of the Sunkist Kids (left) made history by becoming the first
ever nine time Midlands Champion
were you in 62?
Kraft, former Northwestern University wrestling coach, was driving
his team home from a tournament in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in late
December, 1962. Somewhere on that long road trip, the idea struck
him: Wouldnt it be great to have a Christmas wrestling tournament
closer to home, in the Chicago area?
was the birth of what has become the Midlands, one of the most prestigious
and longest-running major wrestling tournaments in the United States.
The 40th anniversary edition was held on December 28-29,
2002 at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois,
just outside Chicago.
Christmastime wrestling tradition first hit the mats in December,
1963 at the YMCA in LaGrange, Illinois. The West Suburban YMCA Open
(as it was called then) was an immediate hit, with a 132-man field
in its first year, including seven individual national champions.
Steve Mocco of Iowa (right) was the 40th Midlands Gorrian Award
fact, it was so popular, it outgrew the "Y" that first year,
and found a home at the nearby Lyons High School for the next eight
years. The Midlands then moved to Harper College in Palatine for a
time before making its home at Northwestern.
the first 39 years of the Midlands, over 7,500 wrestlers have competed
but only 247 men had taken home titles. An even more elite group of
Midlands competitors had joined the "20 in 4 Club"
wrestlers who have won at least twenty Midlands matches in their first
four meets. There are fourteen in this rather exclusive group
and only two are undefeated in Midlands competition: Dan Gable and
Cael Sanderson. This year, Gable and Sanderson could have been joined
by another Iowa State alum, Joe Heskett, who would have needed to
win all five of his matches at the 2002 Midlands to join the "20
in 4 Club" undefeated
but Heskett lost in the finals to
Illinois Matt Lackey 9-5. (Lackey was named Outstanding Wrestler
of the tournament.)
Lee of Cornell (left) defeated Luke Eustice of Iowa (right)
in the 125 pound finals and was voted the Champion of Champions
40th anniversary edition of the Midlands was noteworthy
for a number of reasons:
first ten Midlands champions from 1963 were honored in a special
Randy Conrad, nephew of 1963 Midlands champion Roy Conrad, attempted
to be the oldest wrestler ever to place at the Midlands. He lost
in his first-round match to Jeremiah Jarvis of UC-Davis 9-3; in
the consolations, he pinned Quinten Bell, then lost to Stanfords
Matt Gentry 4-2.
300 wrestlers from all over the country competed, including more
than half of the top 200 grapplers in the U.S. Most of the top
twenty college programs were represented.
Williams of Sunkist Kids won his record ninth straight Midlands
title, beating Tyler Nixt of the Iowa Hawkeye team he coaches.
Last year, Williams, a three-time NCAA champ, tied the all-time
title mark set by Bruce Baumgartner, and also passed Baumgartner
on the all-time wins list with 45 Midlands victories.
NCAA champs failed to earn titles at this years Midlands.
In addition to Joe Heskett losing in the finals, Aaron Holker
of Iowa State at 141 lbs. placed third
and NCAA heavyweight
champ Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State lost to defending 2001 Midlands
titleholder and number one seed Steve Mocco of University of Iowa
in a finals brawl 4-2.
lb. Matt Lackey of Illinois (right) defeated 2002 NCAA
Champion Joe Heskett (left) and went on to earn the Outstanding
Midlands isnt just for collegians. In addition to Joe Williams
and Joe Heskett , other mat veterans who competed in the final
round included 149-pounder John Fisher (who lost to Dylan Long
of Northern Iowa 5-3), and Lee Fullhart (who fell to Lehighs
Jon Trenge 4-1 in the 197lb. class).
that the Midlands has concluded its 40th anniversary celebration,
theres just one thing left to say: Heres to forty more!
Fox Sports will televise the 40th Midlands Championships
on Saturday, January 11, 2003 from 7:00 9:00 p.m. Central.
Check your local listings for time and availability in your area.