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Abbott Blog: The top 10 wrestling stories of 2021

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

2020 Olympic champions with their gold medals: David Taylor, Tamyra Mensah Stock, Gable Steveson. Photos by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors

The United States had arguably its greatest year on the international scene, with historic performances during very unique circumstances. A delayed Olympic Games and a Senior World Championships were held only months apart in the same season. It would be very easy to use all 10 of the Top 10 stories on international wrestling stories. With 24 Senior-level medals (nine at the Olympics and 15 at the Worlds), there are stories galore that could fill this list based upon Tokyo and Oslo. Add in a ton of age-group World medals, and the USA came home with a record of 53 World and Olympic medals in 2021.

I will try to resist that temptation and do my best to consider every level of the sport for this year’s list. But, truly, in my three-plus decades of work here at USA Wrestling, I can’t think of a year in which our nation has done this well on the international scene.

During a very challenging time which was difficult for everybody in the world, the wrestling community moved forward. We have tragically lost a number of key wrestling people during the pandemic, folks we are already missing and who cannot be replaced. However, it is also a time to feel grateful and thankful for the blessings we all have. We must take time some time this holiday season to celebrate the resiliency and determination of the wrestling spirit, which can not be extinguished.

Here are my top 10 this year.

1. USA brings home an inspiring nine Olympic medals, with three champions – The Olympics are always exciting, and the USA has traditionally done well in wrestling at the biggest sporting event on the planet. However, in the nine Olympics I have attended in person, starting back in 1988, I have never seen the USA compete as well, nor show the same skill and confidence that our Tokyo 2020 team displayed this past August (The event was held in 2021 because of the COVID delay by the IOC). Statistically, the 1984 Olympic Team had more medals in the boycotted LA Games (but I was not there in person) and that team deserves credit for an amazing performance. What really made this different and special was that they had one women’s weight class every day of finals, and the USA had an excellent women’s performance with four medals. The USA men’s freestylers had five entries, and won five medals, another spectacular effort. The amazing performances of Olympic champions Gable Steveson, Tamrya Mensah Stock and David Taylor will forever be etched our minds. Taylor won the match against Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani of Iran in the last 15 seconds, and Steveson won his match against three-time World champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia on the buzzer. Mensah Stock was showed impressive dominance on her way to the title. Other great moments included Helen Maroulis becoming the first U.S. woman to win two Olympic medals with her bronze, Adeline Gray showing grit on her way to the finals, Kyle Snyder’s consistent excellence which led to a second Olympic finals, and the mental toughness of bronze medalists Thomas Gilman, Sarah Hildebrandt and Kyle Dake, who bounced back from tough losses to reach the podium. Team USA won the wrestling medal count over the Russian Olympic Committee, nine to eight. It was also cool that almost all of the wrestling was available live on the Olympic Channel so our U.S. fans back home could witness our American heroes stepping up when it most counted. In an arena with no fans, you could still hear the USA, USA chants loud and clear. It was historic.

2. USA’s 15 World Championship medals sets a new standard – No matter how you look at it, the 15 medals that Team USA took home from the 2021 Senior World Championships in Oslo, Norway set a record and raised the bar for the sport. Any time you can bring home seven men’s freestyle medals, seven women’s freestyle medals and one Greco-Roman medal from the Senior Worlds, things are excellent with the program. Out of this group, USA Wrestling had five individual World champions, four who have been multiple winners – Adeline Gray (6x), Jordan Burroughs (5x), Helen Maroulis (3x), Kyle Dake (3x) and Thomas Gilman (1x). In spite having the most medals ever, both the men’s freestyle team and women’s freestyle team fell just short of winning the World Team titles by placing second, with Russia (men) and Japan (women) edging the USA in the final standings. G’Angelo Hancock’s Greco-Roman bronze snapped a medal drought for the United States going back to 2018.

3. In spite of pandemic, most of the regular wrestling season was conducted in 2021 – As we head into the third year of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we have a lot to be thankful as a wrestling community. We were able to conduct almost every aspect of our sport during the 2021 year. USA Wrestling hosted its entire National and Regional schedule, providing quality tournaments to athletes at every age level. The college national organizations held their concluding tournaments (NCAA, NAIA, women’s college, NJCAA) with the exception of NCAA Div. III, in which the NWCA hosted a concluding event for schools which were able to attend. We also added a new college nationals for community college women. Most of the high school state associations were able to hold state championships, although many seasons were shortened, and some seasons were pushed back later in the year. There is no doubt that the high school level was most affected, with some major states not allowing a state tournament. Youth wrestling was also impacted in certain areas, including major hotbeds such as California and Illinois shut down much of the year. It was the weirdest wrestling season ever held, but in most cases, wrestling did go on after the shutdowns of 2020. Credit goes entirely to the grit and determination of the wrestling community, which developed health protocols and showed the ability to adapt and pivot as needed. As we are starting to see some new cancellations and shutdowns heading into 2022, we should celebrate what we were able to do in 2021.

4. After waiting a year to prove it, Iowa wins NCAA Div. I title – We all remember the 2020 NCAA season. The University of Iowa had put together its best team in a long time, went unbeaten in dual meets and claimed the Big Ten title, all in preparation for the NCAA team title that the team worked so hard to claim. Then the COVID pandemic blew up and the NCAA cancelled the national championships, an abrupt end to what had been a great season. In 2021, the NCAA season was shortened, not getting going until January. The NCAA decided that this would be a free year in which athletes did not give up any eligibility. Coming in, Iowa was favored to win the title, but the Hawkeyes still had to get the job done during the season. At the NCAA Championships in St. Louis, the Hawkeyes pushed three wrestlers into the NCAA finals, then clinched the team title during the Saturday morning session as four other Iowa All-Americans wrestled well in the medal rounds. In the finals, Spencer Lee claimed his third NCAA title at 125 pounds, in spite of wrestling with a severe ACL injury. Jaydin Eierman (141) and Michael Kemerer (174) finished second, and the Hawkeyes finished 15.5 points ahead of runner-up Penn State. As the new 2021-22 season unfolds, Iowa is again ranked No. 1 and favored to repeat, but there are other strong teams capable of knocking them off.

5. Mensah Stock and Steveson blast into general public recognition with inspiring stories – The U.S. wrestling community celebrates all of our Olympic gold medalists, going back to our first Olympic champions way back in 1904. However, as a sport which rarely gets prime time network coverage during the Summer Olympics, many of our Olympic wrestling heroes do not always get enough publicity within the general public. Trust me, this is an important part of what I do at USA Wrestling and something we work very hard to expand during an Olympic year. Two of our champions, for different reasons, have brought their brands to a much larger audience. When Tamyra Mensah Stock won her Olympic gold medal, her joyful post-event interview where she talked about her love of the United States went viral. Tamyra has a unique way to communicate, and her pure excitement and patriotism struck a nerve with the entire nation. Steveson, who already had a wide wrestling following, scored a stunning last-second victory in the Olympic finals, then hit one of his celebration back-flips (amazing for a man of his size). What helped expand his audience is his true interest in both the WWE and in the UFC, organizations which he reached out to through social media after his Olympic victory. He activated the fan bases for those popular activities. Ultimately, Steveson signed a historic NIL deal with the WWE, choosing to compete for Minnesota, with the probability of joining the WWE roster after college. Steveson has successfully appealed to a variety of demographic groups, a special ability that few people have in wrestling.

6. Kyle Dake beats Jordan Burroughs in Olympic Team Trials, ending nine-year streak of U.S. teams for Burroughs – In 2011, a two-time NCAA champion from Nebraska named Jordan Burroughs earned a spot on the U.S. Senior World Team at 74 kg. At the time, who knew that this rising young star would change American wrestling history and made a nine-year run as the U.S. superstar of his generation? For sure, the most anticipated finals series at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Fort Worth in April 2021 was 2012 Olympic champion and four-time World champion Burroughs against two-time World champion Kyle Dake. Earlier in their careers, when Dake was at 74 kg, Burroughs won every showdown against Dake (although Kyle did win a bout in a best-of-three). After two years at 79 kg, where he dominated the world, Dake made it clear that he wanted to move back down and take the spot at 74 kg. As expected, it was a Burroughs v. Dake finals series, but this time it went to Dake, who won in two straight matches, 3-0 and 3-2. Dake’s years of determination to break through against Burroughs paid off with the biggest win of his career. Ironically, both became World champions side-by-side later in the year, when Burroughs moved up to 79 kg and Dake stayed down at 74 kg as U.S. teammates at the 2021 Worlds in Oslo, Norway.

7. Iowa becomes first Power Five women’s program, hires Olympic medalist Chun – Women’s college wrestling is currently an Emerging Sport on the NCAA and NJCAA levels, and an Invitational Sport at the NAIA level. There were two NCAA Div. I programs with Presbyterian and Sacred Heart fielding teams. However, a huge step forward was announced this fall when the University of Iowa announced the addition of women’s wrestling, becoming the first Div. I Power Five program to add the sport. While the school was planning for women’s wrestling in the future, it made the jump this year as part of a Title IX legal settlement. The Hawkeyes have been a dominant men’s wrestling program, and has plans to do exactly the same with its women’s program. Their decision to hire USA Wrestling’s Assistant National Coach Clarissa Chun as its coach, a World champion and Olympic medalist, shows its commitment to the new women’s program. Chun is respected and well liked by the entire wrestling community. There are over 40 NCAA women’s teams right now, which is the major requirement for an official NCAA Championships. However, the next big hurdle for women’s wrestling is to get more Power Five teams. Things are exciting for women’s college wresting right now, but more work needs to be done.

8. Gray extends U.S. record to six World titles, while Burroughs sets U.S. men’s record with five – Records are meant to be broken, especially when you have some of the greatest athletes in history choosing to extend their careers and continue to pursue excellence. At the 2021 World Championships in Oslo, competing in a new weight class, Jordan Burroughs won the World title at 79 kg on September 4, his fifth career World Championships title. That tied him for the record of the most among all U.S. wrestlers with women’s star Adeline Gray. However, two days later, Gray moved up the bar and moved ahead of Burroughs with her record sixth World title, taking gold at 76 kg. Burroughs has the most World golds among men wrestlers from the USA, one ahead of the legendary John Smith. The crazy thing is that while both of these amazing athletes are in the latter stages of their Hall of Fame careers, it is possible that they could add some more gold medals. Burroughs has made a commitment to compete through Paris 2024, while Gray will not say. Based on 2021 results, both are capable of adding to their legacy.

9. Griffith wins NCAA title for Stanford, which helped 11 sports programs including wrestling get reinstated – When Stanford announced in the summer of 2020 during the depths of the pandemic that it planned to drop 11 sports teams, including wrestling, it did not seem like the university would even consider changing its mind. The wrestling alumni there formed a group called Keep Stanford Wrestling, and successfully raised millions of dollars of pledges to endow the wrestling team. Other dropped sports did the same. Yet Stanford would not engage with those fighting for the sports. The 2021 NCAA Championships was expected to be the final event for Stanford wrestling, and the Cardinal athletes competing wore black singlets without Stanford on the uniform. Shane Griffith, who was upset in the Pac-12 finals by Anthony Valencia of ASU, put together a memorable run at the NCAAs in Pittsburgh. Seeded eighth, Griffith won his first two matches by decisions, then drew No. 1 seed Alex Marinelli of Iowa in the quarterfinals. His 3-1 sudden victory win was a huge boost for Stanford. In the semifinals, Griffith controlled No. 5 seed Zach Hartmann of Bucknell, 9-2. In the finals, with a national audience watching on ESPN, Griffith secured a 6-2 decision over No. 3 seed Jake Wentzel of Pitt, putting a huge focus on the plight of the Stanford sports programs. He wore a Keep Stanford Wrestling sweatshirt, and said all the right things in his post-victory interview. Griffith’s victory was a key moment which helped the university reconsider its decision. There was other great work getting done by the alumni group 36 Sports Strong in the days to follow. The university finally agreed to meet with leaders from the alumni group. In an amazing reversal, Stanford announced on May 18 that all 11 sports were reinstated. It is rare when a college completely reverses this kind of decision. Stanford wrestling coach Jason Borrelli had left for the American job, but the university made a huge move by hiring respected Cornell coach Rob Koll to move the program into the future.

10. USA wins two age-group Women’s World titles back-to-back – Coming into 2021, the United States has never won an age-group World title in women’s wrestling. In 2021, the USA now has two women’s age-group titles, as Team USA captured the title at both the UWW Junior Worlds and the UWW Cadet Worlds. First up was the Cadet Worlds, held in Budapest, Hungary. Team USA had a very balanced performance, with seven overall medals, including World titles from Erica Pastoriza (40kg), Katie Gomez (53 kg) and Amit Elor (69 kg), plus four bronze-medal winners. The USA won all four of its medal bouts on the final day, giving them a 10-point win over runner-up India. Next was the Junior Worlds in Ufa, Russia, where American women came home with four individual gold medals from Emily Shilson (53 kg), Kennedy Blades (72 kg) Amit Elor (68 kg) and Kylie Welker (76 kg). In a tight team race, Blades and her sister Korina (62 kg) won medal matches on the final day, with Korina getting a bronze for the fifth U.S. medal. Nine of the 10 U.S. women placed in the top 10, and the USA defeated Russia by nine points in the final standings. USA Wrestling’s Women’s Developmental Coach Jess Medina coached both of these teams, with a strong group of volunteer coaches. If the USA is able to catch and surpass Japan as the world’s best women’s wrestling nation, the age-group women will be a huge part of making this happen by developing both skill and depth in the program.

Other major stories that are worth mentioning about 2021:

Elor, Shilson become World champions at two age divisions the same year – There’s nothing better than being a World champion. Imagine winning two World titles the same year. Two age-group women from the United States did just that, taking World gold medals at two different age divisions. Amit Elor of California won both the UWW Cadet and UWW Junior World titles in women’s freestyle, while Minnesota hammer Emily Shilson claimed World titles at both the UWW Junior and U23 levels. Shilson now boasts three age-group World golds, having already won a title at the UWW Cadet level. Both of these athletes have shown amazing abilities at a very young age. I remember when Amit Elor worked out at the USOPTC while barely in her teens and was able to hang with the senior athletes during sparring sessions. When Shilson became the first U.S. wrestler to ever win a gold at the Youth Olympic Games, she had already won two Cadet World medals and a roomful of age-group national titles. It just gets you excited to consider what is ahead for both of these amazing young stars.

U.S. boasts eight athletes who won both Olympic and World medals in 2021 - This probably will not ever happen again, with an Olympic Games and a full Senior World Championships held the same year. This was forced by the delay of the 2020 Olympics and the decision of United World Wrestling to keep the 2021 Oslo World Championships on the schedule. Eight of the nine Tokyo Olympic medalists from the USA decided to also attend the World Championships, with only Gable Steveson choosing to sit it out. And all eight Olympic medalists followed it up with a World medal, a perfect eight-for-eight. For the record, here is our list of “double” medalists from 2021: David Taylor (Olympic gold, World silver), Tamyra Mensah Stock (Olympic gold, World bronze), Adeline Gray (World gold, Olympic silver), Thomas Gilman (World gold, Olympic bronze), Helen Maroulis (World gold, Olympic bronze), Kyle Dake (World gold, Olympic bronze), Kyle Snyder (Olympic silver, World silver) and Sarah Hildebrandt (World silver, Olympic bronze).

Life stops Grand View’s nine-year streak as NAIA men’s champions – It went down to the finals round and had tremendous drama over two days of competition, but at the end, Life University ended Grand View University’s streak of nine straight national titles at the NAIA Nationals in Wichita. Grand View was heavily favored, but suffered some key setbacks with many of its high seeds losing bouts, while Life wrestled better than its seeds. Life had a one-point lead going into the finals, which featured three wrestlers from Life and two from Grand View. Life won its first finals match, when No. 4 seed Brandon Orum claimed the 125-pound title, putting Life up by five points. The other four matches with either a Life or Grand View finalist ended up in defeat, and Life went home with the team trophy, led by 10 All-Americans. Grand View also had 10 All-Americans but no champions, and one of the most impressive dynasties in wrestling history had ended.

Record payout from Living the Dream Medal Fund goes to USA wrestlers – With the nine Olympic medals and 15 World medals during 2021, the Living the Dream Medal Fund made its largest payout of all time, a whopping $1,400,000 in bonuses directly to our medal winners. Certainly, there probably won’t be another year with both the Olympics and Worlds on the schedule. However, 2021 set record highs for both events. The fund paid out $950,000 for the Olympic Games (the most in the three Olympics covered by the bonus program). It also paid out $450,000 in World Championship bonuses (the most among the 10 World tournaments since the program inception). The idea for the fund was to encourage athletes who win medals to stay in wrestling longer and continue to win more medals for themselves and their country. It is fair to say it is working, and the data proves that this kind of reward-based program leads to sustained excellence. Jordan Burroughs has won nine World and Olympic medals and has earned the highest level of bonuses from the program at $545,000 in career payouts. Please note that Burroughs is continuing to wrestle through this Olympic cycle. In generations gone by, wrestlers often retired in order to start professional careers. Now they are staying in longer, and we are winning more medals. Thanks Stewards!!!

Five Black wrestlers claim NCAA Div. I titles, the most in history – You may have seen the Tony Rotundo photo at the 2021 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, with five smiling NCAA champions taking time to pose together after the tournament had concluded. Three were from Penn State, Roman Bravo-Young (133), Carter Starocci (184) and Aaron Brooks, along with David Carr of Iowa State (157) and Gable Steveson of Minnesota (285). This group of friends (who have been on U.S. age-group teams together) astutely knew that, for the first time in NCAA Div. I wrestling history, five Black athletes won individual titles the same year. They were celebrating their shared heritage as well as their great individual achievements. It is appropriate to recognize a milestone that shows that wrestling is continuing to become more diverse.

U.S. Olympic Team Trials moves late to Fort Worth and a first-class event is held during pandemic – Putting on major wrestling competitions were very difficult in early 2021. It became apparent that COVID-19 restrictions in Pennsylvania would make it difficult or impossible to host the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Penn State in April as planned. In early February, only weeks before the event was scheduled, USA Wrestling moved the event to a site to be determined. Many things fell into place, and the tournament was placed at impressive Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. Spectators were permitted under the COVID rules in Texas, and almost 5,000 seats were available for fans, spaced out in the large arena. A modified safety “bubble” was created by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, keeping athletes, coaches and tournament officials restricted to the arena and hotels. During a time when it was difficult for sports to be held, the U.S. Olympic Trials were successfully hosted, with fans in attendance and a national viewing audience on NBCSN, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms. Add in all of the amazing excitement of the Trials event, which qualified a talented team for the Olympic Games, and this event was a big-time achievement.

McKendree wins second straight women’s nationals for NCAA schools with dominance – In 2020, McKendree won the first National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championships (NCWWC) for NCAA teams. After a strong season in 2021, McKendree was the favorite heading into the 2021 nationals held in Tiffin, Ohio. The team responded with a dominant effort, securing six national champions and 14 All-Americans, beating second place King by a whopping 37.5 points. The champions for the Bearcats were Felicity Taylor (116), Cameron Guerin (130), Brenda Reyna (136), Emma Bruntil (143), Alara Boyd (155) and Sydnee Kimber (191). Kimber became a two-time NCWWC champion.

Young talent Blades, Welker and Amos reach U.S. Olympic Team Trials finals – Talk about excitement. A pair of 17-year-old high school juniors reached the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in women’s freestyle, while a 19-year-old who had yet to wrestle a college match reached the finals in Greco-Roman. Although they did not make the U.S. Olympic Team, Trials runners-up Kennedy Blades, Kylie Welker and Braxton Amos lit up Dickies Arena on the way to the best-of-three championship series. In the Challenge Tournament. No. 12 seed Welker beat No. 1 seed Dymond Guilford and No. 2 seed Victoria Francis at 76 kg. Blades beat two stars in U23 medalist Alex Glaude, and two-time World Team member Forrest Molinari. Amos knocked off Senior Nationals champions Lucas Sheridan and Nick Boykin to reach the finals. In the finals, all were beaten by No. 1 stars, with Blades falling to World champion Tamyra Mensah-Stock, Welker to five-time World champion Adeline Gray and Amos to multiple World Team member G’Angelo Hancock. Their performance gives us a glimpse of their potential, which looks bright indeed. (All three had great age-group summers, with Welker and Blades winning Junior World golds and Amos taking a Junior World medal in both freestyle and Greco-Roman).

NIL is introduced to college athletes and some popular wrestlers cash in – The era of college athletes getting paid for endorsements through NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) became reality this fall, and some of the most popular and successful college wrestlers jumped right in. Three of the most well-known college wrestlers, Gable Steveson of Minnesota, Spencer Lee of Iowa and AJ Ferrari of Oklahoma State, piled up a number of NIL deals. However, they are not the only ones who have been able to participate in this new opportunity. It will remain to be seen how much wrestlers are able to take advantage of this, but as an individual sport with a rabid fan following, those who are successful, popular and have a gift of expanding their social media presence should be able to benefit. Wrestlers are willing to work hard, and I expect them to be successful in this endeavor.

Wrestling leaders save the day after Midlands cancelled for second straight year – This is a developing story which will not be finished until next week. On December 22, one of the sport’s iconic events, the Midlands Championships, announced that it would be cancelled for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The host of the event is Northwestern University. This year’s Midlands would have been its 58th edition, with participants from 35 men’s college programs including seven ranked in the top 25. In addition, it was launching a women’s division for the first time. The cancellation came just seven days before the event. Quickly, a group of wrestling leaders created other options for the teams and individuals affected. Willie Saylor, Izzy Martinez and Illinois MatMen came together and pieced together an event in Chicago, which was set for the same two days, December 29-30. It was ultimately called the MatMen Open, and will be held at the same venue as the Midlands, the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates with 20 teams attending. At the same time, Josh Schamberger, Luke Eustice and leaders in Iowa City, with the blessing of the Iowa wrestling program, launched the Hawkeye Open for men and women, set for January 2. Exactly how these two events work out will be seen, but this is a perfect example of the wrestling community being creative, decisive and hard-working, while taking risks, in order to serve the sport during difficult times.
Editor's Update: On the afternoon of December 28, organizers announced that the Hawkeye Open had been cancelled, and that efforts will now be towards preparing a first-class event next season. The Matmen Open will be held as scheduled.

Wrestling cards included Mensah Stock v Gray and Burroughs v. Taylor – As 2021 started, the wrestling world had not yet fully opened up from the pandemic, and a number of the “RTC cards” or “broadcast cards” were still being held. These events helped carry the sport through the duldrums of the pandemic shutdown of 2020. Among the big bouts from 2021 cards was the victory by World champion Tamyra Mensah Stock over five-time World champion Adeline Gray on a FloWrestling card, and the victory by World champion David Taylor over Olympic and four-time World champion Jordan Burroughs on another Flo card. Once the sport opened back up, these cards became less frequent, but this is a proven property which will continue into the future. Fans like seeing the best compete for pride and prize money. And wrestling promoters will keep them coming.

FloWrestling buys Trackwrestling as wrestling’s major platforms combine – This was only big news within wrestling, but it was a doozy. The top two websites in the sport, both which specialized in video coverage and event management, become one bigger platform when FloWrestling bought Trackwrestling from its owner Sports Engine. The two big digital players in the wrestling market were suddenly working together. FloWrestling decided to hire the members of the Trackwrestling staff, which kept that vast knowledge working in the sport. The transition from two companies into one bigger and stronger brand is still going on. There was another wrestling media purchase, as MatScouts bought iconic website InterMat. For sure, there is still competition in the market, and new voices within the sport have continued to develop and grow as technology continues to expand.

Junior Nationals celebrates 50th year, a half-century of high school wrestling excellence – Few events have defined what USA Wrestling stands for like the Junior Nationals, the nation’s premier high school competition which is the annual highlight of the summer wrestling season. The event was founded in 1971 in Iowa City, Iowa by the U.S. Wrestling Federation, which became USA Wrestling in 1983 as part of the USWF-AAU battle for NGB status. The first tournament was hosted in the Fieldhouse at the University of Iowa and featured freestyle competition for high school boys. Right from the start, the top stars of high school wrestling showed up to test themselves. Greco-Roman was added a year later, and women’s freestyle became part of the event in 2002. Tons of future Olympic and World medalists and NCAA champions have competed in the event over five decades. With the 2020 event cancelled by the pandemic, the 2021 Junior Nationals became the 50th edition of this classic competition. USA Wrestling had many celebration activities during the week in Fargo, including a freestyle fantasy bracket, a social and a recognition of people who had attended the most Junior Nationals, including 49-time PA announcer Sandy Stevens. The competition was outstanding, with record entries in Fargo at the Junior and 16U Nationals. For the record, the Junior OWs during the 50th-year celebration were Drake Ayala of Iowa (FS), Jeremy Bockert of Alaska (GR) and Jasmine Robinson of Texas (W).

With big donation, Morgan State reinstates its program, bringing Div. I wrestling back to HBCUs – On October 21, Morgan State announced that it had received the largest donation in its athletics department history, $2.7 million, from HBCU Wrestling, a new initiative to bring back wrestling at Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs). HBCU Wrestling is led by wrestling leader and philanthropist Mike Novogratz. Morgan State becomes the first HBCU with Div. I wrestling at this time. Morgan State had a great wrestling history, but dropped the sport in 1997 due to a lack of resources. We are all hoping that this decision starts another trend in the effort to grow wrestling.

Chun, McMann named to Hall of Fame Class as Distinguished Members – For the first time, there will be two women inducted as Distinguished Members into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, when Olympic medalist and World champion Clarissa Chun, and Olympic medalist and multiple World medalist Sara McMann are inducted in June 2022. They become the third and fourth women so enshrined. In addition, with Melissa Simmons being named as the winner of the Medal of Courage, there will be three women added to the Hall of Fame on the same year. This is great news, and we can expect more women to be honored at this level in the future.

Looking forward to a fantastic 2022. Stay tuned.

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