Coach Paul Bender  led his team to 18 wins and 9 losses during his eight year tenure as wrestling coach. He coached two teams on to win Iowa Conference Championships and one wrestler on to a championship title. Through his leadership in these first few years, UNI became a team to watch in intercollegiate wrestling.
The return of male students to the Iowa State Teachers College (UNI) after World War I sparked the beginning of wrestling as an intercollegiate sport. In the fall of 1921, the Teachers College announced that a course in wrestling was to be offered, conducted by Coach Paul F. Bender . By the end of January 1922, thirty-five men were involved in the sport.
The first meet was scheduled for March 4th of that year. This intra-squad competition was to take place before a men's basketball game against Still College of Des Moines. Final eliminations, where members of the class competed against each other, were held in January or February to determine who would wrestle at the meet.
At that time, college wrestling was organized into seven weight classes: 115 pounds, 125 pounds, 135 pounds, 145 pounds, 158 pounds, 175 pounds, and greater than 175 pounds. Only the best wrestlers in each weight division would compete at the meet.
Wrestlers competing in the meet on March 4 (winners' names are in bold):
- Faris vs Cooper at 115 pounds
- Jensen vs Winder at 125 pounds
- Cahail vs Towne at 135 pounds
- Corey vs Jones at 145 pounds
- Pendleton vs Barck at 158 pounds
- Fay vs Holder at 175 pounds
- Bruere vs Holder at over 175 pounds
Winning wrestlers Winder, Holder, Bruere, and Jones.
Interest in this new campus sport grew as a result of this one meet. By December 1922, fifty-one men had signed up for wrestling, including two promising veteran wrestlers from the previous season, Jones and Pendleton. Wrestling's popularity had grown so much that it was hoped an intercollegiate meet could be scheduled that winter.
By the second week in January an intercollegiate wrestling meet was scheduled for March between the Teachers College and Cornell. Coach Bender increased the athletes' workouts in order to prepare them for the elimination matches, which would decide who would represent the school at the meet. On February 7, the leading six wrestlers earned their positions on the first intercollegiate team.
Wrestlers representing the Teachers College
against Cornell, and Coach Bender (far right).
Wrestlers in order by weight class:
- 115 pounds - Stevens
- 125 pounds - Shearer
- 135 pounds - Ransom
- 145 pounds - Miller
- 158 pounds - Vogel
- 175 pounds - Fay
Although Stevens lost by a fall at 115 pounds and Ransom by a decision at 135 pounds, the Teachers College team beat Cornell 16-8. The outcome of the meet rested on the results of the final match. Before Fay in the 175 pound class wrestled, the score was 11-8 Teachers College. If the Cornell wrestler had won the match by a decision, which was 3 points, he would have tied the game. Winning with a 5 point fall would have given Cornell the meet!
The wrestling program expanded at the Teachers College the following season. Two one-hour wrestling classes were now held daily which served as workout times for the wrestlers. A new wrestling mat was also ordered for its new team.
The ISTC won two of its four meets that season. The team's first opponent was the strong team from Ames. They beat the Teachers College 21-0. Cornell recovered from their defeat in 1923 to win 11-7 as well. The Teachers College wrestlers defeated Simpson 16-2 and Des Moines University 24-0.
For the first time, wrestling was recognized at the school as a major sport. Letters were awarded to wrestlers who excelled at the game. This year they were H.G. Croy, C.D. Bartelma, and Walter Miller.
Although only one letterman returned that season, the team still went on to capture the Iowa Conference Championship. Captain of the team, H.G. Croy (see photo to the right), led his team to four victories against Ellsworth (12-0), Des Moines University (18-5), Parsons (35-0), and Simpson (11-9). The Teachers College only lost to Cornell 9-11. At the end of the season, letters were awarded to White, Strayer, Andrews, Grochowski, Croy, Orr, and Anderson.
Forty men tried out for the wrestling team that year, including five returning lettermen. This season was notable because the first interstate meet was held and for the second time, the Teachers College wrestlers won the Iowa Conference title.
1926 Season Record - (2-1)
- 18-5 Des Moines University
- 6.5-20.5 Cornell
- 26.5-9.5 Oklahoma University
The Teachers College won two meets against Wisconsin (14-9) and Des Moines University (33-0), but lost to Michigan (11-12) and Cornell (8-17) during the 1927 season. D. Bartelma was also the first Teachers College wrestler to advance to the semifinals at the A.A.U. championship wrestling meet. In the photo to the right, Bartelma and teammate Grochowski demonstrate holds.
Only two meets were held that season. Teachers College defeated Northwestern 30-15 and Monmouth 31-0.
At the A.A.U. meet in Iowa City, "Pete" Grochowski, left, at 145 pounds, and Harvey Reuter, right, at 158 pounds, each won second place in their weight divisions.
At the end of the season Reuter, Grochowski, Noecker, L. Orr, and Barghahn all received letters.
Early in 1928 athletic officials ruled that freshmen could only wrestle on freshman teams. As a result, the Teachers College separated the freshmen wrestlers from the upperclassmen and created two teams, a freshman team and a varsity team. This decision helped the Teachers College because they could now schedule more intercollegiate meets.
The Teachers College went undefeated in 1929 and beat three big 10 teams.
1929 Season Record - (4-0)
- 26-8 Northwestern
- 19-13 Purdue
- 32-0 Monmouth
- 17-11 Wisconsin
Five wrestlers made it to the A.A.U. championships in Ames that spring and three placed in their weight divisions. Levi Poynter earned second place at 135 pounds after being defeated by champion Finn Eriksen (right), also of the Teachers College. Harvey Reuter placed second at 160 pounds.
Fifty-seven men competed for positions on the freshman and varsity teams that season. The varsity team, with four returning lettermen, had a 1-3 record that year, only beating Wisconsin by one point. They lost to Iowa State (8-25), Illinois (7.5-26.5), and Iowa (6.5-21.5).
Finn Eriksen (135) and Gay Orr (145) were named the first co-captains of the wrestling teams. Previously, only one wrestler each year held the honor of captain. Fifteen wrestlers competed at the 1930 A.A.U. championships, but only one placed. Freshman wrestler Virgil Duea placed second at 147 pounds. Brownlee, Sheffield, Orville, Orr, and Gerber all fought their way to the semifinals however.
Wrestlers practicing their sport in 1930.
Paul Bender  coached his last wrestling season in 1930. He was granted a leave of absence for the year 1930-1931 to begin advanced study in health education at Columbia University in New York. He returned to the Teachers College the following year but did not return to coaching.
Compiled by Susan A. Basye
Special Collections and University Archives