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Oklahoma State to celebrate 75 years of wrestling at Gallagher-Iba Sunday

Cover of 1939 Gallagher Day souvenir program to honor Oklahoma State wrestling coach Ed Gallagher on dedication of what is now Gallagher-Iba Arena (Note: "Aggies" was a nickname for sports programs at what was called Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical Col
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Oklahoma State will commemorate 75 years of wrestling at what is now known as Gallagher-Iba Arena this Sunday in a dual meet vs. University of Oklahoma for the ongoing Bedlam Series, reported Thursday.

The facility on the Stillwater, Okla. campus is the only major arena in the U.S. named to honor a college wrestling coach, Edward Clark Gallagher, who was at the reins of the Cowboy mat program from 1916 until his death in 1940.

Originally named the 4-H Club and Student Activity Building, Gallagher-Iba was dedicated on Feb. 3, 1939, appropriately enough, with a wrestling dual meet vs. Indiana University. Over the years, the building has undergone a major expansion and upgrades, and a couple name changes, first becoming Gallagher Hall at the time of the coach’s passing, then being renamed to also honor Henry Iba, long-time Oklahoma State basketball coach and athletic director.

Back in 1939, the arena – nicknamed “the Madison Square Garden of the Midwest” – cost a half-million dollars to construct. Originally, it had 5,000 theater-type seats for all sporting events; bleachers and floor seats for wrestling events brought the capacity to 9,000 fans. The main floor could accommodate three regulation basketball courts… or, more importantly, a regulation wrestling ring. (Oklahoma State was one of a number of colleges where matches were conducted in a raised, roped-off, 24-foot square ring, like we associate with boxing or professional wrestling. The NCAA banned rings for college wrestling in 1942.)

Who was Ed Gallagher? Considered to be the father of modern college wrestling, Edward Clark Gallagher was a multi-sport athlete in high school and at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (the original name for today’s Oklahoma State)… but, incredibly, he himself never wrestled. Despite that background, Gallagher used his engineering background – and a human skeleton – to come up with up to 400 wrestling holds. In addition to his scientific approach to the physical mechanics of the sport, Gallagher was a master of psychology, using positive reinforcement techniques to convince his wrestlers that they were unbeatable. Gallagher was one of the first coaches to share his knowledge, writing two instructional books on the sport; his program was the subject of a Life magazine photo-spread in 1939.

With Gallagher at the helm, Oklahoma State crafted a 138-5-4 overall record, including 19 undefeated seasons, and eleven NCAA team titles. (Realize the first NCAA championships were in 1928.) He coached 37 individual NCAA champs, averaging three titlewinners each year.

Gallagher’s considerable accomplishments went far beyond the Stillwater school. He is credited with helping to launch the Oklahoma high school state wrestling championships in 1922. A number of his former wrestlers became great coaches themselves, including Michigan’s Cliff Keen, Oklahoma’s Paul Keen, Fendley Collins at Michigan State, and Rex Peery at Pitt.

Towards the end of his coaching career, Gallagher battled Parkinson’s Disease, and cut back on his various duties at the school… but remained wrestling coach until his death in August 1940, at age 53. His funeral service was held at a packed Gallagher Hall, the building he helped dedicate 18 months earlier.

Gallagher was a member of the inaugural class of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, located near the arena that bears his name. For the 75th anniversary of the NCAA wrestling championships in 2005, Gallagher was named one of the three greatest college coaches of all time (along with Iowa’s Dan Gable, and Iowa State’s Harold Nichols).

Gallagher-Iba Arena hosted the NCAA championships in 1946, 1956 and 1962.

The article on this weekend’s 75th anniversary commemoration includes some legendary Oklahoma State wrestlers’ memories of their biggest moments in the famed arena. Just one example: Mike Sheets, who wrestled for the Cowboys from 1981-1984, said, “Most memorable moments in Gallagher-Iba is a three-way tie. The first was in 1978, when I watched Daryl Monasmith beat Frank Santana for the Big 8 title and Gallagher was so loud that light bulbs popped from the ceiling. Second was as a sophomore in 1982, OSU was a big underdog in Bedlam (Series vs. Oklahoma). That night, I beat Dave Schultz for the first time, and for the finale, Mitch Shelton pinned “Dr. Death” Steve Williams to win the dual. It may have been as loud as 1978. Third was as a senior in the dual against Iowa. (Current Oklahoma State coach) John Smith was a true freshman. He was down by down by one with about three seconds left, and John head snapped Scott Trizzino and was awarded two with no time left on the clock. That made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”

Here’s hoping for 75 more years of memories at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Want to see more? Visit College Wrestling Examiner's photo-album for coach Ed Gallagher and Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Want to know more? Check out the article... a story about the women of Oklahoma State wrestling at the official Cowboy website... and an historical feature on Ed Gallagher at InterMat.

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