University of the Ozarks will launch a women’s wrestling program beginning the 2020-21 academic year, Eagles Athletic Director Jimmy Clark announced this week.
The program will be a club sport for the 2020-21 year and will move to an NCAA Division III varsity intercollegiate program starting in the fall of 2021, according to Clark. The new team will expand Ozarks’ varsity sports offerings to 21 intercollegiate programs.
The University has offered men’s wrestling since 2014. The current men’s wrestling head coach, LeRoy Gardner, will also lead the women’s program. The University will hire an additional assistant coach to assist with the new program.
“Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest-growing sports in this country in both college and high school and we’re excited about offering this opportunity for women who want to compete on the collegiate level,” Clark said. “We’ve been considering adding it for a couple of years and with our men’s wrestling program thriving, we felt it was the right time to add it. We’ve got the facilities and infrastructure in place, so it just seemed like a natural fit.”
In 2019, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) sanction women’s high school wrestling in Arkansas, becoming the 18th state to have the sport at the high school level. Nationally there were 2,980 high school sponsoring teams and 21,124 girls wrestling at the high school level in 2018-19, according to a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That’s up 5,000 from the previous year.
In addition, women’s wrestling was voted in January as an Emerging Sport in NCAA Division III, a giant step toward it becoming an NCAA sanctioned championship-level sport in the near future. There are approximately 65 colleges and universities nationwide who sponsor NAIA or NCAA women’s wrestling programs, including Lyon College in Arkansas.
Gardner, a former NCAA Division III national champion wrestler at Wartburg College who was inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010, has watched the rapid growth of women’s wrestling.
“As a wrestler and a coach I have been excited about the growth of women’s wrestling,” Gardner said. “Now, even more so with the growth in the region and the opportunity to share with these student-athletes all the University of the Ozarks has to offer. It is an exciting time for our sport, campus and community.”
Clark said he hopes to have about 5-10 wrestlers in the program in the fall of 2020 as the team goes through a limited schedule as a club sport.
“That will give us a full year to get the program completely up to speed and to prepare our student-athletes to compete on the varsity level,” Clark said.
Collegiate women's wrestling is currently classified as a winter sport, with competition beginning in October and running through February. The Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA) governs the sport and has overseen the national championships since 2008. Until the NCAA structure has been approved and implemented, Ozarks will join and compete in the WCWA. Women’s wrestling has been an Olympic sport since 2004, and will be contested in its fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.Six alumni have been selected to be inducted into the University of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The University’s Sports Hall of Fame committee selected Bill Ballard ’56, Ronnie Cookson ’66, the late Charles Daniel ’71, Mandi (Carter) Koch ’07, Robby Finnell ’08 and Olivia (Fisher) Bickford ’09 to join the hall during the Ozarks Awards Ceremony in October, part of Homecoming 2019. It’s the largest induction class for the exclusive club since 1991 when six alumni were also selected. The additions bring the total of Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame members to 57 individuals and one team, the 1983-84 men’s basketball team. The Sports Hall of Fame committee is made up of Jimmy Clark, director of athletics; Lori McBee, vice president for advancement; Dr. Deb Sisson, associate professor of business and athletic faculty representative; Sydney Key, student-athlete representative; alumnus and hall of fame member Sylvester Benson; alumnus and hall of fame member Don Kessler; and alumnus Ian Bryan. The 2019 inductees for the University of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame include: Bill Ballard ’56 was a three-year letterman in both basketball and baseball at Ozarks. He earned Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference Pitcher of the Year honors in 1956, leading Ozarks to the conference baseball title. He coached basketball at Ozarks from 1957-60 before moving on to Little Rock University (now UA-Little Rock). As a 30-year-old, he helped UALR start its basketball program as its first head coach and athletic director from 1960-1965. He also helped the university establish its first baseball program. He was inducted into the UALR Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. Ronnie Cookson '66 won a total of 13 state championships, including seven straight, in a stellar 29-year career as the boys basketball coach at Scott County Central High School in Missouri. He led the Class 1A Braves from 1970-1995, retired, then returned from 2007-09. His overall record was 694-137 (.835 winning percentage) and was a remarkable 28-2 in state final four games. Along with 13 state titles, Cookson led his program to 22 conference titles and 22 district titles. He was named Missouri's Coach of the Year five times by the Missouri Sportswriters Association and nine times by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association. In 1994, he was named the Region 5 National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year and Coach of the Decade (1980s) by Sikeston's newspaper. The Scott County gym was named in his honor and he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. Charles Daniel ’71 played baseball, football and basketball at Ozarks and in 1957 became the only former Ozarks baseball player to play in a major league baseball game, according to the Society for Baseball Research. Daniel pitched for Ozarks in 1952 and five years later reached the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers. He signed a professional contract with Detroit in 1952 for $4,000 and pitched a total of eight seasons in the minor leagues before retiring in 1961. In a late-season matchup at Kansas City in 1957, Daniel pitched 2 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and striking out two. It was Daniel’s only appearance in a MLB game. An elbow injury suffered in a minor league game in 1959 eventually forced him out of baseball. The hard-throwing right-hander’s fastball was once clocked at 95 mph. He returned to Ozarks in the early 1970s to complete his degree and had a 38-year career with International Trucks. He passed away in 2008 at his home in Hot Springs Village. Mandi (Carter) Koch ‘07 was an all-around athlete and one of the most prolific scorers in U of O women’s basketball history, finishing second all-time with 1,538 career points. Her 826 career rebounds were also second-most in program history. An athletic 6-foot-1 forward, Carter racked up four all-conference awards, capping her senior season with all-region honors from D3Hoops.com. Following her junior season, she was voted to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District Team. For her career, she averaged 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and over one block per game. Additionally, Carter lettered in soccer three seasons and earned multiple academic awards in both basketball and soccer. Robby Finnell ’08 starred for the Eagles baseball team from 2005-08 and remains the program’s all-time modern era leader in career games started (160), home runs (31), RBIs (159) and walks (73). He is also among the career leaders in hits (2nd), runs scored (3rd) and slugging percentage (3rd). He also holds the season mark in RBIs (56) and is second in home runs (13). He was a three-time All-ASC selection, including first team in 2008. He was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America first team and the D3baseball.com All-America second team in 2008. Helped the Eagles to a program-best 32-11 record in 2008. Olivia (Fisher) Bickford ’09 was a three-sport standout for Ozarks from 2004-09, starring in basketball, tennis and soccer. As a four-year starter in basketball, Bickford earned All-ASC freshman honors in 2004-2005 and All-ASC All-East honorable mention honors following both her junior and senior seasons. She is fourth in career rebounding (817). In soccer, she was also a four-year starter, starting every game from her freshman to senior seasons. She was a team captain and midfielder and in 2006 assumed goalie duties for an injured teammate and had 175 saves in 19 matches. In tennis, she played No. 1 singles and doubles for four years and remains third in career singles victories (22), fourth in career doubles victories (18) and forth in singles winning percentage (.564). She was a two-time U of O Female Athlete of the Year. University of the Ozarks President Richard L. Dunsworth. J.D., has been appointed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Presidents Council, the highest governing body in the division. Dunsworth will begin his four-year term in January, at the close of the 2019 NCAA Convention in Orlando, Fla. The Presidents Council sets NCAA Division III's strategic plan and establishes and directs the general policy of the division. Division III is the largest of the NCAA divisions with more than 430 member institutions. The 18 Presidents Council members are elected in balloting open to all presidents and chancellors at member institutions. In 1996, University of the Ozarks became a founding member of the NCAA Division III American Southwest Conference (ASC), which is made up of 13 colleges and universities in Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Approximately 40 percent of U of O students compete in one or more of the 17 NCAA Division III sports offered by Ozarks. Dunsworth will become the first president from the ASC to serve on the Presidents Council. “I am honored to be chosen to represent University of the Ozarks and the American Southwest Conference on the national level in my role as a member of the Division III Presidents Council,” Dunsworth said. “I look forward to being an advocate for the values and benefits of NCAA Division III athletics and working to provide support and guidance for our student-athletes to excel in their respective sports as well as in the classroom. Division III athletics is an integral part of our campus experience and I am eager to share Ozarks’ and the ASC’s perspective with other institutions.” The council meets on a quarterly basis and has budgetary oversight, as well as the ultimate authority to establish, direct and implement policies for the division. Since Dunsworth’s appointment as the 25th president of University of the Ozarks in 2013, enrollment has climbed 40 percent and more than $40 million has been raised for scholarships and facilities at the private, Presbyterian-affiliated University. Dunsworth recently concluded five years of service on the NCAA Division III Financial Aid Committee. Pre-registration is currently underway for a wide variety of events and gatherings that will make up the University of the Ozarks’ Homecoming 2018, scheduled for Oct. 25-28. Formerly known as Alumni Weekend, Homecoming 2018 is a weekend for alumni and current students, as well as their families, to share and celebrate the special bond that exists between members of the Ozarks family. Family Weekend, which welcomes to campus the parents and other family members of current students, will also be held during Homecoming weekend this year. The activities will begin with a Paint the Town Purple event on Sunday, Oct. 21. Other highlights of Homecoming will include intercollegiate soccer matches, the Alumni Award Ceremony, Alumni Golf Tournament, a 5K fun run/walk, a bonfire pep rally, art reception and numerous class reunions. Many of the events are open to the general public. A new Homecoming event but long-time tradition at Ozarks is the All Hallows Eve Concert, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, in Munger-Wilson Chapel. In its 18th year, this annual late-October concert is one of the University’s most unique and popular traditions. Featuring organist Dr. Sharon Gorman and the University’s music ensembles, led by Dr. Jonathan Ledger, this concert features traditional as well as pop culture pieces ranging from Harry Potter to Phantom of the Opera. There is no cost for admission to the concert. For more information or to register, please visit www.ozarks.edu/homecoming Despite the rigors of juggling academics and athletics, University of the Ozarks sophomore Sydney Key is always going to find time to lend a helping hand. The health science major and softball player from Lamar, Ark., recently returned from her third mission trip to Guatemala with the Journey Church in Clarksville. It has become an annual tradition for Key, who started going on mission trips to the country in 2015. “One thing that initially made me want to go was that when my mom was a kid, her family were missionaries down there,” Key said. “I quickly discovered that I just really enjoyed serving and helping others. I found that it made me feel great to get involved.” The mission trips that Key has taken part in have provided medical services, assisted in construction projects and given out food bags of rice, beans and corn. “We helped build a wall, with only hand tools, at an orphanage to help with getting everything ready for the new boys home they are trying to open,” Key said. “With the medical team, we went into communities and set up clinics so they could see doctors and get treated for illnesses. We would also make food bags and give to the people who need food in those areas.” Ozarks Softball Coach Roland Rodriguez had Key talk to his team when she returned from her latest mission trip. “I wanted our players to hear about her experience and for them to see the joy she gets out of helping others,” Rodriguez said. “Sydney is the type of person who sees the world with her eyes wide open, always looking for what she can do to help people. And, she doesn’t do it for the accolades or recognition. She genuinely enjoys it.” Key, who plans to pursue a career in athletic training, also serves as an orientation leader on campus, a role that fits her personality nicely. “I first got interested in Ozarks because of softball, but I quickly fell in love with the school and the faculty; It’s just feels like a big family that’s super welcoming to everyone,” Key said. “As an orientation leader, I get to welcome prospective students to campus and convey those same type of feelings I got when I first visited campus.” Having played softball since she was 4, Key said her coaches and professors help her juggle the many requirements of being a student-athlete. “I love being a part of a team where we all have the same drive to get better and help the program succeed,” Key said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult to combine academics and athletics in college, but my professors work very well with athletes and are understanding if you need a little extra help with an assignment. They’re always going to help you if you need it.” Rodriguez calls Key the “model” student-athlete. “She’s so giving, caring and unselfish — ideal traits that you want in a young person,” he said. “Sydney is the type of person you’d want representing your softball team, your University and your community.” Former University of Maryland All-American and NBA player Adrian Branch will speak at University of the Ozarks at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 17, in the Rogers Conference Center. The event is sponsored by the University’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) as well as the athletic program. It is open to the public and there is no cost for admission. Branch was a two-time honorable mention All-American at Maryland and finished as the program’s third all-time leading scorer. He went on to play three seasons in the NBA, including on the 1987 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. He has served in the ministry and as a television sports analyst since retiring from his playing career. Branch will speak on how taking life one day at a time in faith has assured him of being a “world champion.” The Alumni Association will honor eight of the university’s distinguished graduates during the 2017 Alumni Awards Banquet on Friday, Oct. 13. The awards banquet, which is part of this year’s Homecoming ceremonies, begins at 6 p.m. in the Rogers Conference Center. The banquet will also include the Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by calling the Office of Alumni Relations at 479-979-1234. The recipients of the 2017 alumni awards include Lonnie and Levada (Mathis) Qualls of Clarksville, both 1956 graduates who will received the Alumni Merit Award; Ray Hobbs ’77 of Springdale, Ark., and Peter Van Dyke ’87 of Chicago, who will each receive the Alumni Achievement Award; Ian Bryan ’13 of Russellville, Ark., and Lauren Ray ’13 of Jasper, Ark., who will each receive the Young Alumni Award; and the Rev. Dr. Ralph Ehren ’56 and his wife Betty (Hodges) Ehren ’53 of Plano, Texas, who will receive the Alumni Legacy Award. The Qualls, who have been associated with Ozarks for more than 65 years, will receive the Merit Award for meritorious work on behalf of the university. They first arrived on campus as students in the early 1950s. Lonnie coached numerous sports, including football, baseball and tennis, at Ozarks from 1962 until his retirement in 1995. Levada served as a health and physical education instructor at Ozarks for more than 35 years. They celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in August. They have both stayed involved with the university since their retirements. “When we were working at Ozarks, it never seemed liked a job,” Levada said. “The relationships that we made and the fun that we had is what stands out to me. We felt like we were making a difference.” Hobbs serves as the president and CEO of Hart Tackle Company. A native of Clarksville, he is also president of the Economics Arkansas Foundation. He previously served as president and CEO of Daisy Manufacturing Company, Inc., and as a senior vice president for merchandising of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. He worked for Wal-Mart for 24 years. Hobbs has worked as a merchandising consultant for firms like Hanna's Candle Co. in Fayetteville and Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri. He served as Interim CEO of Bass Pro for 14 months before being recruited by Daisy. Van Dyke is a senior litigation counsel for CAN Insurance, where he manages and resolves many of the company’s most significant commercial insurance claims. A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, Van Dyke worked in private firms in Florida and Indiana before joining CAN in 2004 to help the company manage its highest exposure litigation on a national level. He was elected to a three-year term on the university’s Board of Trustees in January 2017. Bryan is a business development officer for Arvest Bank in Russellville. The former baseball player at Ozarks is on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and is an alumni representative on the university’s Sports Hall of Fame Committee. He is also a member of the River Valley United Way Board of Directors and a graduate of the 2017 Leadership Russellville program. Ray works for the National Park Service as the upper district interpreter at Buffalo National River. As a student, Ray was heavily involved with Ozarks Outdoors and the Planet Club, and these leadership experiences shaped a clear career path for her after graduation. Today, she is known by many as the "Rapping Ranger.” She produces educational music videos about various issues in the national parks in order to promote preservation and resource protection. She was named 2013 Student Conservationist of the Year by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and 2014 Environmental Educator of the Year by the Arkansas Environmental Education Association. The Ehrens are retired in Plano. A graduate of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, Ralph served as a Baptist minister for 34 years in churches in Wyoming, South Dakota, Maryland, Arkansas and Texas. He also taught at Houston Baptist University before retiring in 2000. Betty served as a media specialist for 18 years for several schools before retiring in 1991. The Ehrens, who will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary on Dec. 19, have both served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. Four alumni will also be inducted into the U of O Sports Hall of Fame during the Oct. 13 banquet — Steve Higgins ’79 of House Springs, Mo., a former baseball standout; Don Kessler ’70 of San Diego, an accomplished collegiate and professional athletic trainer; George Loss ’54 of Little Rock, a highly successful high school football coach; and Lindy (Swatzell) Mantooth ’05 of Kansas City, Mo., a former soccer star at Ozarks. University of the Ozarks will hold a town hall meeting about the future affiliation of its athletics program at 7 p.m., Monday, March 27, in the Rogers Conference Center. The meeting, which will be led by athletic and university administrators and coaches, is to provide information and solicit feedback and opinions from students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as members of the Clarksville community. The U of O athletics program is currently affiliated with NCAA Division III and the Texas-based American Southwest Conference (ASC). Administrators are analyzing numerous possibilities in regard to its athletics affiliation, including joining a different NCAA Division III conference, moving to NAIA or staying in the ASC. "At this point we're really considering all options to make the University of the Ozarks athletics experience a better one for our campus, our student-athletes and our fans," said Athletics Director Jimmy Clark. "This town hall meeting will be a chance for us to give people information about why we're considering the move, some of the pros and cons of each option, and to hear from them about what they think. We value what our campus community, our alumni and the people of Clarksville and the surrounding areas think about this issue." Clark said one of the reasons the university is considering changing affiliations is the travel distances from Ozarks to its conference counterparts. The closest ASC program is a five-hour drive and the furthest is an 18-hour drive. "When we began to look at the cost of travel, the amount of class time our student-athletes are missing and the lack of nearby rivals, we felt we needed to see what other options were out there," Clark said. "We would love to find a conference with colleges that are closer in proximity to us and that are more similar to us in regards to enrollment size and facilities." After a long affiliation with NAIA, the university moved to the NCAA Division III American Southwest Conference in the late 1990s, gaining full membership status for the 1998-99 academic year. For more information about the town hall meeting, please contact the U of O athletics program at 979-1407. Dr. Mark Scully, assistant professor of political science at University of the Ozarks, has been appointed the university's new faculty athletics representative (FAR). Scully, who has taught at Ozarks since 2014, was appointed to the three-year term by U of O President Richard Dunsworth, effective immediately. "Dr. Scully is superbly qualified to serve as the faculty athletics representative," Dunsworth said. "He is an exceptional scholar and understands the institutional aspects and culture of a university that competes on the NCAA Division III level. He is deeply committed to student-athlete welfare, academic integrity and the balance between the university's educational mission and athletics."