Dick DiBatista won his third EIWA title in 1943 (Photo/National Wrestling Hall of Fame)
When it was announced last week that the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships for Divisions I, II and III had been canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19), the news was so startling, many in the wrestling community figured that this had to be the first time ever.
Actually, in nearly a century of NCAA Wrestling Championships going back to the first in 1928, the Nationals were not held from 1943 through 1945 because of World War II.
To help the wrestling community of today understand what happened to the NCAAs nearly 80 years ago, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. recently shared excerpts about this era from "The History of Collegiate Wrestling" by late amateur wrestling historian Jay Hammond, along with numerous contributors respected within the wrestling community.
"The United States entered World War II shortly before the start of the 1942 collegiate wrestling season," according to Hammond's book. "While the war would cause major disruptions in collegiate athletics, the full effect would not hit wrestling until the 1943. Some schools, such as Oklahoma, terminated their program for the duration, but most competed in 1942 ..."
"Most schools outside of the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) and Big Ten discontinued their wrestling programs with the 1943 season. Oklahoma State would not field a team again until the 1946 season. Army and Navy were two schools that did not suffer during the war. A number of outstanding high school wrestlers from Oklahoma enrolled at the military academies ..."
One aspect that will resonate with fans today: wrestlers in the early 1940s who were denied the opportunity to complete their collegiate careers with another NCAA title in 1943.
"Four wrestlers had an opportunity to become a three-time NCAA champ in 1943 and were unable to when the tournament was canceled," according to Hammond's book. "Michigan State continued its program in 1943, and Merle and Burl Jennings completed their careers that season. Merle finished his career with a 37-1-0 record and 22 falls. His only loss, which he avenged at the 1941 NCAA tournament, was by a 4-1 count to Calvin Mehlhorn of Oklahoma State in a dual meet ... Dick DiBatista won a third EIWA title in 1943, and he completed his career undefeated at 37-0-0. David "Buddy" Arndt of Oklahoma State did not compete in 1943 because the Cowboys had discontinued wrestling. Arndt returned after the war and won his third NCAA title in 1946."
"History of Collegiate Wrestling" is a great addition to the collection of every college wrestling fan by allowing readers to experience and relive the glory of college wrestling through stunning photographs and timeless stories.
Wrestling fans can purchase Jay Hammond's "History of Collegiate Wrestling" -- which includes the 381-page original hardback copy plus a 111-page addendum for 2006 to 2019 -- for only $29.95 with free shipping. To order, click here.