Monday, March 19, 2012 / 12:48 PM
In the midst of March Madness and the NFL free agency buzz, more than 100,000 people flocked to St. Louis over the weekend for the NCAA Division I wrestling championships.
St. Louis is the perfect host city for the tournament, which had 330 wrestlers from 77 different schools. The Gateway City, which last hosted the tourney in 2008 and 2009, is centrally located and within driving distance from the state of Iowa, a traditional wresting hotbed. St. Louis Sports Commission president Frank Viverito said the influx of fans for the three-day event is also a big boost to the city’s economy.
“When you tell people we’re going to have 112,000 fans through the turnstiles, they almost can’t process that number,” he said. “‘For college wrestling, really?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, really.’”
Among the participants were six grapplers from the St. Louis area—Stanford University junior Ryan Mango (Whitfield School), the University of Missouri’s Kyle Bradley (Francis Howell Central High School) and Drake Houdashelt (Fort Zumwalt West High School), Brad Dieckhaus (Francis Howell Central High School) of Northern Illinois University, and University of Oklahoma sophomore twins Matt and Nick Lester (Eureka High School).
Only two of the six—Mango and Nick Lester—were wrestling on Saturday to earn All-American status. Mango, who wrestles at 125 pounds, was in his third NCAA tourney and placed sixth last year in Philadelphia. He improved on that finish with a fifth-place showing in his hometown.
It was a disappointing showing for host school the University of Missouri, which did not have any All-Americans and finished in 26th place, with 20 team points. That was far behind runaway team title winner Penn State, which had 143 points to earn its second consecutive national championship.
Maybe the best moment of the weekend was when Cornell University junior Kyle Dake became the first wrestler in NCAA history to win three national championships at three different weight classes. Following his 4-1 win over the University of Iowa’s Derek St. John, Dake was interviewed by the ESPN mat reporter, and the interview could be heard on the Scottrade Center's PA system. The upset Hawkeyes fans who began to boo were drowned out by the rest of the 18,000-plus in attendence at Scottrade Center, who gave Dake a standing ovation.
Penn State University, which had three undefeated national champions, will be the favorites to three-peat next year in Des Moines. The following year, the national championships will be held in Oklahoma City. The 2015 and 2016 are up for bid, and Viverito said his group will try to land the tourney for both years.
The NCAA should consider moving the wrestling championships to St. Louis on a permanent basis: The city drew a record 112,393 people this year, shattering the previous record by more than 8,000. Four of the five top attendance totals in the tournament’s history have been hosted here.
If the NCAA’s favorite color is green, then the association could make plenty of it in St. Louis from a so-called “non-revenue” sport.
Subscribe to SLM Daily posts in your favorite feed reader.