Hall of Fame looking to create a new holiday tradition for high school wrestling

Updated: November 11, 2022

Photo: Coaches Bryan Stoll of Delbarton High (N.J.) and Ethan Kyle of Stillwater High (Okla.) will be bringing their teams to the newly-created National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dual Classic in December. (Delbarton High and Stillwater High photo)

By Sandy Stevens

Santa Claus will be remembering wrestling fans this year! 

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dual Classic, a brand-new holiday event for teams throughout the country, will take place Dec. 21-22 on the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater. 

The inaugural Classic will feature 16 top-ranked high school teams from seven states, situated literally coast-to-coast. Competing in dual meets, they’ll meet in the Gallagher-Iba Arena, which boasts a seating capacity of more than 13,600.

Scheduled to battle it out are the following schools: Allen (Texas), Arlington Martin (Texas), Bixby (OK), Delbarton (NJ), Derby (KS), Edmond North (OK), Liberty (MO), Loyola (IL), Mt. Carmel (IL), Pomona (CO), Poway (CA), St. Joseph (NJ), St. Pius X (MO), Tuttle (OK) and host school Stillwater (OK). One more school is to be added to the event.

Smith noted that not all top wrestling schools could be considered; some state associations, for example, strictly limit competition to only states that abut their state’s borders or dates where the athletes do not miss classes.

Bryan Stoll, in his 18th year as Delbarton’s head coach, said he looks forward to heading to Stillwater due to his ties to some former OSU wrestlers, but taking his New Jersey team to the Classic goes beyond personal connections.

“We get some great competition throughout this area in the East,” he said, “but it seemed like a no-brainer to get some really good new competition from other areas of the U.S. The kids are ecstatic and ready to wrestle in Gallagher.”      

The Classic concept emerged through the Hall of Fame’s board of governors, said Executive Director Lee Roy Smith. Board treasurer Ed Gallegos, in conversations with Stillwater High School head coach Ethan Kyle, considered what could be done for our country’s wrestling youth. 

After all, since it opened in 1976, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame stated mission has been: Preserve History, Recognize Excellence and Inspire Future Generations.

“Our board approved this tournament as a prong of inspiring future generations, and it’s very important to the fabric of our specific interest in the sport of wrestling,” Smith said. “It fits just right.”

“Ed has committed himself to helping wrestling grow, especially in this community,” Kyle said. “He wanted to bring this event to Stillwater to give this opportunity to kids with big dreams and big goals, and with my experience with schools around the country, we felt we could probably pull it off.”

The tournament will feature a four-pool format, with competing teams wrestling three duals on Day 1 and two on Day 2. 

“In the first session on Day 1, eight teams will be on the mats, and the other eight will tour the Hall of Fame, which is next door to the arena,” Smith said. “During the second session, the other eight will tour.”

Following the second day’s competition, teams will be guests at a dinner highlighted by a round-table discussion with Dan Gable and John Smith, both Distinguished Members of the Hall of Fame. 

“There’ll be a brief Q & A, and the wrestlers will get some inspirational take-home advice,” Lee Roy Smith said. 

“There are two things that make this (tournament) unique: first, the high level of competition, with numerous schools in the top 12 in the country,” Kyle said. “And then to be able to compete in Gallagher Arena. That’s something our kids thrive on.” 

In addition to the Hall’s executive director, the event’s national organizing committee includes Clay Hutson (this is correct spelling), Coach Kyle and Tournament Director David Mirikitani. Also, a local committee of representatives from Stillwater High and the community are helping with tournament details.

“The event will also create a positive impact in the local community,” Smith said. “All teams will stay in hotels on Hall of Fame Avenue within three-fourths of a mile from the arena, and the dinner will be in the Wes Watkins Conference Center on the OSU campus.”

“Stillwater will come out for this,” said Kyle, who is in his third season as Stillwater coach. “We know the whole community has our back.”

“It also gives the local community an opportunity to come and see what the Hall is all about,” Smith said.

Sponsors of the Dual Classic, which is sanctioned under the National High School Federation, are Cliff Keen, Territory Resources LLC and FloWrestling, which will stream the competition.

Following the tournament, the event will be reviewed, with the potential for it to become an annual event and one that draws not just fans but also recruiters. 

“It’d be another avenue where we can promote our sport,” Kyle said. “It’ll be a fun, competitive atmosphere.”

“It’s about classic rivalries when actually we’re trying to make new history,” declared Lee Roy Smith. “We really want this experience to be a unique one, but also a celebration of our sport.”

(Sandy Stevens is a long-time public address announcer of national and international events and was named to the National Hall of Fame in 1998.)