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Liberty University Announces The Reinstatement Of The Wrestling Program

February 24, 2005
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Liberty University Chancellor Dr. Jerry Falwell and Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Dave Young have announced that the Athletic Department will be adding wrestling as its 18th NCAA Division I collegiate program. 

A nationwide search for a head coach is scheduled to begin immediately with the aspirations of having the newly hired coach in place for the 2005-06 academic year to begin the recruiting and scheduling process for competition starting in the 2006-07 year, as well as, continue the fund-raising efforts for the program. 

"In years past, Liberty built a wrestling tradition that was a very positive influence on this campus," stated Falwell. "We are committed to a return to excellence in this program." 

Wrestling is no stranger to Liberty University as the school sponsored the sport from 1974 to 1994. The reinstatement of the wrestling program will be aided by the support of the Liberty University Wrestling Foundation, which is a group of alumni and supporters of the former program, who have been raising funds to help facilitate the return of wrestling to Liberty University. 

"It is an exciting time to be a part of the Liberty University family," Young commented. "The reinstatement of wrestling will be a great addition to the variety of Division I sports already offered to our fans and students. It will also provide another opportunity to propel the University into the national collegiate sports scene." 

Under the direction of coaches Bob Bonheim (1974-86) and Don Shuler (1987-94), the wrestling program grew from a small group of walk-on athletes in 1974 to one of the more successful programs at Liberty University. 

The program began as a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) at which level the Flames competed for eight seasons. Liberty quickly made its mark at the NCCAA level, winning five-consecutive national championships, starting with the 1976-77 season. 

In 1981, the Flames made the move to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level where Liberty finished its first season 18th at the national tournament. The Flames followed with a pair of Top 20 finishes over the next three seasons, before moving to the NCAA Division II ranks for the 1983-84 season.
In its first season at the Division II ranks, the Flames placed 23rd at the national tournament, while continuing to improve over the next several seasons, highlighted by a fifth-place finish at the national championship in 1986. 

In 1988, Liberty had its first major individual accomplishment as Warren Stewart won the NCAA II national championship at 142 pounds. The following season, the Flames made the move to the NCAA Division I level, where Liberty finished seventh at the NCAA Division I Eastern Regional, while having two athletes qualify for the national tournament.
Over the next five years, the program continued to develop, sending at least two individual athletes to the national tournament each season, while the team finished as high as 32nd in the national rankings in 1991. 

In total, the Flames finished a 20-year span of wrestling with a cumulative 180-101-6 record and had 42 athletes earn All-American honors at various levels, including 22 NCCAA All-Americans, four NAIA All-Americans and 16 NCAA Division II All-Americans.
The reinstatement of wrestling marks the first addition to the Liberty University Athletic Department since 2001 when the school added women's tennis.