University of the Ozarks has announced it will add men's wrestling and competitive cheer/STUNT to its athletic programs, beginning in the 2014-2015 academic year.
"The addition of these sports will allow students the opportunity to compete at the NCAA Division III level while earning a degree and developing their personal and professional calling," said U of O President Richard Dunsworth. "Nearly 40 percent of our student-athletes achieved conference all-academic status this year. And, a number of others have earned individual academic and athletic honors at the regional and national level. Student-athletes at University of the Ozarks experience academic success and professional preparation, increasing further educational opportunities as well as greater job placement. It is a perfect time to create additional opportunities for young people to experience that success."
Wrestling will become Ozarks’ 11th NCAA Division III varsity sport. Ozarks is the sixth college in Arkansas to offer the sport, and the first NCAA Division III state college to do so. Ouachita Baptist University (NCAA Division II), Central Baptist College (NAIA) and Arkansas Baptist College (NJCAA) have added the sport recently. Lyon College (NAIA) and Williams Baptist College (NAIA) have announced it will field teams for the 2014-2015 academic year.
"Adding wrestling is an important part of our growth as an NCAA Division III institution in regards to enrollment and identity," said Athletics Director Jimmy Clark. "Wrestling has seen an increase in popularity within the state, and in Missouri and Oklahoma, it is even bigger. In Texas, there is only one collegiate wrestling program, so we have an opportunity to bring in student-athletes that we couldn’t reach otherwise. The research we conducted found that wrestling brings in the second largest number of students other than football."
The wrestling team will compete independently against programs in Arkansas and from surrounding states, including NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II opponents. The sport typically runs from November until February. Ten different weight classes are included during a match. At the NCAA Division III level, 88 institutions offer men’s wrestling.
Ozarks will be the only American Southwest Conference member to offer wrestling. According to the Arkansas Activities Association web site, 64 high schools in the state participate in wrestling.
Clark credits wrestling advocate Greg Hatcher, of Little Rock, with helping Ozarks establish its wrestling program. Hatcher, who is President of the Arkansas Wrestling Association, is funding mats and other equipment to assist in getting the team started.
"We have benefitted from Greg’s expertise, and we are appreciative of his desire to assist us in starting the program," said Clark.
Ozarks will offer the only STUNT program in the state. The university also announced it will renovate the swimming pool area and convert it into a new wrestling and cheer/STUNT facility.
"We will offer the only STUNT program in Arkansas," said Clark. "Competitive cheer/STUNT is another emerging market. We feel like this is a good fit for us, and we look to forward to offering students another opportunity to compete at the collegiate level. This is an exciting time for our athletic department and university."
Ozarks offers baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis and wrestling at the NCAA Division III varsity level.