Wrestling, dedication and the Thunderduck spirit all exude from Bill Neal, who was recently named Southwest Conference Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA). Neal has been with Richland since the school’s inception in 1972.
For 45 years, Neal has taught fitness, weight training and health education classes, but what he’s most famous for is wrestling. His thorough knowledge of the sport and his many accomplishments have earned him numerous awards and a place in the Texas Wrestling Association Hall of Fame.
This season, when the wrestling program was resurrected with men’s and women’s teams, the Thunderducks finished as the runner-up in the Southwest Conference and three of the men became All-Americans.
When asked about the honor, Neal said, “I received Coach of the Year because we’re a first-year program and we dominated the state realistically. To me when I got the award it was like a ‘booby prize.”
Neal’s comment refers to a conversation with University of North Texas wrestling coach Andre Metzger. Neal said, “I took the No. 1 team and didn’t win it. You [Metzger]took the No. 2 team and won [the Southwest Conference title]. You’re the coach of the year.” Metzger replied, “No, you made us better. We came down there [to Richland] and you kicked our butts and it made our kids better.”
Richland is the hub of wrestling in Dallas-Fort Worth and the first and only two-year wrestling program in the Southwest. Neal himself was happy that the program returned, giving young men and women the opportunity to wrestle and save money by not jumping to a four-year school.
Neal coached Richland’s wrestling team to seven state championships and two runner-ups during Richland’s first run in the 1970s and 1980s. He also coached at the Olympic Training Center, three National Sports Festivals and five World Tournaments. Richland hosted teams from Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, and Japan. Even the U.S. National team practiced at Richland en route to the Pan-Am Games in 1980.
Neal was also featured as an adviser and referee for a wrestling scene in late 1980s movie shot in Dallas, “Born on the Fourth of July,” starring Tom Cruise and directed by Oliver Stone.
The Richland community and the sports world is always curious about the origin of the Thunderduck name. According to Neal, Richland’s colors were always puce (purple) and avocado green but its sports teams had different team names. That all changed in the mid-1980s when the “Thunderduck” became the mascot of Neal’s original wrestling team and later became the official school mascot.
Although Richland fell short of the SWC and the Nationals, next year’s team will be even stronger. Neal said, “It’s all a learning process. We try to teach lifelong skills in the program and many former athletes have come back and thanked me for teaching them how to be successful in life as well.”
Neal opened doors for young men and women and urged them all to excel to a higher standard.
We tip our hats to Coach Neal for his outstanding work in the community and the nation. He is synonymous with our school’s history and the Thunderducks will forever be the symbol of Richland College.