Bell Clangs For Wrestling Fans
The St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame, located at Westfield South County, is a "dream come true" for owner and wrestling fanatic Nick Ridenour
03/23/2007 - Nick Ridenour takes great pride in the memorabilia — both personal and historic — which is on display at the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame. The hall of fame is part of Ridenour's Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop in Westfield South County.
|Nick Ridenour shown with the bell used at "Wrestling at the Chase," which ended in 1983. The bell was then used at wrestling events held at Kiel Auditorium.
photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)|
His collection includes a number of personal photographs kept behind the counter of the shirt shop — photos showing Ridenour standing side-by-side with wrestling giants such as Hulk Hogan, Tito Santana, King Kong Brody and Junkyard Dog.
Adorning an adjacent wall — the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame — are 14 portraits and accompanying inscriptions. Ridenour's historic memorabilia is displayed on the wall, which includes wrestling programs dating back to 1970.
Portraits were donated by wrestling promoter Herb Simmons and wrestling historian Roger Deem.
The hall of fame idea began in 2005 when Ridenour first opened his Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop on Lemay Ferry Road. With the help of referee Earl Hebner and former wrestling announcer Larry Matysik, Ridenour's "dream came true" when he moved his shop to the current location in August 2006. Later that year he added the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Ridenour along with Matysik, Simmons, Mitch Hartsley and St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer, Keith Schildroth, make up the St. Louis Hall of Fame meeting board. The board planned the details of the hall of fame from development of a Web site to the grand opening ceremony Feb. 24, 2006.
Matysik opened the ceremony, in front of the Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop. Former announcer Mickey Garagiola shared memories of the "old days" with the crowd, crediting fans for the best years of his life. Surviving family members of wrestler Wild Bill Longson and former referee Joe Schoenberger were also in attendance.
"There were six inductees by acclamation," Ridenour said. "The rest of the inductees were voted in by fans."
Throughout November and December 2006, more than 1,200 votes were cast via e-mail or in person at the South Broadway Athletic Club or at the Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop, Ridenour said. Matysik received 1,500 fan votes, inducting him into the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The six inductees the board agreed on were promoter Sam Muchnick, Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, Garagiola, Schoenberger and Penny Banner.
The names bring Ridenour back to his weekend ritual growing up — "Wrestling at the Chase," which aired on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.
"We would come home from church and watch roller derby and 'Wrestling at the Chase,'" Ridenour said. "I was born and raised on wrestling. From 1972 to 2005, I never missed a single episode of wrestling."
"Wrestling at the Chase" ended in 1983. The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) bought out territories nationwide including the Midwest, Ridenour said. The WWF filmed a couple episodes of "Wrestling at the Chase" before it went off the air.
After "Wrestling at the Chase" ended, Ridenour said he watched World Class Championship until 1987. Following that, he watched WWF, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and he still watches Total Nonstop Action (TNA.)
Wrestling In His Blood
Schoenberger, a well known referee in 1972, would rally up Lemay neighborhood kids to help run the matches at Heinie Meinie Field, Ridenour said. Schoenberger would pay each kid 50 cents to work the concession stand or set up chairs for the wrestling matches. Matches featured names like Pat O'Connor and Dick the Bruiser.
"I would play in the dirt and smell the popcorn," Ridenour said. "From the age of five I was hooked on wrestling."
Ridenour stayed in close contact with the wrestlers he admired. He worked an array of jobs from handing out cards after a match to parking cars as a wrestling escort.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ridenour was one of the fans outside of the side stage door of the Kiel Auditorium waiting, sometimes until midnight, for the wrestlers to exit so they could get an autograph or just be in the awe of their heroes.
Wrestling changed in 1980 with the addition of music to the matches.
"Even though I was young I remember the Von Erichs changed the face of wrestling," Ridenour said. "They would play the "Yellow Rose of Texas," "Strangehold," and "Tom Sawyer."
Fireworks were added to the performances in 1986, Ridenour said.
Ridenour got on his career path when wrestling referee and manager Teddy Long was the first to hire Ridenour as a silkscreen artist. Ridenour designed shirts for Doom, Long's tag team champions. In exchange for embroidered shirts, Ridenour received free tickets to matches.
He attended Forest Park Community College in the mid-1990s and earned his degree in advertising/design/commercial arts. Ridenour embroidered shirts for wrestlers and their agents from 1995 to 2005.
He changed vocational focus when the doors of his first Pro Wrestling Shirt Shop opened in 2005. Ridenour continues to embroider shirts but his concentration is focused on the hall of fame. According to Ridenour, the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame is the only legitimate one of its kind.
"There is a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame and a wrestling hall of fame in Newton, Iowa," Ridenour said. "This is the only legit one because fans can vote on it. This hall of fame is the only one in St. Louis and the only one in Missouri. It's one of two in existence that people can view."
To meet the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame criteria, an inductee had to carry a major title belt or have a major impact on wrestling fans between the years of 1959 and 1983.
Each year Ridenour plans on adding five or six inductees, expanding the hall of fame.
"The plan is to stay in the store for a few years," Ridenour said. "Eventually, we will outgrow the store."
The expanded hall of fame will include memorabilia from "Wrestling at the Chase." Ridenour said Penny Banner, Kevin Von Erich and Hartsley are planning on donating more memorabilia. As the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame expands, Ridenour wants to keep the focus on St. Louis.
"A lot of wrestlers made their start in St. Louis," Ridenour said. "If a wrestler made it under Sam (Muchnick), then they made it in wrestling."
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