by Sam Arendale

Wrestling at Milligan began as an intramural sport in 1961. That would change in 1962, when Crowder’s team gained varsity (or intercollegiate) status. The college did not offer athletic scholarships at this time, so recruitment was difficult at first. In place of scholarships, Crowder offered “personal attention and encouragement to correct [the wrestlers] basic faults and improve their strong points.” His method worked, because by 1964 he had built a strong-willed team – a winning team by 1965. At all points, he viewed his men highly.

From the very start of the program, wrestling was a veritable sports phenomenon on campus. Students showed up in force to cheer on the team, feeding on the enthusiasm of Coach and the spirit of the wrestlers. Their support was unwavering for as long as the team competed.

Coach Orvel Crowder, known by most students on campus as simply “Doc”, was a professor of psychology and a minister at Hopwood Memorial Church. He gained experience in wrestling as an army chaplain during WWII, winning the Hawaiian Territorial Championship (165lbs) and the South Pacific Armed Services Championship (175lbs). He came to Milligan in 1957 with his wife Anna May.

Coach Crowder believed that wrestling builds character and teaches values like self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-respect.

At the culmination of the 1968-1969 season, the Milligan Matmen team tied for second at the SEIWA tournament. Two wrestlers (Tony Farrace and Pete Beevers) won first place in their individual weight classes, earning them placements at the NAIA tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. Lacking funds, the team made an appeal to Milligan’s student council in order to send the two wrestlers and Coach to compete. Student support succeeded; the three Buffaloes flew in to Omaha and advanced to the quarter finals before heading home.

While sources disagree on the exact scoring outcomes of the Milligan wrestling team’s eight seasons, it is generally accepted that Coach Crowder led the team to seven victorious seasons and one admitted defeat (’63-’64). However, the Matmen were always prepared to learn and grow in their efforts, making each showing a demonstration of their skill, training, and determination.

In 1970, following Coach Crowder’s sabbatical leave and a lack of new prospective athletes, the wrestling team dissolved.

“Milligan College is the smallest school in the South to field a wrestling team, and they have set a truly outstanding record.” – Dr. Orvel Crowder, The Mill-Agenda, (1968)

Not all items in the physical exhibit were included due to copyright.

A History of Intercollegiate Athletics at Milligan College, 1887-1973, Appendix N, pg. 260-263, by Billy H. Stout, June 1974, on Digital Commons at East Tennessee State University.

Recent Submissions

  • Orvel Crowder: professor, coach, preacher 

    Stahl, Ray (Johnson City Press, 1966-03)
    Newspaper clipping from the Johnson City Press (1966) elaborates on Crowder's background.
  • Wrestling Spread 

    Buffalo Staff (Buffalo Yearbook Staff, Milligan College, Tenn., 1963)
    Wrestling spread showcases the team in its early state, from the 1963 Buffalo annual.
  • Wrestling Spotlight 

    Buffalo Staff (Buffalo Yearbook Staff, Milligan College, Tenn., 1969)
    Wrestling spotlight from the Sports section of the 1969 Buffalo yearbook
  • Wrestling… Harnessed with Ability 

    Buffalo Staff (Buffalo Yearbook Staff, Milligan College, Tenn., 1966)
    "Wrestling… harnessed with ability" spread from the 1966 Buffalo yearbook
  • Dr. Crowder Outside 

    Unknown author (undated)
    Dr. Crowder poses in front of McCown Cottage.

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