FREELAND, Mich. – After a 35-year hiatus, wrestling will resume as a sponsored sport by the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association for the 2018-19 academic year.
The MIAA Presidents Council voted in favor of adding wrestling during their December 5, 2017 meeting.
"The MIAA is excited to reinstate wrestling as a sponsored sport," MIAA Commissioner Penny Allen-Cook said. "This opportunity allows our member institutions to provide a championship experience for student-athletes currently competing at the intercollegiate level. It is a priority for the MIAA to foster the Division III experience on our member campuses, and adding wrestling will allow us to do so. We are thrilled to be able to celebrate the successes of over 100 student-athletes both on the mat and in the classroom."
Currently, four MIAA schools sponsor wrestling: Adrian, Alma, Olivet, and Trine. Of the four, Olivet is the lone institution that has continually sponsored wrestling and has not dropped the program since first offering the sport for the 1964-65 campaign. Adrian's first season was in 1959, with the program halting in 1984 before resuming for the 2015-16 academic year. Alma first sponsored wrestling in 1969 before discontinuing in 1984; the Scots resumed for the 2011-12 season. Trine has offered wrestling since the 2004-05 academic year.
Originally added as an MIAA-sponsored sport for the 1968-69 academic year, wrestling was dropped by the conference in 1984. During the sport's 16-year span in the MIAA, the conference awarded 17 league titles (Kalamazoo and Olivet were co-champions in 1980) and honored 18 wrestlers as MVPs. The MIAA also awarded 160 All-MIAA awards, with six student-athletes earning All-MIAA accolades four times.
On the national level, Olivet's Dan Pantaleo was an NCAA National Champion at 142 pounds during the 1984 Championships, aiding in Olivet's ninth-place finish; that team effort ranks best all-time in MIAA history. Hope's Keith Devries was named an Academic All-American in the at-large group in 1984.
The MIAA reinstating sponsorship of wrestling mirrors a trend over the past six years of the increase of NCAA Division III institutions sponsoring wrestling. In 2011-12, while only 87 NCAA Division III programs sponsored wrestling, 2,432 individuals participated in the sport - an average of 28.0 student-athletes per program. As of 2016-17 numbers, 101 NCAA Division III institutions now sponsor wrestling, with student-athlete participation at 2,759; an average of 27.3 per squad. (1)
Both the total of institutions offering wrestling and number of student-athletes participating at the NCAA Division III level have steadily increased since 2011-12. (1)
The addition of wrestling gives the MIAA 23 sponsored sports - 12 for men, 11 for women.
Quotes from head coaches of MIAA institutions' wrestling programs:
Bill Schindel, Adrian: "This is awesome for our conference and the sport of wresting. Michigan has a rich tradition of high school wrestling and this will provide these young men more opportunities to compete at a higher level. This is also very exciting for the athletes to be able to win academic and athletic awards making the student-athlete experience much greater."
Jeremiah Tobias, Alma: "I am excited that the MIAA is sponsoring wrestling as a varsity sport. The MIAA was historically a strong wrestling league. We are hoping that more MIAA schools add wrestling to continue boosting the conference."
Brandon Brissette, Olivet: "This is an exciting moment for our league and our student-athletes! As the only institution in the MIAA to continuously sponsor men's wrestling over the last 54 years, it has always been our hope and a goal we would see the sport re-emerge in the conference. This announcement verifies the health and growth of wrestling we have seen over the last decade in the youth, high school and college ranks. We are proud to stand with the fellow programs of the MIAA and declare Wrestling is back!"
Dan Callahan, Trine: "I am excited to have wrestling recognized by the MIAA. The sport is growing rapidly at the NCAA DIII level and it will be an honor to represent the MIAA in future years. I also think that the MIAA will be proud of our athletes and their accomplishments."
(1) - information provided by NCAA.