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Eastern Oregon University to bring back wrestling program

Wrestling is returning to Eastern Oregon University for the first time since the late 1970s.

The only four-year state university in the eastern portion of Oregon will announce Monday that it is bringing back its long-dormant intercollegiate wrestling program, thanks to a $300,000 allocation from the Oregon State Legislature.

The good news came this weekend from a press release from the politician who has been working on the issue, as well as local media reports. Eastern Oregon University will make the news official in a ceremony Monday, Jan. 11 at the school's Quinn Coliseum.

During the 2015 Legislative Session, Rep. Greg Smith worked with leadership and a group called Restore College Wrestling to find funding to resurrect the wrestling program at Eastern Oregon University. Smith serves as Co-Vice Chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee and is a member of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction, which helps appropriate resources throughout the state.

"Eastern Oregon is home to many wrestling champions both on individual and team levels," said Smith, who was a wrestler himself and has a son Ryan who is a two-time Oregon state wrestling champ for Heppner High School. "EOU is unable to attract these athletes who desire to continue wrestling in college. I believe wrestling will give EOU another tool for recruitment and help keep our youth in Eastern Oregon."

"Representative Greg Smith has been a pivotal person in the effort to restart competitive wrestling at EOU," said Dr. Mike Clock, Chair of the Restore College Wrestling Oregon Committee. "Over the past seventeen years, teams from east of the Cascades have won almost 55% of the team titles. Since the late '70s, there have been no geographically convenient opportunities for those young individuals to compete at the college level in Oregon."

High school wrestling coaches from the region are excited about the return of the Mountaineer mat program for the opportunities it will provide for local athletes, and in how it can help grow the sport.

"Eastern Oregon University's decision to create a college wrestling program is a phenomenal opportunity for our kids, and will help them stay in our communities and strengthen local programs," said Hermiston head wrestling coach Kyle Larson.

Riverside coach Richard Rockwell said, "I feel with the reinstatement of wrestling at Eastern Oregon University, this will further strengthen regional programs and give more Oregonians access to competing in the sport they love. Eastern Oregon high school wrestlers have needed a college wrestling program for years. With its long history of solid individuals and teams at the high school level, I have no doubt EOU will be competitive in no time."

With the reinstatement of the wrestling program, EOU will now have 12 full-fledged athletic programs competing in NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).

Founded in 1929, Eastern Oregon University opened as Eastern Oregon Normal School, a teachers college. The four-year school has approximately 1,650 students at its La Grande campus, located between Portland, Ore. and Boise, Idaho off I-84.

Update Monday, Jan. 11: When Eastern Oregon made the official announcement today, there was a nice surprise: a women's intercollegiate wrestling program is also being added. Both will take to the mat in fall 2016.

Kurt Davis of Restore College Wrestling commended the new programs, saying,
"I don't think you guys realize just how huge this is... Women's wrestling is the fastest growing women's sport in the country right now, and you guys are on the ground floor."

In addition to the $300,000 startup funding from the Oregon Legislature, EOU has received $200,000 in private donations, according to the school's president, Tom Insko. Insko said the programs have been forecasted over a 10-year period and indicate "positive cash flow from Day 1."

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