The last time that the NCAA wrestling tournament was not held was 1943, 1944 and 1945 because of World War II.
Here is a look at that time period from The History of Collegiate Wrestling – A Century of Wrestling Excellence.
1943 – 1945
By the start of the 1943 season, the United States was on a full war footing, and collegiate athletics had been severely curtailed. Nonessential travel was restricted, and enrollments declined sharply as college-age men enlisted in the military. The NCAA cancelled its wrestling championship tournament for the duration beginning in 1943.
Most schools outside of the EIWA 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. Josh Henson, younger brother of three-time NCAA champion Stan Henson of Oklahoma State, and Malcolm McDonald were notable additions to the lineup at the Naval Academy. McDonald, an NCAA runner-up in 1942, transferred from Purdue.
The Big Ten continued its tournament throughout the war, with all three tournaments held at Northwestern, close to the transportation center of Chicago. No school dominated the period, with Indiana, Michigan, and Purdue capturing the team titles. Future two-time NCAA champion Verne Gagne of Minnesota won his first of four Big Ten titles in 1944 before entering the military.
The EIWA tournament was dominated by Navy and Army during the war years. The Middies won the team title all three years, and Army finished second in 1944 and 1945. Navy crowned five champions in 1943, the most by any school since Penn State crowned six in 1918. Charley Ridenour of Penn State and Dick DiBatista of Pennsylvania captured their third EIWA titles in 1943, and DiBatista was named Outstanding Wrestler. Malcolm McDonald of Navy won individual EIWA titles all three years at 121 pounds and was named Outstanding Wrestler of the 1944 tournament. Josh Henson won a pair of crowns for Navy at 145 pounds.
Four wrestlers had an opportunity to become a three-time NCAA champ in 1943 and were unable to when the tournament was cancelled. 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. As mentioned above, 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.
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