With eight individuals from across the state preparing to be inducted into this year’s Alaska High School Hall of Fame class, the Homer Mariners can add one more to their growing list.
1986 Homer High School graduate and two-time state wrestling champion Ian Pitzman will join the seven others Sunday in Anchorage for a well-deserved Hall of Fame induction. Pitzman was nominated by the Homer High booster club for his accomplished career.
“I told the folks that nominated me that I’m honored,” Pitzman said via phone from his home. “I was particularly surprised to be chosen out of the nominees. Just to be included in that group was surprising and made me feel grateful.”
Pitzman is set to become the sixth Hall of Famer from Homer, joining Dave Schroer from the 2015 class, Larry Martin from 2010, Alice Witte from 2008, and Dave Brann and Bill Wiltrout, both of the 2007 class.
In his four years with the Mariners, Pitzman rolled to a 71-15 record, 44 of those wins coming by pin. The Alaska High School Hall of Fame site lists Pitzman as one of the “true tactical, tough guys on the wrestling mat,” an honor that Pitzman credited to his old high school coach, Steve Wolfe.
“Steve Wolfe was a tactician, he wrote books on that and I learned a lot,” Pitzman said.
Under the guidance of Wolfe, Pitzman ran the tables his junior and senior years with an undefeated record and 44 straight wins, a school record that stood for 27 years.
“If there ever was an accomplished wrestler out of Homer, it was him,” Pitzman said of Wolfe, who was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013 and died in 2014. “He was a national champion at about every age level.
“He lived exactly as he preached.”
Pitzman also credited Wolfe’s assistant coaching staff, including Al Poindexter, as well as Jim Weaver and John Hendrix, former Homer wrestlers who would show up occasionally to help out on their own time. Pitzman said Poindexter in particular was especially tough to work under, as the coach would make sure his athletes were properly conditioned.
“It seemed like we were on a track team, he made us run two or three miles all the time,” Pitzman said with a laugh. “Conditioning was his part.”
Having knocked off the rest of the state and claimed his title as top dog, Pitzman said the hardest matches he faced were those against his own teammates, particularly Vince Littrell and Mike Lyda, who were of similar size to him.
Pitzman played a central role in giving Homer its first two state wrestling team titles. On the state level, Pitzman was the 177-pound champion in 1985, the same year Homer won the Division II team title, and the 191-pound champ in 1986, when the Mariners won the Class 1-2-3A crown in its first year of existence. Pitzman was named Outstanding Wrestler in 1986.
Pitzman’s induction coincidentally comes just months after the 2015 Homer wrestling team captured the Class 1-2-3A state championship for the first time since Pitzman’s 1986 Mariners.
Current Homer wrestling coach and athletic director Chris Perk will be on hand Sunday evening to present Pitzman the Hall of Fame award.
Perk, a 1993 Homer graduate, just missed the Pitzman era, but said he remembers the newly anointed Hall of Famer in his heyday when Perk was in middle school.
“He manhandled his opponents, but he always had a smile,” Perk said. “I always thought of him as a gentle bear, instead of a ferocious one, but he tore into his opponents.”
Perk added that it is not only Pitzman’s stellar athletic career that he believes got him into the Hall, but his character and success in other parts of life, which Perk believes to be the spirit of the Hall of Fame.
As an all-around sports enthusiast, Pitzman said he plans to catch a Homer soccer game today and a track meet on Saturday before the Hall of Fame ceremony on Sunday.
“Perk has a good group of kids and a strong program,” Pitzman said. “I still go and watch them.”
Among Pitzman’s career accolades, the 44-win streak stands out for its difficulty. In the current day, the prep season is saturated with meets and tournament throughout the winter, which gives grapplers the opportunity to ring up large winning streaks.
In his day, Pitzman only averaged one match per weekend with the Mariners, which would typically compete in dual meets with local peninsula schools such as Kenai.
“Now there are more tournaments,” Pitzman explained. “I remember (the streak) being more focused on one match at a time against individuals.
“By my senior year it was about keeping someone from surprising me.”
Pitzman wrestled 22 matches in each of his junior and senior seasons, and won almost every one of them by pin or technical fall.
As a testament to his athletic nature, he also won a region 110-meter hurdling title and was captain of the Homer football team.
Upon graduating from Homer High, Pitzman continued to set his sights high in the academic world. Attending Clackamas Community College in Oregon, Pitzman did not wrestle his freshman year. It wasn’t until coaches began asking him to join the squad that Pitzman took his shot.
“It was a little lesson in modesty,” Pitzman said about his first season of college wrestling.
Clackamas at that time was a feeder program for the University of Oregon, and making appearances on the collegiate mat could only help Pitzman’s standing. The college sophomore finished second in the region and qualified for Nationals in 1988, but was injured before he could compete. Ultimately, the injury ended his wrestling career, and as he puts it, Pitzman ended up crab fishing in the Bering Sea for 20 years.
After retiring from his athletic career, Pitzman took on a variety of coaching duties in other sports in Homer, including football for the high school team and Pop Warner teams, and has played important roles as a coach in the Homer Hockey Association.
Aside from wrestling, Pitzman’s biggest sporting love is hockey, a sport that he never played in his youth but to this day enjoys through his seven children, which range in age from three to 20.
“I’m living vicariously through them,” he cracked.
After settling back home with his wife, Stephanie, his high school sweetheart, Pitzman set up his fishing business. He continues to manage a small fleet of commercial fishing boats, but his days of crabbing in the Bering Sea are over, although he still fishes in Cook Inlet with his family during the summers.
When looking back on the success of the Homer wrestling programs of the late 1980s, Pitzman attributed to the enjoyment he and his teammates got out of the sport.
“I just liked to be part of the team,” Pitzman said. “I made a lot of friends, and when you go through something difficult and challenging, you make a bond with them.
“I still run into friends from time to time, and there’s still that connection.”