(June 15, 1890 - July 10, 1953)
Assistant professor, associate professor, physical training; head wrestling coach; head golf coach, Iowa State.
Hugo Medford “Otto” Otopalik was born on June 15, 1890 at David City, Nebraska, a son of Joseph Otoupalik and Frances Frantiska Pelikan Otoupalik (he later altered the spelling of his last name.) He grew up in David City and then attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He lettered in wrestling, football (halfback and fullback), and track, was named All-American in football, and was the 175-pound Western Conference champion in 1916 and 1917. After graduation, Otopalik served in the United States Army and rose to the rank of First Sergeant in the infantry. Upon returning from service in 1918, he became athletics director at Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney (now the University of Nebraska at Kearney) and also coached football and basketball.
In 1920, Otopalik (eventually obtaining the nickname “Otto”) started a 33-year career at Iowa State College (now University) by accepting a position as assistant professor of physical training, assistant football coach, and assistant wrestling coach. He experienced rapid success in coaching. His first two wrestling teams were undefeated in dual action and placed second in the Missouri Conference. He also trained boxers and promoted the first boxing meet in the Missouri Conference which he won. He also rapidly expanded the physical training department in his first years at Iowa State. As a result of his early successes, he was promoted to head wrestling coach in 1924 and held that position until his death in 1953. He was also promoted to associate professor in 1926.
His overall record in wrestling from 1924 to 1953 was 159 wins, 66 losses, and 5 ties in dual meet competition. His wrestling team won conference championships five times, in 1929, 1933, 1937, 1941, and 1947 and a total of seven Big Eight Conference titles. The team also enjoyed five unbeaten seasons, and there were eight years in which the team lost only one meet. In the 1925-26 season, the team won over Navy 19-8, and in 1931, they beat Army with a lopsided score of 34-0. Iowa State won 8 out of 10 meets against the University of Iowa over the years.
Otopalik also coached the Iowa State Men's Golf Team in the 1930s and early 1940s. In 1939, he served as the tournament director at the first NCAA golf championship held at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines. He also served as the first chairman of the NCAA Golf Committee. Otopalik led the 1940 team to the Big Six Championship and seventh place at the national meet.
Otopalik was active in wrestling and other sports associations. He was active in the Iowa Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation from its inception in 1921 until his death and was the first secretary of the National Wrestling Coaches Association from 1932 to 1936. He helped form the first NCAA wrestling championship held in Ames in 1928 and mentored champion wrestlers during his career including Arthur Holding, Robert Hess, Merrill Frevert, George Martin, and Glen Brand. In 1932 he was the head coach for the Olympics Wrestling team in Los Angeles in which the team won three gold medals and two silver medals. In 1948, he served on the Olympic committee. He served as chairman of the National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) from 1948 to 1953. He also represented the AAU on the International Wrestling Federation. He was very active in the Iowa A AU and also served as vice president. He was elected vice president of the Federation in Helsinki, Finland at their meeting during the 1952 Olympics. In addition, he was secretary for the Pan American Games Wrestling Committee.
Otopalik communicated with alumni and his wrestlers about many beneficial aspects of physical training. In 1922, just a year after coming to Iowa State, he wrote a detailed article for The Alumnus of Iowa State about physical efficiency tests to show how an expanded program would benefit Iowa State students. He covered track events, gymnastics, aquatics, football, basketball, wrestling, boxing, and handball. In 1942, just after America's entry in World War II, he wrote an essay on why amateur wrestling should be taught in public schools and appealed to the public war effort by writing, “Learn to wrestle for health's sake and keep fit to fight for America.” He also wrote out a detailed memo to his wrestlers emphasizing wrestling fundamentals, mastery of six phases of wrestling, and his philosophy of wrestling as part of the war effort.
During World War II, Otopalik tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the armed forces, but when he was turned down, he joined the Red Cross, was selected as a director of the European Red Cross, and also managed a number of Red Cross clubs in the London area. In addition, he worked as a volunteer counselor and wrote thousands of letters to parents back home after seeing and talking with their sons stationed in Europe.
Otopalik received high honors for his work at Iowa State. He was posthumously elected as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1976 and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. He was inducted into the Iowa State Cyclones Hall of Fame in 2006.
Otopalik was a member of the Congregational Church and the American Legion. He married Edith Lovejoy Brown in 1921. They had been classmates at the University of Nebraska, and Edith headed women's physical education at Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney at the same time Hugo coached football and basketball. They had two children; a son, Hugo Brown Otopalik and a daughter, Mary Jean Otopalik. Both children graduated from Iowa State, Hugo in 1946 and Mary Jean in 1948. Hugo Jr. became a orthodontist.
Hugo Medford Otopalik died suddenly of a heart attack at his home on July 10, 1953. He was interred in Ames Municipal Cemetery.
A major source of information on the life and career of Otto Medford Otopalik was found in the Department of Athletic Coaches and Trainers RS 24/3/1, Box 6, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University. It included two articles in The Alumnus of Iowa State; Hugo Otopalik, “Physical Efficiency Tests Conducted by Physical Training Department,” Volume 17, Number 5, February, 1922, pp. 132-135; and Harry G. Burrell, “Wrestling Coach One of Nation's Great,” Volume 45, Number 6, January, 1950, p. 112. There is also a short article on Otopalik in the 1924 Bomb, p. 198 on the auspicious beginning of his career at Iowa State. There are also news clippings, a memorial tribute, a detailed article about his selection for the Iowa State Hall of Fame in 2006, and obituaries for his wife, Edith, and son, H. Brown Otopalik.
Family information, photos, U. S. Censuses of 1900, 1910, and 1930, the 1925 Iowa Census, and his WWI and WWII draft registration cards were found at ancestryinstitution.com.
Interment information was found at findagrave.com.