When he wasn’t trying to turn around the lives of troubled youth in Las Vegas, Jerry Wager was growing the sport of amateur wrestling in the community.
Wager, a former collegiate wrestler who lived in Las Vegas from the early 1960s until last year, died Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 76.
During his time in Las Vegas, Wager worked as a probation officer in the juvenile court system. He spent 35 years in that capacity, and while he worked in the courts, he started a wrestling program at the local YMCA where his teams competed nationally during the 1970s.
“Two things about Jerry stand out,” said Pat Christenson, the president of Las Vegas Events and a former wrestler and coach. “He was committed to wrestling from the time he started until the time he died. Two, he was committed to wrestling in Southern Nevada. He was supportive of everything to help grown the sport here.”
Wager and his wife, Sheila, helped support bringing national tournaments to Las Vegas and participated in working as officials. “Jerry and his wife became internationally known officials,” Christenson said. “Everyone in the world of wrestling knew them.”
A 2007 inductee into the Nevada Wrestling Hall of Fame and a 2008 National Wrestling Hall of fame inductee, Wager officiated as well as coached, working freestyle and Greco-Roman. He coached the U.S. to the 1987 Greco-Roman world championship, the first time the U.S. won that event.
As an official, he worked the Pan American and European championships and had an opportunity to participate in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. However, according to his wife, he honored the USA’s boycott, saying: “If the wrestlers can’t go, why should I go? The games are for them; they are not for me.”
Wager was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis last year and moved back to the Midwest in May to be closer to his family. He had an operation and, after struggling to recover, spent a week in hospice care in Michigan before his death.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the national Wrestling Hall of Fame, 405 W. Hall of Fame Ave., Stillwater, OK 74075.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.