Seventy-five years ago, a small building on the campus of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College was built and named in honor of a wrestling coach – Edward Clark Gallagher. Considered by many, then and now, as the “father of folk style wrestling,” Gallagher’s influence on the coaching ranks throughout the United States is hard to measure.
The 21st-century version might be hard to compare to early 20th-century athletes, who may or may not have walked barefoot, uphill – both ways – in the snow to class and wrestled alligators and bears in their spare time. Different times perhaps, but what Gallagher’s efforts spawned was the sport we now know and a program that owns thirty-five NCAA championships.
“This building holds a special place in wrestling,” said Oklahoma State’s current boss John Smith. “Most of the most influential people in our sport have, at some point, set foot in this place.”
Never a wrestler, Gallagher graduated from OAMC in 1909. During the next decade, he studied the growing sport. In 1924, he published a book detailing various combinations of holds, techniques, and everything wrestling. When the NCAA tournament first opened for business in 1928, a powerhouse was already established. Gallagher’s squads won the first four NCAA meets; by the time his tenure was through, the Cowboys had won 10 NCAA trophies and won 136 of 145 duals.
Gallagher’s pupil, Art Griffith, continued a winning tradition that includes more dual victories than other wrestling program. Griffith, coach from 1941-56, led the program to a 78-7-4 dual record and eight NCAA championships.
Myron Roderick, a three-time NCAA champion for Griffith, took over at the age of 23 in 1957. His teams went 140-10-7 and won seven NCAA team titles.
Tommy Chesbro coached the program to 227 dual wins in 253 starts and an NCAA title in 1971. Joe Seay’s brief tenure provided two national titles before Smith, only a few years older than Roderick and barely out of his Olympic warm-ups, took over. Smith’s teams won NCAA titles in 1994 and four in a row from 2003-06.
Gallagher, Griffith, and Roderick were part of the inaugural class of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 1976 that, not surprisingly, is located only a stone’s throw from the arena they called home.
Heard of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” In wrestling terms, Gallagher is Mr. Bacon as the coaching tree of wrestling always leads back, in some way, to “Mr. Gallagher.” Cliff Keen, whose name is synonymous with collegiate wrestling, suited up for Gallagher.
Now known as Gallagher-Iba Arena – legendary men’s basketball coach Henry Iba was added to the name during the 1987-88 school year – OSU wrestlers have won 92-percent of the time on their home mat. Like wins, the memories have mounted. Moreover, like most fan bases, certain stories are told again and again … and again.
Mike Sheets, a national champion in 1982 and 1983, was witness to one and a participant in another.
The 1978 Big Eight Championships were held at Gallagher Hall. With the team race on the line, Iowa State’s heavily favored Frank Santana, a national champion in 1977, faced off with Oklahoma State’s Darryl Monasmith in the 190-pound title match.
“It was so loud that light bulbs popped from the ceiling,” said Sheets of the crowd noise when Monasmith pulled off the upset and, with the aid of heavyweight Jimmy Jackson a match later, helped the Cowboys hoist the Big Eight team trophy.
In February of 1982, Sheets, then a freshman for the Cowboys, beat Oklahoma’s Dave Schultz, an Olympic champion in 1984, in a dual that finished with the 400-plus pound Mitch Shelton pinning Steve “Dr. Death” Williams.
Like many legendary moments in sports, as time passes, the amount of those in attendance continues to grow. A survey might suggest that 20,000 saw Monasmith’s epic victory and 50,000 celebrated Shelton’s dramatic pin of Williams.
Although the days of 6,000 sardine-packed, rabid wrestling fans have been lost with an updated modern, 14,000-seat venue, the building still requires maximum effort inside the wrestling circle.
“We take pride in wrestling well in this building, we don’t take losing lightly,” said Smith after a loss to Minnesota earlier this season. “What has been established here in wrestling, it demands your entire effort.”
Three times – 1946, 1956, and 1962 – the building hosted NCAA championships. No championships were held in 1943, 1944, or 1945 due to World War II. When hostilities came to an end it was Griffith and Gallagher Hall that reestablished the NCAA championships in 1946.
“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine all the great wrestlers who have come through here,” said OSU sophomore 157-pounder Alex Dieringer. “To be a part of it, it really is an honor.”
Fittingly, Oklahoma State’s top rival, Oklahoma, will be the guest on Sunday. It will be the 170th meeting between the two and the second time this season; the Sooners won a down-to-the-wire 17-16 match in December.
Since that December dual when both programs were among the top five in the rankings a few body blows have been sustained. The Cowboys, now ranked eighth, are 6-4 while the Sooners (8-2) are No. 10 in this week’s USA Today/NWCA/AWN Coaches Poll and coming off a loss to Missouri.
OSU holds a 132-27-10 edge in the “Bedlam Series” that dates back to 1920. Last December’s win by Mark Cody’s Sooners broke a seven-match win streak for OSU.
“It’s probably who we should be wrestling,” Smith said.