Derr reflects on a lifetime of wrestling

Yaneek Smith

Press Contributing Writer

The camaraderie is what has drawn Donald Derr to wrestling for decades.
It’s also a connection to the sport he had with his father, Jim; his mother, Betty; his brothers Jim II and Michael and his sons, Danny, Mike and Tyler, as well as other officials, coaches, wrestlers and fans.
Derr has worked as a wrestling official for the last 27 years, a run that has seen him officiate with Danny and Mike.
“Parents, wrestlers, coaches other officials — it’s like a family,” he said. “For two years, my two oldest boys and I were able to officiate together. My dad’s tournament (Northwood’s Jim Derr Wrestling Tournament) is the most prestigious in my mind for what I do. It’s a big thrill to do a tournament named after him. The whole family will go there and hang out all weekend.”
The tournament will celebrate its 61st year in December.
Danny and Michael, both of whom graduated from Waite High School, played football and baseball and wrestled for the Indians, while Tyler focused solely on wrestling in high school. Derr’s daughter, Heather, played volleyball and softball at Northwood.
Derr, who started wrestling when he was 6, grew up in Northwood and graduated from Cardinal Stretch in 1982. He started coaching, but when his children were born, he wanted to spend more time with them.
“I started coaching for 11 years with three or four different schools. I had kids, and I wanted time with them, so instead of coaching and getting home late, I checked out officiating. You can pick and choose when you want to officiate, and there’s more time at home for the family, and that way I was still engaged in the sport,” said Derr. “I made so many friends in the business with the wrestlers and their parents and the coaches, whether it was in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland and all over to different schools. They may yell at me, but after the match, 99.9% of the time, the yelling is over. Some people stay mad, but they get over it after a bit.
“I’ve officiated seven state tournaments. I don’t know how many sectional and district tournaments I’ve done,” he said.
Derr will be taking the upcoming season off because of an injury to his back.
“I just hope that I can get my body straightened out so I can get back into it. I’m hoping just to take this year off,” he said. “I’m keeping my (officiating) license. Right now, I don’t feel like I can keep up with the wrestlers. That’s why I’m taking a year off — it’s not fair to them.”
Derr said he and his brothers used to wrestle against one another in the living room.
“Our living room became a wrestling room,” he said. “My father’s wrestlers would come over for dinner and they’d hang out a lot.”
Derr says he learned some valuable lessons while competing in the sport as he got older.
“Whether we won or lost, my father would come and talk to us. If we’d get mad, we’d get mad at him, which we shouldn’t have, but we were kids,” he said. “We knew we could go to him, or he’d come back to us, and say maybe what we should’ve done and what we worked on. He was always there for us, and my mom was always in the corner of the mat yelling for us.
“He was a giant influence on how to accept losing and how to accept winning. He taught us both ways because you’re not always going to win,” he said. “It showed how proud he was of all of us with a pat on the back or a hug. He’d show us moves throughout our life and go over them and give us the best that he could.”
Jim Derr, who died 20 years ago, was a legend in the sport. A ’54 graduate of Waite, where he played football and wrestled, earned a degree from Bowling Green State University, where he also played football and wrestled. His football coach was the legendary Doyt Perry, who had a career record of 77-11-5 (.855) in 10 seasons at Bowling Green.
Following graduation, Jim spent nine years at Northwood and started the football and wrestling programs and the tournament that bears his name. In 1970, he moved on to Perrysburg where he became the head wrestling and baseball coach and an assistant football coach. His wrestling teams won two state championships in the ‘70s.
Two of Donald Derr’s sons, Danny and Tyler, are legally blind and have Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare eye disorder that causes permanent loss of vision.
Tyler, who followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and coached the Ranger wrestlers for 11 years following his time at Waite, received accolades for his time wrestling as a senior at Waite in 2009 while battling the disease.
“I’m very proud of them. What they’ve done is amazing,” Derr said. “I’m proud of all my kids.”


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