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Perry, Taylor prove college wrestlers are getting increased share of recognition

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It’s been a big week for two outstanding college wrestlers, their schools, and for the sport.

With the announcements that Chris Perry had been named Oklahoma State Male Student-Athlete of the Year on Tuesday, and, on the same day, David Taylor had been nominated for a 2014 ESPY for Male College Athlete one day after earning Jesse Owens Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year honors, it would appear that college wrestlers may be getting an increased share of recognition within the sports world.

Perry, who just completed his career at Oklahoma State after winning back-to-back 174-pound titles at the 2013 and 2014 NCAAs, received his school’s annual award presented to one male and one female student-athlete who has maintained a GPA of 3.0 and completed at least 100 academic credit hours.

It was a big week for Taylor, who, having also earned two NCAA titles and four Big Ten championships at Penn State, learned he not only was named his conference male athlete of 2014, but also was one of just five men in the running for a major ESPY college award.

These honors have greater significance beyond these two mat champs, or their schools, or their conferences. It’s also reassuring news for college wrestlers and their fans everywhere, especially for some data revealed in the announcements of these awards.

Let’s start with Perry’s award. Each year since 1994, Oklahoma State has presented the Male Student-Athlete Award to one worthy athlete in a men’s sports program. Twenty men have received this award… with seven of them being Cowboy wrestlers. In addition to Perry, other award winners include Mark Branch (1997), Steven Schmidt (1998), Jeff Ragan (2000), Mark Munoz (2001), Johnny Thompson (2004), and Nathan Morgan (2008). No other men’s sport at the Stillwater-based school can claim that many winners.

Now, let’s look at the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year award. Each of the dozen member schools of the Big Ten (which will grow to 14 for the 2014-15 season with the addition of University of Maryland and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey) selected a male athlete for consideration for this award. For 2014, a total of five wrestlers earned Male Athlete of the Year honors at their respective schools. In addition to David Taylor winning that award at Penn State, the other mat stars so honored by their schools include Jesse Delgado of the University of Illinois, Tony Ramos of the University of Iowa, Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis, and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber. No other single men’s sport could claim as many award-winners this year.

Think that’s impressive? Consider this: in the 27 years the Big Ten has presented the Jesse Owens award, no other sport can claim more conference Male Athlete of the Year honors than wrestling. Taylor is the eighth wrestler to have earned this honor, joining Iowa’s Ed Banach (1983), Barry Davis (1985), and Brent Metcalf (2008); Illinois’ Matt Lackey (2003); Minnesota’s Damion Hahn (2004) and Cole Konrad (2007), and Northwestern’s Jake Herbert (2009).

Over the years, this writer has repeatedly railed about how college wrestling fails to get the respect it deserves from the mainstream and sports media, from school administrators, sports organizations, and from the general public. That may still be true… but the statistics presented in this article may indicate that the oldest and greatest sport – and its participants – may be now gaining a greater measure of accolades and respect.

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