Tulsa Central Has Long List of NCAA Glory

By Jarius K. Hammond
History of Collegiate Wrestling

In the first three decades of its existence, the NCAA tournament was dominated by schools from the state of Oklahoma.

The key to the Sooner State's success was that high school wrestling started sooner in Oklahoma. Legendary Oklahoma State mentor Edward Gallagher organized the first Oklahoma high school state championship in 1922, and his former wrestlers became high school coaches throughout the state. Art Griffith was one of the first, and he started the wrestling program at Tulsa Central High School in 1926.

Tulsa Central was the largest high school in the state, with an enrollment that peaked in 1939 at 5,107. It occupied a four-story building that took up an entire city block in downtown Tulsa. Under Griffith's tutelage, the Tulsa Central Braves became a wrestling dynasty, much like the collegiate one in Stillwater. The Braves won 95 of 1OO dual meets and had 10 high school titles in 15 years before Griffith succeeded Gallagher at Oklahoma State in the fall of 1940. Rex Peery, a three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State, took over for Griffith and coached the Braves until he became the head coach at Pittsburgh in 1950.

With back-to-back Hall of Fame coaches, it is not surprising that a number of Tulsa Central alumni went on to win individual NCAA champions. What is remarkable is how many of them won titles - 16 graduates won a total of 30 titles.

Tulsa Central's total does not include the three titles won by Rex Peery's second son, Ed Peery, at Pittsburgh. The younger Peery attended Shaler High School in western Pennsylvania but declares that "90 percent of the wrestling Hugh and I learned was prior to entering high school." Hugh Peery is the older sibling who won two state titles while wrestling for the Braves and three at Pittsburgh while wrestling for his father.

In addition to Hugh Peery, three other Tulsa Central graduates were three-time NCAA champions. Stanley Henson (class of 1935) won titles in 1937-1939 for Oklahoma State and was selected by the Amateur Wrestling News as the Wrestler of the Decade for the 1930s. Another Cowboy, David "Buddy" Arndt (class of 1939) won titles in 1941-1942 and 1946. Art Griffith called Arndt "the best wrestler I ever coached" while at Oklahoma State.

Wayne Martin (class of 1932) was the University of Oklahoma's first three-time champion in 1934-1936 and was considered the greatest Sooner until Dan Hodge matriculated at Norman. Martin's son Mickey Martin (class of 1959) won titles for Oklahoma in 1962-1963. He is the last graduate of Tulsa Central to win an NCAA title, and there will be no more because the high school closed its doors in 1976. Both Martins won the Outstanding Wrestler Award at the NCAA tournament, as did Henson and Arndt.

Fendley Collins, the long-time head coach at Michigan State and an earlier pupil of Gallagher's, lured three members of the Tulsa Central class of 1939 to East Lansing. Burl Jennings and Merle Jennings and Bill Maxwell were the backbone of the Spartan squads that battled Oklahoma Stale for the NCAA team title just before World War II. The Jennings won back-to-back titles in 1941 and 1942, and Maxwell joined them on the winner's podium in 1942. Remarkably, four of the eight NCAA champions in 1942 were members of the Tulsa Central class of 1939 as Arndt won his second crown that year.

Two other Braves were in the finals that season. Malcolm McDonald of Purdue (class of 1940) lost to Merle Jennings 3- 2 for the 121-pound title. McDonald transferred to the Naval Academy after that season and won three EIWA crowns as a Midshipman. He was also an alternate on the 1948 Olympic team. Manly Johnson of Michigan (class of 1938) was routed by Arndt 18-5 at 145 pounds. Johnson had originally attended Oklahoma State before transferring lo Michigan in 1941.

LeRoy McGuirk (class of 1928) was the first Brave to win an NCAA crown. He won the 155-pound title in 1931 and was runner-up in 1932 at 174 pounds for OSU. Harold Byrd (class of 1935) has the distinction of wrestling for both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. As a Cowboy, Byrd reached the NCAA semifinals at 126 pounds in 1937 but failed to place. He transferred to Oklahoma and in 1940 won the 128-pound crown for the Sooners. George Layman (class of 1947) won a pair of NCAA crowns for Oklahoma State in 1951-1952. He is the only wrestler to beat Sooner great Tommy Evans and defeated him 7-4 in the 1951 135-pound title match.

None of these outstanding Tulsa Central graduates can match the notoriety of Leonard Rosenbergin (class of 1937). Better known as Tony Randall, he was an Emmy-award-winning TV and film actor most noted for his role as the obsessive­ compulsive Felix Unger in the ABC TV sitcom The Odd Couple.

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