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The Multifaceted Journey of Jack Azar: From World Champion Wrestler to War Reporter and Harvard Coach

In the era predating Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, wrestlers captivated audiences throughout the United States. These were not staged performances with melodramatic storylines but genuine displays of athletic prowess.

Competitive wrestling enjoyed immense popularity in the early 20th century, with men from immigrant backgrounds showcasing fighting techniques from their native lands to mesmerize spectators. The sport’s popularity soared to the extent that it rivaled baseball during the 1920s.

One such wrestling luminary hailed from Lebanon County.

Jack Ozar, a product of Polish heritage born in Nebraska, found his way to Pennsylvania at the age of 10, where he toiled in the mines. Orphaned by 14, Ozar embarked on a journey to self-sufficiency, trying his hand as a Merchant Marines sailor, a strongman in carnivals, and ultimately, a professional wrestler.

Throughout his illustrious athletic tenure, Ozar drew throngs of enthusiastic fans to his matches. Holding the world middleweight championship, he swiftly rose to local fame. A 1918 article in the Daily News attested to his popularity:

Prior to the final bout, Jack was ushered into the ring, greeted by a resounding applause that reverberated throughout the venue. Even before the formal introduction, Jack was already recognized by a group of friends from Lebanon, drawing considerable attention. His subsequent reception as a distinguished ring celebrity was a testament to his standing in the community.

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Challengers queued up repeatedly, eager to strip Ozar of his middleweight title, only to be thwarted time and again. In a memorable showdown, the “Masked Marvel,” a renowned heavyweight wrestler, agreed to face Ozar in a handicap match in New York City. Touted as “the greatest sporting event staged in this city since wrestling matches have been introduced here,” the match saw Mort Henderson, wrestling incognito as the “Masked Marvel,” vowing to pin Ozar within an hour or concede defeat. However, Lebanon’s champion emerged victorious, proving his mettle once more.

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On the same grand stage at New York’s Academy of Music, other heavyweight contenders attempted to dethrone Ozar, only to meet repeated defeat.

In a notable encounter, Ozar faced off against Tom Draak, known as the “Holland Dutchman,” once again confronting a heavier adversary. Ozar’s strength prevailed as he effortlessly tossed Draak over his shoulder, causing him to suffer a broken shoulder.

Ozar also crossed paths with other wrestling luminaries such as Pinkie Gardner and Joe Turner, enthralling audiences nationwide. Despite his global acclaim, he remained a cherished figure in his hometown, with his jewel-adorned championship belt proudly exhibited in a Lebanon jewelry store upon his triumphant return.

According to reports, Ozar served as an inspiration to Lebanon’s youth, motivating several budding athletes to pursue wrestling.

In addition to his athletic prowess, Ozar excelled in diverse roles. Apart from his position as a physical instructor with the Pennsylvania Mounted State Police, he ventured into writing, becoming a novelist and an international news correspondent. His journalistic acumen shone during World War II when he accurately predicted Germany’s invasion of the Scandinavian region as early as 1937, following interviews with Nazi General Hermann Göring and other confidential sources. Remarkably, Ozar achieved these feats despite learning to read and write at the age of 26.

Before ascending to wrestling stardom, Ozar showcased his skills on the football field for Lebanon Valley College. Post-retirement from wrestling, he transitioned into coaching roles at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University.

Throughout his multifaceted journey, Ozar remained modest about his achievements.

“Jack Ozar was somewhat enigmatic to many, as he maintained a reserved demeanor and had few, if any, local confidantes. However, there are no records of any negative remarks about him during his time in Lebanon or thereafter,” reflected Lebanon Daily News sports writer Tiny Parry in 1951. Parry preferred to remember Ozar as the wrestling champion and the unassuming individual he had known over the years.