‘Wrestling’ with Lincoln’s arrival in Troy

David Fong TDN Columnist

When most folks look at the giant statue now dotting Troy’s majestic skyline, they may see the 16th President of the United States of America, or they may see the man who guided our country through the Civil War … or they may see “Some guy who looks like John Boehner standing next to Abraham Lincoln.”

I, on the other hand, see things a little different … I see a great wrestler.

Often lost among Lincoln’s myriad achievement is the fact that, in his youth, Lincoln was a wrestler of notable repute. According to lore, when Lincoln was in his early 20s and a settler in the frontier village of New Salem, Ill. Lincoln found work in a general store and his boss, Dean Offutt, would frequently brag about the size and strength of his young employee.

Offutt’s bragging soon drew the attention of Jack Armstrong, the leader of a local gang of bullies called Clay’s Grove Boys. Armstrong — widely regarded as the toughest man in the area — challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match. According to the accounts of the day, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Lincoln throttled Armstrong, lifting him up by the neck and “shaking him like a rag.”

At one point, the members of Armstrong’s gang threatened to intervene on their leaders’ behalf, at which point Lincoln offered to fight each one of them individually. Realizing he had been defeated by the better man, Armstrong called off his henchmen, who never again bothered the future president.

All of which makes Lincoln an excellent fit for Troy’s courthouse plaza.

Troy is a community with a rich wrestling history. In 1982, Troy High School senior Todd Darbyshire captured the first state wrestling title in the city’s history, dominating Lakewood St. Edward’s Joe Silvestro — who had defeated Darbyshire in a controversial semifinal match the year before — in the state finals.

Much like Lincoln’s wrestling career, Darbyshire’s own exploits became almost mythical. Known for his incredible strength and conditioning, Darbyshire — who had less than 1 percent body fat when he enrolled at The Ohio State University his freshman year — would frequently ride his bike from Columbus to Troy, and back, on weekends. Many Ohio wrestling historians still consider Darbyshire one of the most physically imposing high school wrestlers ever to set foot on the mat in Ohio.

They both had great nicknames, too. While Lincoln was “The Great Emancipator,” Darbyshire was known as “The Resident Destroyer.”

Certainly, Troy’s reputation for producing great wrestlers has not flagged since Darbyshire, either. Troy Christian has produced nothing short of a small-school wrestling dynasty, capturing four Division III state team titles and more than a dozen individual state crowns.

For those who prefer wrestling with more, ahem, “predetermined” outcomes, Troy has a rich tradition hosting that type of grappling, too. Hobart Arena has played host to numerous professional wrestling events over the years. In the 1980s, it was a regular tour stop for Championship Wrestling from Georgia, featuring stars such as Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, Ox Baker and “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer.

Hobart also has played host to at least two world champions, National Wrestling Alliance champion Ric Flair and Total Non-stop Action champion Kurt Angle (who also was a gold medal winner in amateur wrestling at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta).

So welcome to Troy, Mr. Lincoln. We’re glad to have you for the summer. If you feel the need to perform a double-leg takedown on the goofy guy in the sweater standing next to you … well, just do what comes naturally.

Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at dfong@civitasmedia.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong