By Mark Palmer
For more than a half-century, the NWCA All-Star Classic has been an annual event on the college wrestling calendar going back to 1967. Until this year.
Last month, the National Wrestling Coaches Association announced that the 2019 All-Star event would not take place this fall.
Here’s how the NWCA announcement described the event: “Typically serving as the kick-off to the collegiate season, The All-Star Classic has matched up numerous national champions and All-Americans through the years, including many No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups.”
Why no NWCA All-Star Classic this fall?
Here’s the explanation provided by Mike Moyer, NWCA Executive Director:
“On behalf of the NWCA Board of Directors, I wanted to let you know that we have decided to suspend the NWCA All-Star Classic for the 2019/20 year. Over the past 6 months, we have received some terrific ideas and concepts from our constituents on how we can ‘revitalize’ the All-Star Classic to meet the unique needs of our college wrestlers, coaches, and fans. Some of the proposed ideas and concepts required some extensive vetting which has made it impractical to still host the All-Star Classic this Fall…”
InterMat thought the time was right to take a look back at the very first NWCA All-Star event — the 1967 East-West Classic — which took place in early April of that year.
Not always the kickoff for the college wrestling season
Although the All-Star event has been a fixture of college wrestling since 1967, it hasn’t always been the season-opening event. In fact, the NWCA All-Star Classic has been the kickoff event for only a decade-and-a-half … going back to 2005, when the event made its first appearance at the beginning of the collegiate season when held at the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in metropolitan St. Louis. In the early years — 1967 through 1971 — the All-Stars had been the capstone event of the college wrestling season, taking place a week or two after the conclusion of the NCAA wrestling championships. For just over three decades — from 1972 through 2004 — the All-Star Classic took place pretty much in mid-season … sometime from late January up to March, before the NCAAs.
An East-West format
For two decades — 1967 through 1987 — the All-Star Classic used an East vs. West format, with individual wrestlers placed on either an East or West team. (In 1967, the wrestlers were assigned to the East or West team based on the geographic location of the college for which they wrestle.) The event was organized and scored like a regular college dual meet.
At the 1967 East-West Classic, each team had two legendary college wrestling coaches. The East team was led by Cliff Keen of the University of Michigan, and Lehigh’s Gerry Leeman … while coaching the West team were Oklahoma State’s Myron Roderick and Harold Nichols of Iowa State.
Referee for the 1967 East-West Classic was Rex Edgar. A decade earlier, Edgar had wrestled for the University of Oklahoma, winning a Big Seven title and NCAA All-American honors, placing third in the 167-pound bracket at the 1957 NCAAs. (Fun fact: Edgar had been a high school and college teammate of the legendary Dan Hodge, three-time NCAA champ at 177 pounds, whose name graces the Hodge Trophy, the annual award presented to the top college wrestler in the nation by WIN Magazine.)
The world in 1967: On the mat …
The 1967 East-West Classic was held Saturday, April 8 at Gallagher Hall (now Gallagher-Iba Arena) at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. A near-capacity crowd of 6,700 fans gathered to see the top college wrestlers of the era do battle. (Note: the building was substantially expanded and upgraded in 2000.)
The event was conducted under the collegiate rules in effect in 1967. New that year: a match format of three periods, the first lasting two minutes, followed by two periods of three minutes each, for a total of eight minutes (the year before, bouts lasted nine minutes total, consisting of three, three-minute periods). Wrestlers were required to wear the gear of the era — a three-piece uniform consisting of sleeveless shirt, trunks, and tights. Headgear was required. (Today’s singlets would not be permitted until the mid-1970s; the shirtless look of college legends such as Dan Hodge of Oklahoma had been outlawed in the early 1960s.)
True to the college wrestling rules at the time, at the 1967 East-West Classic had eleven individual weight classes — 115, 123, 130, 137, 145, 152, 160, 167, 177, 191 pounds and heavyweight — the same number as at tournaments such as the NCAA championships, and two more than typical college dual meets (which did not normally have 115 and 191 bouts).
Note that 50+ years ago, the heavyweight weight class was called “unlimited” because there was no top weight limit. That came along in the mid-1980s; today’s upper limit is 285 pounds. Prior to setting an upper weight limit, there were a handful of NCAA champs who tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds.