Carl Albert was the United States speaker of the house from 1971-1977, he was also a wrestler. He grew up in Bug Tussle, Oklahoma and eventually attended and wrestled for the University of Oklahoma in the late 1920s. He was honored by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as an Outstanding American in 1998.
Naturally, it would make sense for the college that bears his name to have a wrestling program. Carl Albert State College is a Junior College in Poteau, OK. The school competes in the NJCAA. They have a baseball and softball team, along with a men’s and women’s cross country program. The school also has Esports. According to this 2020 report, they have a total of 75 athletes.
A group has come together to push to make wrestling at Carl Albert State College a reality. Local coaches and community members in the Poteau area, who are involved with wrestling, started with basic discussion of the fact that the area has many wrestlers that would probably want to continue competing in the sport, but simply don’t have a school in the area. From there they’ve opened into discussion on what they could do to make that happen. The group that includes Ray and Amy Finchum, Poteau head wrestling coach Chris Ford, and State Representative Rick West, sees a need for a Junior College to support kids from Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma and Kansas that want to continue wrestling beyond the high school level.
This push gained momentum, evolved, and eventually a Facebook page named “Bring Collegiate Wrestling to Poteau” was formed in mid-December 2020. The Facebook group has now gathered 456 Facebook followers and supporters. Possibly more importantly, the movement has gathered the attention of significant and important figures in the sport and school.
Dr. David Albert, the son of Carl Albert, recently sent this email to Carl Albert State College.
Coming from a family of small people, I was always at a disadvantage in sports like football and basketball. My father, Carl Albert, who had wrestled at OU in the 1920’s encouraged me in about the 5th grade that wrestling might be something that fit me. From then on I was hooked. I was a 2-time High School All American at 98 and 105 lbs. I was recruited to Oklahoma State by Tom Chesbro and to Lehigh- two of the wrestling power houses. I chose to go to Harvard. My freshman year, I injured my knee in wrestling practice and had surgery. Despite that, I came back to take the varsity wrestling spot at 118 lbs for my sophomore, junior and senior years and went to the Olympic Trials in 1976. While I always wanted to be a physician and took my studies very seriously, it was wrestling that kept me both sane and in-shape. You can be any size and be a successful wrestler. Wrestling has led me to a lifetime of health and physical fitness. Here are two of my Harvard Wrestling team pics. I think a wrestling program could expand the sports opportunities for CASC students and improve their lives and that is the mission of CASC and the vision my father had for the school.
David E. Albert, MD-Son of Carl Albert
Then six time World and Olympic Champion John Smith and Oklahoma State head wrestling coach made this statement.
“What a great opportunity for Carl Albert State College to start wrestling. It’s a real need for the number of wrestlers we have in Oklahoma and the surrounding states. Just another great opportunity and it’ s time to make this happen.”John Smith on bringing college wrestling to Carl Albert State College
Wrestling has notably seen more growth in this region recently than just about any other portion of the country. The state of Arkansas has added multiple programs in the last ten or so years, including their first Division One program at the University of Arkansas Little Rock.
Further, there has been a legitimate willingness from the school to hear the groups’ pitch. On the afternoon of January 13th, the Carl Albert State College Board of Regents met with leaders of the group to discuss the addition of wrestling. The minutes of the meeting have not yet been published, but having the meeting at all is certainly a positive sign for the movement.
Interestingly, the school has some things in place that seem like they could help make this dream seem somewhat feasible.
Carl Albert State College has a nearly new facility in place that could be used for wrestling. Shown at about the two minute mark of the video below is the Ross and Artie Stivers Center. It’s a multipurpose center available to all students and faculty with a weight and cardio room along with a basketball court and much more.
Naturally, it would not make a lot of sense for the school to repurpose this facility into a “wrestling only” venue. But for a few hours each day during the season, it could feasibly be used for workouts, and if mats were added to the gym or multipurpose room, for wrestling practice as well.
Wrestling is unique, in how it grows across the country. Division one programs unfortunately often get dropped in favor of pushing athletic department funds into revenue sports. At the small college level it’s not that way, in fact, it’s almost the opposite.
Sports programs that are inexpensive can quite often be viewed as an asset to recruit students and grow small schools. Using Carl Albert State College as an example, if they were to implement a non-scholarship men’s and women’s program, their wrestling program would essentially be a revenue generator as they would add a number of tuition paying students, which could offset the cost of travel, gear, coaches salaries, etc…
The namesake of Carl Albert State College believed wrestling was a sport that turned boys into men and men into leaders. The addition of wrestling at Carl Albert State College could potentially be mutually beneficial to both the school and sport. It will be interesting to follow and see if the movement continues to grow and how the school reacts to it.
If anyone is interested in getting involved in this push, you can follow along via their Facebook page or contact the organizers below.