Amateur high school wrestling has been around since the 1930’s in Colorado but the sport did not begin to thrive until the state tournament was established in 1936 — which gave all the participants a purpose and a goal.
In researching the history of the art of grappling, it is unclear what date the first team held practice or when two teams met in a dual meet/tournament for the first time.
However, it is clear that the evolution of Colorado’s amateur wrestling came out of an elevated boxing ring, which eventually led to placing mats on the floor, with ropes encircling the uncovered (gymnastics) mats.
In researching the history of Colorado wrestling through a variety of newspaper clips, historical journals, the Colorado High School Activities Association program and scanning high school libraries, some passages basically described a “ring” with “ropes.”
The two most intriguing excerpts (written by scribes from the 1936 Greeley Tribune of Colorado) explained that the Colorado State Wrestling Tournament had a setting with a mat on the floor and it was encircled with ropes. The passages were taken from a historical book titled “Faded Glory,” which recorded all of the Colorado state tournaments starting in 1936. The first state tournament was held at Greeley College (now University of Northern Colorado)
The story, read in part, “Friday night, Oliver and Weigandt went at it so heavy in the semi-finals that they broke down the ropes.” It was truly an epic discovery when the quote unfolded in black and white — wrestling was on a mat on the floor, and it had a rope around it.
In the second account, it was not as significant, but it was a verification of a “ring.”
“Terrill of Grand Junction was a bit peeved Saturday when referee McCleod gave Stevens of Greeley the fall in the championship match. Terrill believed he was out of the ring and that McCleod was merely calling him back to the center.”
Historians realize that boxing was first on the scene, followed by wrestling, circa 1932.
Consequently, when wrestling first appeared in the high school sports arena, the teams did not have a space or area to practice, so they started in the ring when the boxing team did not have a meet.
Boxers had a different practice routine and did not have to get in the ring to practice.
Canvas was the cover on the floor of the boxing ring, and it was coarse and unforgiving, causing many mat burns plus bruising and cuts. When the mats were placed on the floor, they were the same ones used by the gymnastics team, only they had a canvas cover for the wrestlers — and, yes, they were lumpy.
Of course the real proof that wrestling came out of the ring are the two pictures that go along with the story. They are a little out of focus, but they are more than 80 years old, and they were reprinted out of the annual of University High in Greeley.
The evolution of the mats (during varsity bouts) took a positive turn in the 1960s when a soft/safe mat was on the market — replacing the canvas stuffed, sectioned mats, which were covered by a large vinyl/plastic cover.
According to various pictures of teams out of the 1920s and 1930s, knee pads were sewn into the uniforms (to cover the knees) of the wrestlers. It appeared that regular tennis shoes were worn for wrestling, but a heelless shoe (which is the current norm for wrestling) was sported by the boxing and gymnastics team members.
There wasn’t anything fancy about the uniforms in the early days of wrestling, as most college and high school athletes wore either long tights with the short tights pulled over them or wore only shorts and no shirt; amateur boxers wore headgear by choice, and they were not mandatory until the 1960s in wrestling.
In looking back at which state held the first state tournament, it is speculated that Oklahoma hosted one in 1922, but that has not been confirmed.
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world, with a glorious history. One of the suggestions to record history is to have each school research how many wrestlers won the state title, including year, weight and record. This should be followed by the number of place winners, plus an account of each coach and the years a state title was won or the meet/record in duals and tournaments. The results of the research can be placed in the program at the team’s various events. A good source would be the journalist department, to help with the research.
Ray Coca was voted a national runner-up for his coverage of high school wrestling by the AP, while working as a sports editor for the Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, Colo.; Also contributing to this story was Tom Oldfield and Dixie Coca.