KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Former Montana Western head wrestling coach T.J. Nelson has been inducted into the NAIA hall of fame. The announcement came during the NAIA’s annual national awards day earlier this month.
Nelson guided the Bulldogs’ wrestling program from 1987 to 1996, capturing the 1994 national championship. Western’s 94.5 points tied Southern Oregon during the NAIA championships in Butte.
Nelson was instrumental in bringing those NAIA wrestling championships to Montana, serving on the national championship committee from 1991 to 1994. He was also a member of the NAIA’s national seeding committee for five seasons.
During his tenure in Dillon, Nelson led eight wrestlers to individual national titles: Micky Cheff twice, Travis Williams, Troy Humphrey, Jaime Kamberling, Troy Lake, Shawn Fossen, Larry Garrison and Rich Vasquez. Fossen, Garrison and Vasquez earned their titles in 1994, leading the Bulldogs to the team championship.
Thirty-six student-athletes were named NAIA all-Americans under Nelson’s tutelage. Three more were named academic all-American. Nelson was named the District 12 and NAIA national coach of the year in 1994, six years after he was honored as the rookie coach of the year by the Wrestling News publication.
Besides the 1994 national title, Nelson helped UM Western capture three third-place finishes (1990, 1991, 1992) and a fourth-place finish (1989). The Bulldogs won two District 12 championships during Nelson’s 10 years as head coach.
Montana Western inducted Nelson into its hall of fame in 2005. A native of Whitehall, he was inducted into the Trojans’ hall of fame this year. His induction into the NAIA hall of fame comes one year after former MSU-Northern wrestlers Turk Lords and Emmett Willson, along with coach David Ray, were also given the honor by the NAIA.
MSU-Northern athletic trainer Nichole Borst was also honored at the national awards day, earning NAIA athletic trainer of the year.