic Games (which he did an unequalled four times).
Joe Petitioned FILA to qualify the first American international referees in 1961. Although Joe Henson was the first American to officiate internationally and was "our No. 1 Referee Judge," according to Amateur Wrestling News, with his typical self-effacing approach, he modestly insisted that the first one put on the FILA lists be Joe Scalzo, with him second. In terms of seniority, Joe Henson today has the lowest FILA referee number of any living American. American Steve Evanoff, who was head of the FILA officials committee at the time when American probably had its most influence, once said that "none of us would even be here if not for Joe." By the time he retired, to move up in the ranks of American top administrators, Joe had refereed in four Olympic Games.
Joe Henson was one of those rare individuals who excelled in every facet of sport. In addition to being a top athlete and official, he was also an outstanding coach and administrator. Although it was difficult to fit coaching opportunities into a navy career, Joe did serve briefly as assistant coach of his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, and coached countless military and base teams throughout his life.
After he retired from the Navy, he continued to support Naval Academy wrestling. He became a trustee of the Naval Academy Foundation and in 1966 helped found the NWLF to support USNA wrestling, working together with other Navy Hall of Fame Wrestlers (Included World Champion Lloyd Keaser and Admiral James Holloway. In 1978, he organized the first Navy Wrestling reunion, which has become an annual event. In 2002, he arranged for a special reunion at the Army-Navy dual meet that included Don Rumsfeld, his former All-Navy teammate who had become Secretary of Defense for the second time in the administration of President George W. Bush.
One of Joe Henson's lasting contributions to wrestling was to spearhead the creation of the EIWA's Johnny Fletcher Award, presented annually to the wrestler who competed in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association and contributed the most to his team over his career by scoring the most tournament points. Joe served on that committee for over 50 years (and eventually was succeeded by his son Josh, also an EIWA wrestler).
Although he moved every two years as a U.S. Navy officer, he organized teams and tournaments and left a legacy of wrestling everywhere he had been. In 1999, he endowed a wrestling reference book and memorabilia Collection at the Library in Bristow, Oklahoma, where he grew up and through Brute has helped sponsor wrestling tournaments in Bristow. Joe Henson has constantly promoted international freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and in 1967, organized and coached the Washington Wrestling club, the first international style wrestling club in Virginia, where he retired. That team won the National Junior freestyle team title in 1975 and is still active today.
In the summer of 1967, Joe organized Virginia's first international style clinic, with the help of then world silver medalist Bobby Douglas, later to become a Distinguished Member of the Hall of Fame. The clinic was held in conjunction with the first freestyle tournament in the history of the State. Years later Joe was presented a plaque and formally recognized as "the father of freestyle wrestling in Virginia." He organized the first ever international cultural exchange meet in Virginia by hosting the Polish National Junior Team (and had Armed Forces Teammate Don Rumsfeld appear to award Medals).
Joe also helped organize the first freestyle tournament in Maryland for the U.S. Wresting Federation and, together with his Navy teammate John Hale, Joe and his son ran the first freestyle wrestling tournament ever held in Alaska as part of the Alaska State Fair. As head of the local wrestling committee back in the 1960's, he also helped organize a number of wrestling leagues in the metropolitan Washington area, including the Northern Virginia Wresting Federation and the Capital Area Wrestling League, which, 40 years later register over two thousand youth wrestlers every year.
Before moving to the Washington area, Joe had been stationed in New England. He was also an active member of the wrestling community there, organizing tournaments and training officials. He was presented a special plaque at the 1964 Olympic trials held at the New York World's Fair for his "untiring efforts and judicious guidance to improve wrestling in New England."
Throughout his career in the U.S. Navy, he organized wrestling teams and events wherever he was stationed. Although his tours of duty were always short term (usually less than two years), he was able to raise the level of wrestling wherever he went in those short periods of time. His startup Navy team in Pensacola, for example, placed second in the Southern AAU championships. His team in New England garnered numerous NEAAU medals. Joe was also an active softball player in the navy and his Panama Canal Zone team won the 15th Naval district Championships with Joe as Pitcher-Manager.
Joe Henson retired from the Navy with distinction in 1969, a decorated war veteran who had risen to the rank of Captain and had been the national Assistant Director of Personnel for the United States Navy. He then served briefly as Executive Director of the People-to-People Sports Foundation, created by President Dwight Eisenhower and as a trustee of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation. Along the way, Joe got a masters degree in international relations from George Washington University in Washington D.C. in 1967 and served on a special government committee for sport for the U.S. Agency for International development (AID), known as the U.S. International Sports Committee, which advised the president on international sport contact and exchanges. He received a presidential commendation from President Ronald Reagan for his contributions to American sport.
As an administrator, few can match Joe Henson. Representing the U.S. Navy, he was elected chairman of the Olympic Wrestling Committee during the most heated years of the famous "alphabet soup" wars between the USWF and the AAU, yet all sides praised him for his efficiency and fairness. His efforts were rewarded when he was named Amateur Wrestling Man-of-the year in 1967. According to wrestling historian Don Sayenga, "Joe was the statesman who attempted to keep everyone at the negotiating table for the benefit of the sport. As a result of his efforts, Joe was everyone's choice as wrestling's Man of the Year, an award that usually goes to an active coach or competitor. The historical presence he exerted then, seeking compromise in that bitter debate, was extremely significant." Joe actually founded the first freestyle tournament ever in Virginia under the AAU and the first freestyle tournament ever in Maryland under the U.S.W.F.
In his career, Joe served on the National Board of Directors for the AAU for a total of sixteen years while it was the National Governing Body for wrestling and was five times a member of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Committee (including four years as Chairman).
At the international level, Joe became increasingly involved with FILA as an advocate of American interests and became the second American ever to receive the FILA Gold Star, international wrestling's top administrative honor and was made a "Chevalier de la FILA" by then FILA President Roger Coulon. Joe Henson has maintained a life long friendship of over fifty years with Coulon's successor, past FILA president Milan Ercegan, who described Joe Henson as "the most influential American wrestler in International sports." In 1996, Ercegan presented him one of the FILA Centennial Awards for long-term service to the sport of wrestling internationally (one of two given to an American).
One other influence that Joe Henson had was profound. Unhappy with the fact that American wrestlers seemed to be ignored by the sporting goods industry, he founded his own wrestling equipment business in the 1960's, called the Henson Company (also trading as the Henson Group). Unlike today, at that time the only significant sources for wrestling specific equipment in the country were his company and that of his friend Cliff Keen (who coached both of his sons at Michigan). Joe and his partner John Purnell created the BRUTE brand in the 1970's, primarily to bring creative design and modern technology to the sport.
Henson and Purnell came up with the very first colored wrestling shoes, featuring Red, green, blue and black (with yellow). The red shoe was so esthetically pleasing and such an innovation at that time that a picture of it was used on the cover of a major nationally distributed book on sports. Before these shoes, it was all black and white. Brute came up with the first Lycra singlets and was the first to produced sublimated singlets with the elaborate patterns that have now become common. Brute has developed numerous new designs for singlets and wrestling shoes the years, as well as new earguards and specialty products that have brought the sport of wrestling into the modern age of sporting equipment.
For a number of years, Brute partnered with Adidas, one of the largest sporting goods companies in the world. Brute served as the exclusive distributor for Adidas wrestling equipment in North American and was the design arm of Adidas for the sport of wrestling. The Adidas working relationships ended after a number of years, but while it lasted, Adidas was the largest wrestling supplier in the world outside the United States and Brute was the largest wrestling equipment supplier within the U.S. Wrestling equipment was hard to find in this country for years and there were few retailers, like today, other than Cliff Keen and Joe Henson (both of whom started out of the basements of their homes).
Over the years BRUTE has made substantial contributions of equipment to developing countries under the FILA technical assistance plan and FILA President Ercegan has commented that BRUTE has had a dramatic impact on the amount of wrestling equipment available today, as compared to years ago, as well as the style and quality. Today, the BRUTE brand is known worldwide in wrestling.
Brute innovations have touched every aspect of wrestling. Long before Gatorade and other sport drinks became widely popular, Joe was inspired by the research of his brother Stan (a prominent doctor and Hall of Fame wrestler) on electrolyte loss in wrestlers and created the first electrolyte balanced drink for wrestlers, called "Champ Ade." The product was discontinued after commercial energy drinks became more extensively developed and marketed, but it was another pioneering effort by Joe Henson and BRUTE for the sport of wrestling. Hall of Fame Outstanding American Art Rutzen of Lehigh said, "I remember drinking Champ Ade. It's all we had in those days."
Joe Henson's contributions to sport extend beyond wrestling. In 1980, he was elected president of the multi-sport AAU (the only wrestling person other than Joe Scalzo to ever serve in that capacity). During those years, the AAU was the National Governing Body for eight different Olympic Sports. Joe worked with many different sports within the AAU multi-sport organization. He was inducted into the AAU Bodybuilding Hall of Fame and was Man of the Year in Aerobics, a sport he helped to create in 1980. Joe has received every major award given by the AAU multipart organization, including the AAU Volunteer Hall of Fame and the AAU President's Leadership Award.
Joe also was a member of the Exertive Committee of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a member of the USOC House of Delegates on numerous occasions. He served on the National Board of Directors for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Association (the NGB for pentathlon, equivalent to USA WRESTLING within the U.S. Olympic family) and on the Citizen's Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee.
Joe Henson served on the U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors for four Olympiads and has participated in every Olympics from 1952 to 20000 in various official capacities (except the boycotted 1980 Moscow games). He was Special Assistant to the USOC president at Two Olympic Games and two Pan American games. He was also Chef de Mission for the entire U.S. team at the Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Long before the Olympic Scandals surrounding Salt Lake City at the start of the new millennium, Joe Henson was a strong advocate of ethical responsibility within the Olympic movement and to this day is known for his personal integrity. In 1992, as a matter of principle, he challenged controversial New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for the vice-presidency of the U.S. Olympic committee. He lost a surprisingly close election after being quoted in the national media to the effect that he did not think a convicted felon should be an officer of the U.S.O.C. Steinbrenner angrily replied to the press that he had been pardoned by the president. Joe, ever the tenacious wrestler, responded calmly by simply conceding that indeed Steinbrenner had been pardoned…but stressed pointedly that pardons do not erase felonies. It just means that you do not have to pay the penalty. Joe also prophetically challenged the ethics of one USOC staff member who was later forced to resign in the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympic bid scandals.
At the international level, in addition to working with FILA, Joe has been involved at the highest level in other sports. For over 20 years he was international vice president for the World Taekwondo Federation (the governing body of the Olympic sport of Taekwondo, equivalent to FILA). He was vice-chairman of the WTF Promotion Committee for Taekwondo's Olympic status that successfully won inclusion of the sport of Taekwondo into the Olympic Games. He founded the Pan American Taekwondo Union and was a delegate to the founding congress of the World Games, the International Olympic Committee backed multi-sport games for non-Olympic sports. In 2007, he was elected to the USTGS Taekwondo Hall of Fame.
Joe Henson served as acting International Federation President for Taekwondo at two Olympics and, representing that sport, been an official delegate to the meetings of every major international sport organization, including the international Olympic Committee (IOC), the General Association of International Sport Federations (GAISF), the Association of Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), the Association of Recognized International Federations, (ARISF), the Conseil Internationale de Sport Militaire (CISM), the International World Games Association (IWGA), Masters Games international (MGI) and others. U.S. Olympic Committee Executive Committee Member Rob Stull, who served with Joe on the National Board of Directors for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Association, has commented the "Joe Henson is unquestionably an important figure in the Olympic movement at the national and international level."
In 2009, Joe Henson was part of a group that founded the Native American Sports Foundation, an international multi-sport organization created to advance the involvement of Native Americans in sports.
Prior to his election to the U.S. National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 2006, Joe Henson was recognized as a dominant athlete by the Helms Hall of Fame, a national multi-sport hall of fame in California that was the first Hall of Fame of any kind to include Amateur wrestling (now part of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, created after the 1984 Olympic Games). Joe was also a charter member of the AAU Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000. He was selected for the WRESTLING USA Master of Sport Award for wrestling in 2003.
Joe is a member of a great sport family. His brother Stanley Henson was three-time NCAA wrestling Champion for Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and the first sophomore ever to be named the Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA championships. Stanley was also named the outstanding wrestler of the decade 1931-1940 by historian Don Sayenga and included in Mike Chapman's list of the fifteen greatest college wrestlers of all time. Both Joe Henson and Stanley Henson are also included in Chapman's historical summary book LEGENDS OF THE MAT: Stories of 34 of America's Greatest Wrestlers of All Time (2006).
Joe's elder son Jeff was a high school national Prep School Champion for the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and a varsity wrestler for the University of Michigan. Similar to his father's accomplishment, Jeff placed in the Olympic trials while still in high school. He later was a respected high school and college wrestling referee. Joe's younger son Josh was an all-Ivy wrestler at Harvard and AAU national wrestling champion in Sombo and Greco. Josh also served a term as member of the Executive Bureau of FILA and coached the Spanish wrestling team in the 1984 Olympic Games.
Each of these four wrestling Hensons was a national champion and each was selected the Outstanding Wrestler at a national Championships. They are the first and only American wrestling family to have won a national title in each of the major styles of wrestling--High School Scholastic Folkstyle, NCAA Collegiate Folkstyle, Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Sombo.
Joe's grandson Matthew also wrestled and was a state wrestling champion for Plano High School in Texas. His daughter Valerie was a FISAA world aerobics champion. His wife Gloria was National Chairman for Sport Aerobics in the United States and an Executive board member of the International Amateur Aerobic Sports Federation. Joe Henson has a young grandson, Josiah Henson III (born in 2008), and six young great-grandchildren to carry on the family sports traditions.
After traveling the world as a U.S. naval officer since 1944, Joe Henson retired to his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2004 with Gloria Elaine Busby Henson, his high school sweetheart and wife of sixty years.
In 2012, Joe Henson was elected to the EIWA Hall of Fame at the age of 90. Two weeks later, he attended the 2012 NCAA national wrestling championships and suffered a stroke during the night after the finals. He was hospitalized and never recovered.
Joe Henson died in his sleep just as the sun rose on the morning of 4 April 2012. He was laid to final rest at the United States Naval Academy, on May 14, 2012 near the gym were he had trained and the chapel where he had been married almost seven decades earlier.
He was survived by his high school sweetheart beloved wife of 68 years, the former Gloria Elaine Busby of Tulsa, Oklahoma, his brother and Hall of Fame wrestler Dr. Stanley W. Henson of Fort Collins Colorado, his daughter Valerie H. Coleman of Houston Texas, and his two sons Geoffrey S. Henson of San Antonio, Texas and Josiah D. Henson II, of Washington D.C., as well as four grandchildren (including Kelly Henson Bullis, Matthew Henson, Jacob Purnell and Josiah Henson III, born in 2008). He has six great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his Father and mother, Stanley Willard Henson and Irene Hopkins Henson of Bristow, Oklahoma, his brother Kenneth Wayne Henson of Houston, Texas and his sisters Vera Fern Tutt of Long Beach, California, Beulah Irene Farley of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Peggy June Lawson of Phoenix, Arizona.
And rests in peace before us now,
Whose life and name stood one with good,
Who fought for truth, as all men should,
Who lived in strength and loved the same
Now lives eternal in God's name.
Josiah HENSON (1922 - 2012)