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Collegiate wrestling is the style of amateur wrestling practiced at the college and university level in the United States. Collegiate wrestling is sometimes known as folkstyle wrestling because by and large, it is the style that emerged out of the folk wrestling styles practiced in the early history of the United States. This style, with some slight modifications, is also practiced at the high school and middle school levels, and also among younger participants, where it is known as scholastic wrestling. All of the terms are used to distinguish collegiate wrestling from the styles of wrestling practiced in other parts of the world, and from those of the Olympic Games: Freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling.
Collegiate wrestling, like its international counterpart, freestyle wrestling, has its greatest origins in catch-as-catch-can wrestling and, in both styles, the ultimate goal is to pin your opponent to the mat, which results in an immediate win. Collegiate and freestyle wrestling, unlike Greco-Roman, also both allow the use of the wrestler’s or his opponent’s legs in offense and defense. Yet collegiate wrestling has had so many influences from the wide variety of folk wrestling styles brought into the country that it has become distinctly American.
Folkstyle wrestling also refers to the indigenous styles in various other countries. For example, Böke can accurately be described as Mongolia’s folkstyle.
Collegiate wrestling differs in a number of ways from freestyle and Greco-Roman. Some of the differences are listed below.
This emphasis on control was present in collegiate wrestling from its earliest days. Since 1915, collegiate wrestling officials have recorded the time that each participant had in controlling his opponent on the mat (known as “time advantage” or “riding time”). Early on, this was the major way to determine the winner in the absence of a fall. Over time, the significance of such timekeeping has declined, and now such “time advantage” only counts for one point in college competition at the most. As in both of the international styles, a wrestler can win the match by pinning both of his opponent’s shoulders or both of his opponent’s scapulae (shoulder blades) to the mat.
Generally, rather than lifting the opponent or throwing him for grand amplitude in order to win the period as in the international styles, the collegiate wrestler most often seeks to take his opponent down to the mat and perform a “breakdown” (that is, to get his opponent in the defensive position flat on his stomach or side). With the opponent off of his base of support (that is, off of his hands and knees), the collegiate wrestler in the offensive position would then seek to run pinning combinations, or combinations of techniques designed to secure a fall. Failing to gain a fall could still result in an advantage in riding time and potential nearfall points. The defensive wrestler could counter such attempts for a takedown, or when once taken down try to escape his opponent’s control or reverse control altogether. In a last ditch attempt to foil a fall, the defensive wrestler could also “bridge” out of his opponent’s control (that is, pry his head, his back, and both of his feet up from the mat and then turn toward his stomach). Overall, a collegiate wrestler in his techniques would most likely emphasize physical control and dominance over the opponent on the mat.
There were already wrestling styles among Native Americans varying from tribe and nation by the 15th and 16th centuries, when the first Europeans settled. The English and French who settled on the North American continent sought out wrestling as a popular pastime. Soon, there were local champions in every settlement, with contests between them on a regional level. The colonists in what would become the United States started out with something more akin to Greco-Roman wrestling, but soon found that style too restrictive in favor of a style which a greater allowance of holds.
The Irish were known for their “collar-and-elbow” style, in which wrestlers at the start of the match would grasp each other by the collar with one hand and by the elbow with the other. From this position, wrestlers sought to achieve a fall. If no fall occurred, the wrestlers would continue grappling both standing on their feet and on the ground until a fall was made. Irish immigrants later brought this style to the United States where it soon became widespread. There was also what became known as “catch-as-catch-can” wrestling, which had a particular following in Great Britain and the variant developed in Lancashire had a particular effect on future freestyle wrestling in particular.
By the 18th century, wrestling soon became recognized as a legitimate spectator sport, despite its roughness. Among those who were well known for their wrestling techniques were several U.S. Presidents. Since “catch-as-catch-can” wrestling was very similar, it gained great popularity in fairs and festivals in the United States during the 19th century. The collar-and-elbow style was also refined by later Irish immigrants, and gained great ground because of the success of George William Flagg from Vermont, the wrestling champion of the Army of the Potomac. After the Civil War, freestyle wrestling began to emerge as a distinct sport, and soon spread rapidly in the United States. Professional wrestling also emerged in the late 19th century (not like the “sports-entertainment” seen today). By the 1880s, American wrestling became organized, with matches often being conducted alongside gymnastic meets and boxing tournaments in athletic clubs.  The growth of cities, industrialization, and the closing of the frontier provided the necessary avenue for sports such as wrestling to increase in popularity.
In 1900, the first intercollegiate dual meet took place between Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. The Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association held its first tournament in 1905, which soon sparked many more wrestling tournaments for both college and university students and high school students. Edward Clark Gallagher, a football and track and field athlete at Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), launched wrestling as an official varsity sport just before World War I and with his team launched a dynasty, with undefeated matches from 1921-1931. In 1927, Dr. Raymond G. Clapp published the rules for collegiate wrestling, and the next year, the first NCAA Wrestling Team Championship took place on March 30 to March 31 on the campus of Iowa State College. The rules of collegiate wrestling marked a sharp contrast to the freestyle wrestling rules of the International Amateur Wrestling Federation (IAWF) and the AAU. From then on, collegiate wrestling emerged as a distinctly American sport. College and high school wrestling grew especially after the standardization of the NCAA wrestling rules, which applied early on to both collegiate and scholastic wrestling (with high school modifications). More colleges, universities, and junior colleges began offering dual meets and tournaments, including championships and having organized wrestling seasons. There were breaks in wrestling seasons because of World War I and World War II, but in the high schools especially, state association wrestling championships sprung up in different regions throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As amateur wrestling grew after World War II, various collegiate athletic conferences also increased the number and quality of their wrestling competition, with more wrestlers making the progression of wrestling in high school, being recruited by college coaches, and then entering collegiate competition.
For most of the 20th century, collegiate wrestling was the most popular form of amateur wrestling in the country, especially in the Midwest and the Southwest. The 1960s and 1970s saw major developments in collegiate wrestling, with the emergence of the United States Wrestling Federation (USWF) (now known as USA Wrestling (USAW)). The USWF, with its membership of coaches, educators, and officials, became recognized eventually as the official governing body of American wrestling and as the official representative to the United States Olympic Committee, in place of the Amateur Athletic Union.
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