LIBERTY — William Jewell College announced the addition of women’s wrestling and the reinstatement of men’s wrestling starting in 2021-22.
William Jewell will become the third Great Lakes Valley Conference institution to add the sport, joining McKendree and Lindenwood. The Cardinals will also be the seventh collegiate program in the state of Missouri but the first in the Kansas City metro.
"It feels great to be bringing wrestling back to The Hill," said Director of Athletics Tom Eisenhauer. "The sport has a long tradition here and has seen a resurgence across the globe. The commitment and perseverance it takes to be a successful wrestler are the same traits it takes to be successful in the classroom. Wrestling complements our other sport offerings so it is a natural fit on our campus.”
The NCAA voted to approve women’s wrestling as an emerging sport during its NCAA convention Jan. 25.
Women’s wrestling became an official collegiate sport in 1993 and gained momentum in recent years as states have sanctioned the sports at the high school level. The Missouri High School Activities Association began offering a state championship in girls wrestling in 2019.
"It's been exciting to witness the tremendous growth of girls wrestling at the high school level, especially here in the Kansas City region, and I'm thrilled that we can provide an opportunity for many of these young women to continue to compete at the NCAA Division II level," said Eisenhauer.
The next step for the sport to move to NCAA Championship status will be reaching a minimum of 40 NCAA-affiliated varsity programs. Currently, five women's sports have done so including rowing, bowling, beach volleyball, water polo and ice hockey. Until the sport reaches NCAA Championship status, women will compete in the National Wrestling Coaches Association Women's National Championship.
The men's program will be returning after a 27-year hiatus. Men's wrestling was first added at William Jewell in the fall of 1950 and boasted the first national qualifier in 1954. Wrestling became a conference-sponsored sport for the Cardinals in the fall of 1961, as they won the Missouri Collegiate Athletic Union title in 1963. Over the next 30 years, Jewell totaled 14 individual conference champions and 20 national qualifiers.
The Cardinal men will compete in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, which began sponsoring the sport in 2016-2017. The conference’s full-time members include: McKendree, Lindenwood, Indianapolis, Maryville and Drury along with associate member Ouachita Baptist. McKendree has won three straight conference titles.
GLVC schools had 18 athletes named to an all-America team in 2020 despite this season being the first with men’s wrestling being included at the conference level.
"William Jewell is delighted to be one of the first NCAA-II institutions in Missouri to add women's wrestling to our roster of sports and to return to offering men's wrestling, which has a storied history on The Hill," said William Jewell President Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls. "By adding these programs, we are responding to growth trends across the region in both men's and women's wrestling. We are pleased to welcome these student-athletes to our campus beginning in the fall of 2021."
Jewell has officially had 19 head coaches in men's wrestling, including hall of famers Fred Flook (1962-1972) and the late Darrel Gourley (1958-61, 1980-81); however, eight of those individuals were also student-athletes at the time. William Jewell plans to hire a head coach this summer before officially beginning competition in the winter of 2021.