USA Wrestling’s history has helped shape it into one of the most respected NGBs

Updated: September 10, 2021

By Wayne Baughman

I’ve always been interested in history. My favorite school subject was history; world, American, Oklahoma, sport and especially wrestling history. Where wresting history is concerned, at my age I have experienced a lot of it. In fact, I have been a part of it for an extended period of time in a variety of capacities.

Wrestling has literally been around forever, both as a sport and martial arts/combative training. There are drawings of wrestling scenes/techniques on Egyptian pyramids that are over 5,000 years old. The most famous depiction seems to be a wrestler setting up an arm-drag, which was my favorite move. Wrestling was the second sport in theancient Olympics behind a running event. No one really knows what the original rules were.

Most nations, cultures and tribes had their own rules. Our national rules are the NCAA “catch as catch can.” Russia’s and Mongolia’s national style is Sambo. Turkey has a style where they wrestle greased down in leather pants. England has a style where they wrestle in sawdust pits wearing just over the knee tights. I missed a carnival in the Hill Country of England, featuring that style, by one day. I would have entered even though I was “over the hill.”

I’ve mentioned before that my first wrestling experience was an American Indian style taught to me by a young Indian when I lived on the Caddo-Kiowa Reservation in Oklahoma.Wrestling first appeared in the thirdModern Olympics in 1904 in St. Louis, Mo. The rules were American Catch as Catch Can. Americans won all the medals because only Americans entered. I have found reference to a 1906 Olympics in Athens, where Greco-Roman rules were used, but 1906 was not consistent with the Olympic four-year “quadrennial rotation.”

At the London 1908 Olympics, freestyle was the rules of choice. At the 1912 Stockholm Games, Greco was contested. In the 1920 Antwerp Games, both styles were contested. Interestingly enough, Greco-Roman rules were developed in France and considered the “classical” style preferred by the European and Scandinavian nations. I believe from 1920 on, both styles were contested, however the USA didn’t enter a Greco team until 1956. Before that, the U.S. took freestyle alternates, including in 1956 when the alternates were designated as the GR team. Since then there have been separate Greco-Roman team tryouts and designation of an official USA Greco team.

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) of the USA wasfounded in 1888 as the overseers of the amateur sports movement. In 1894, under the leadership of James E. Sullivan and William M. Sloane, a committee was formed to organize U.S. participation in the Olympic Games. In 1921, the American Olympic Association was formed.

In 1940, it became the USA Sports Federation. In 1945, the name was changed to the U.S. Olympic Association. In 1961, the title became the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 2019 the current title became the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Until 1978, the USOC administered only the Olympics and Pan American Games. The AAU sports committees were in charge of all other international competitions including individual sports’ world championships. Basically the AAU and USOC Sports Committees were pretty much one and the same.

In the early 1970s, the powerful NCAA, which mainly developed all of the international competitors, decided it should run the show. They formed and financed individual sports federations including the U.S. Wrestling Federation (USWF). The USOC was able stave off the coup attempt. In 1978, they got the Amateur Sports Act passed by Congress and subsequently in 1998, the Ted Stevens Olympic Amateur Sports Act. Those legislations established the USOC as the coordinating bodyfor all Olympic-related athletic activity in the USA. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had rules that individual sports’ national governing bodies were to be autonomous and not under any “umbrella organizations.” This was the basic rational for the abandonment of the AAU sports governing bodies.

However, it was inconsistent, since the USOC became, and in fact is, the umbrella for all Olympic sports. Between 1978 and 1984 there was a prolonged and bitter battle between the AAU Wrestling Committee (AAUWC) and USWF for recognition by the international wrestling governing body (FILA). FILA ask the USOC to intervene and settle the issue.

I was the first “Athletes Representative” on the AAU Wrestling Committee. I coached the 1981 and 1982 Greco-Roman World Teams. I was coaching the 1983 World Team and selected to coach the 1984 Olympic Team when I got a call from USOC President William E. Simon and USOC Executive Director F. Don Miller. They said the AAUWC had refused to meet with them and the USWF. They needed an AAUWC representative and ask if I, as VP of the AAUWC, would represent the AAUWC. The AAUWC had told me they were nominating me for VP. I refused.

When I got back from an overseas coaching trip, I was informed I’d been elected. I never accepted or performed duties as VP. The USWF said that if I’d align with them I could remain the coach for the 1984 Olympic GR team. By then I was fed up with both organizations and the international scene in general. I turned Simon and Miller down. “Wayne, we’ve always a great relationship and I believe you have a future with the USOC but I can’t help you if you won’t help me,” Don Miller said. I’m sorry I burned that bridge.The outcome of the meeting was that the USWF and AAUWC were to work together and share responsibilities under the title “USA Wrestling.”

The AAUWC was an all-volunteer organization whose only sources of revenue were membership dues, tournament entry fees and donations, mainly from their leadership. Although age-group members were the greatest source of revenue, little went to them with the money being used to support the elite athletes for the Olympic, World Championship and Pan American teams. The majority of the age group, high school and college teams aligned with USWF who started the Jr. National Championships and later the Cadet National Championships.

This, along with membership dues, turned out to be a great source of revenue. AAU leadership was mostly older individuals who were showing the scars of the intense battle. As their first, and only, paid executive they hired a former Olympic bronze medalist/World champion to change the tide. It was “too little too late.”

That individual was Stan Dziedzic who later became president of USAW and is currently USAW’s representative to United World Wrestling (UWW), wrestling’s current international governing body.The USWF/USAW did have a young, well-paid leader from the beginning with Olympians Myron Roderick, Werner Holzer and Steve Combs to the current leadership of President Bruce Baumgartner and Executive Director Rich Bender.

Over the years the organization has become bigger and stronger. Of course I’m prejudice but I believe USAW, under Bruce’s and Rich’s superb leadership, is the best of the USOC’s National Governing Bodies.The AAU-USAW battle pitted the most competitive and toughest sportsmen in the country against each other. It was a bitter and hard-fought battle but in the end it provided more and better opportunities and an environment for the entire wrestling community and specifically U.S. wrestlers. We must continually remind ourselves that the wrestlers are what it’s all about.

All efforts should be directed at giving these wrestlers the greatest opportunities possible to become the very best they can be. “All things work together for good” and that was certainly true of AAU-USWF war.

(Wayne Baughman won an NCAA title at Oklahoma, competed in three Olympics —1964, ’68 and ’72 — and eight World Championships and coached for 27 years at the Air Force Academy.)