NCAA 75th Anniversary Team: Did the best men win?

We Americans cherish our right to vote.

When asked, we will jump at the chance to cast our ballot, whether it's for President of the United States, or our favorite on American Idol. We'll endure long lines at the polling station or put up with repeated busy signals on the phone just to be sure we can make a choice … and make our voices heard.

More and more organizations are realizing the power of participatory democracy, including the NCAA. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of their first collegiate wrestling championship, the NCAA and the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) decided to name a team of all-time college wrestling greats.

Power to the People

Once upon a time, the members of the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team would have been determined by an elite group of experts -- wrestling journalists, historians and coaches -- then the wrestling community would have commented on their choices after the fact. However, in the interests of giving the wrestling community an actual voice in the matter, the NCAA opened up the voting to anyone who had online access.

To make things easier for voters -- and not leave the experts out of the equation -- a panel of wrestling historians started with the thousands of wrestlers who have competed at the college level since 1928 (the first year of the NCAA championships). The experts came up with a list of 45 wrestlers, fifteen in each of three weight-based categories -- lightweight (115-141 pounds) … middleweight (142-172 pounds) … and heavyweight (177 pounds and up). (See sidebar for complete list of nominees.) Then they posted this ballot of potential NCAA 75th Anniversary Team honorees online, and invited the wrestling community to choose five names from each weight category. Once the online polls closed, the votes would be counted, and the five top vote-getters in each weight category would be honored at a special ceremony at the 2005 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis.

And The Winners Are…

Dan Hodge, who won three NCAA titles for Oklahoma, is the only amateur wrestler ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
At an afternoon ceremony held outdoors on a blustery day under the vast former train sheds at the historic Union Station in downtown St. Louis, the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team members were introduced one-at-a-time to the assembled crowd in the three weight-based categories.

The honorees in the lightweight class (listed here in alphabetical order) include Stephen Abas, Tom Brands, Dan Gable, John Smith and Yojiro Uetake. Among the middleweight members of the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team: Lee Kemp, Lincoln McIlravy, Wade Schalles, Pat Smith and Joe Williams. The heavyweight (upper-weight) honorees include Kurt Angle, Ed Banach, Carlton Haselrig, Dan Hodge and Cael Sanderson.

A Difference of Opinion

Once the nominees were introduced, I had two questions:

1. Were they selected strictly on the basis of their college careers?
2. Why is the list so light on "old-time" wrestlers?

Let's take a look at each question.

1. College accomplishments … or lifetime achievement?

In an online article introducing the 45 nominees (see sidebar for complete list) posted in January, the opening text said, "Please know that nominations are selected on NCAA performance only."

Cael Sanderson finished his career at Iowa State with four NCAA titles and a 159-0 record.
As a life-long wrestling fan and long-time professional writer/editor, I read that sentence to say, "We wrestling historians only looked at their college records. We ignored their post-college accomplishments whatever they may be. As a voter, you wrestling fans should NOT consider a candidate's freestyle or Greco-Roman achievements, Olympic medals, coaching records, stardom from professional sports or sports entertainment, service to the sport of wrestling, or any other stuff after college."

It's possible that other wrestling fans read that sentence to say, "The experts may have selected the 45 nominees based on college performance … but that doesn't mean I have to restrict myself to that same criteria." In other words, the voters may have made the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team honors more of a "lifetime achievement" award than an award to honor excellence on the college mats.

2. Why a lack of "old-time" wrestlers?

Look at the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team, and you'll notice something missing: No nominees who wrestled before the mid 1950s. In fact, there are only three wrestlers -- Hodge, Uetake and Gable -- whose college careers predate 1970.

Yojiro Uetake won three NCAA titles (1964-1966) and compiled a 57-0 record while at Oklahoma State.
Some fans might argue, "I voted only for guys I've seen in action." Still others might make a case that, thanks to better training and nutrition -- or in terms of number of matches wrestled in a college career -- today's wrestlers are superior. However, if you were putting together a list of "most significant automobiles of all time" would you leave off the Model T, the Volkswagen Beetle and the original Ford Mustang simply because they're not as sophisticated as today's models?

A Second Look at the Overlooked

When I cast my votes for the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team in early 2005, I had a list of "must-includes" -- guys who were so dominant in college and/or whose accomplishments were so historically significant, they could not be ignored, including (but not limited to) Dan Gable, Carlton Haselrig, Dan Hodge, Cael Sanderson, John Smith, Pat Smith and Yojiro Uetake.

This is NOT to say that the others who made the team are not worthy; far from it. However, I would ask that you take a look at some other all-time greats who for some reason did not earn NCAA 75th Anniversary Team honors:

  • Earl McCready: Historically significant as the very first three-time NCAA champ in any weight class (1928-30), Oklahoma State heavyweight McCready had a perfect career in Stillwater, winning all but three of his matches by pin -- still the highest percentage of wins by pin of any heavyweight. In the 1928 finals, the big Cowboy pinned his opponent in 19 seconds -- still an NCAA record as fastest pin in a championship bout.
    Earl McCready, a heavyweight for Oklahoma State, was the first three-time NCAA champion in any weight class (1928-30).

  • The Peerys: It may be bending the rules to list a family of wrestlers, but, this father-son-son combination is worthy of consideration for their nine total college titles -- a record unmatched by any other family. Father Rex Peery won three NCAA titles at 115 pounds at Oklahoma State 1933-35. Elder son Hugh Peery (who was not on the 75th Anniversary ballot) earned his three championships at 115 pounds while wrestling for his dad at Pittsburgh 1952-1954, compiling a 57-1 record (including a 48-match winning streak); second son Ed (born while Rex was about to win his third title) also won three NCAA titles for Pitt in the 123-pound class 1955-1957, losing just one of 52 college bouts.

  • Stan Henson: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Web site says of this Distinguished Member, "In the never-ending debate over who has been America's greatest wrestler, the name Stanley Henson always receives plenty of support." This three-time NCAA champ for Oklahoma State (145 pounds in 1937 and '38, 155 pounds in 1939) had only one loss his entire college career, and was the first sophomore to earn NCAA Outstanding Wrestler honors (1937). Named Amateur Wrestling News Wrestler of the Decade for the 1930s.

  • Bill Koll: Some present-day fans may be familiar with Koll's rough, tough image; reportedly the "slam" rule was instituted because of him. While wrestling at what is now Northern Iowa, Koll earned three college titles (1946-47 at 145 lbs; 1948 at 147.5 lbs) and Outstanding Wrestler honors two years in a row (the first to do so). Even more impressive than Koll's perfect 72-0 record: in his entire college career, he was taken down only once, reversed just twice … and pinned all five opponents at the 1948 NCAAs.

  • Dick Hutton: Long before Pat Smith and Cael Sanderson were even born, this barrel-chested heavyweight for Oklahoma State came incredibly close to becoming the first four-time NCAA champion. After winning two straight college titles in 1947 and 1948, Hutton lost on a referee's decision to Minnesota's Verne Gagne in the 1949 NCAA finals -- his only loss in his college career. He came back to win his third title in 1950, concluding with a 42-1-1 record with 15 pins.

  • Chris Taylor: Some fans may only know Chris Taylor for his size. Although he only wrestled two years at Iowa State, the surprisingly agile 415-pound Cyclone dominated the heavyweight ranks in his day … winning the title in 1972 and 1973 without surrendering a point in either finals match. While at Ames, Taylor had a perfect 87-0 record, pinning 42 of 48 opponents his senior year.

    Perhaps we'll give these "overlooked" wrestlers a second look when we cast our votes for the NCAA 100th Anniversary Team in 2027!

    Nominees for the NCAA 75th Anniversary Team:

    *Bold indicates Team member

    Lightweights -- 115-141 pounds:

    Stephen Abas, Fresno State
    Dave Auble, Cornell
    Tom Brands, Iowa
    Mike Caruso, Lehigh
    Dan Gable, Iowa State
    Dwayne Keller, Oklahoma State
    Randy Lewis, Iowa
    Gene Mills, Syracuse
    Rex Peery, Oklahoma State
    Ed Peery, Pittsburgh
    Myron Roderick, Oklahoma State
    Rick Sanders, Portland State
    John Smith, Oklahoma State
    Yojiro Uetake, Oklahoma State

    Middleweights -- 142-172 pounds:

    Darryl Burley, Lehigh
    Nate Carr, Iowa State
    Mark Churella, Michigan
    Tommy Evans, Oklahoma
    Stan Henson, Oklahoma State
    Lee Kemp, Wisconsin
    Cary Kolat, Penn State/Lock Haven
    Bill Koll, Northern Iowa
    Tim Kreiger, Iowa State
    Wayne Martin, Oklahoma
    Lincoln McIlravy, Iowa
    Bill Nelson, Northern Iowa
    Wade Schalles, Clarion
    Pat Smith, Oklahoma State
    Joe Williams, Iowa
    Jim Zalesky, Iowa

    Heavyweights -- 177 pounds and up:

    Kurt Angle, Clarion
    Ed Banach, Iowa
    Chris Campbell, Iowa
    Dick DiBattista, Penn
    Carlton Haselrig, Pitt-Johnstown
    Dan Hodge, Oklahoma
    Dick Hutton, Oklahoma State
    Jess Lewis, Oregon State
    Mark Lieberman, Lehigh
    Earl McCready, Oklahoma State
    Stephen Neal, Cal State Bakersfield
    Ben Peterson, Iowa State
    Cael Sanderson, Iowa State
    Mark Schultz, UCLA and Oklahoma
    Greg Strobel, Oregon State
    Chris Taylor, Iowa State
  • Comments

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    jkwjr52 (1) about 6 years ago
    Mark Schultz beat Ed Banach and Banach moved up a weight the next year! Also Greg Johnson of Mich. St.
    Arline (1) about 5 years ago
    75th Anniversary is there to help you understand I think that people need to understand something about it.
    Arline (1) about 5 years ago
    jacketsy (1) about 4 years ago
    It forms a dense tomb group and is a national key cultural relics protection unit. The locals said that there are seventy-two hills in Liuqu Mountain.