By Stephen Stonebraker
I like baseball. Next to wrestling it is my favorite sport. I don’t know it like I know wrestling. I can’t name all the players on all the teams but it is a sport I enjoy and a sport that I appreciate. When I lived in Iowa City, I attended Hawkeye baseball games on a regular basis. When Northern Iowa dropped their baseball program years ago it depressed me. It saddened me the same way it has the many times when a school has dropped wrestling. I remember driving up and walking around the Panther baseball field after the announcement had been made. It left me with a sick, empty feeling inside.
I say this all because I don’t hold it against the sport of baseball for what happened at the University of Oregon. I do find it funny though that it marks about the only time in wrestling’s history where wrestling was shoved aside for baseball & a lot of people in the wrestling community rolled their eyes unafraid to make a negative comment about America’s favorite past time. Yet there are countless examples of wrestling being eliminated for space, funds and resources to go to football programs & not a word in defiance is ever uttered.
Pat Kilkenny eliminated the 1975, 1981 & 1982 PAC-12 wrestling championship team before the 2008-2009 season so that the Ducks could reinstate their baseball program that had been dropped in 1981. He remarked in his decisions that he wanted to reinstate a real rivalry between the Ducks and the Beavers. In wrestling, between 1915 & 2009, it was to admit one sided. 101 to 24 in favor of the Beavers, with four ties. In comparison to baseball you’re taking 91 years of a rivalry on the mat and comparing it to 11 seasons on the field. All things considered I’d say in 17 wins Vs 34 losses, the stats for baseball are no better. Overall the Ducks have had seven losing seasons within the PAC-12, three losing seasons all together in the last 11. It hasn’t all been negative as Oregon has finished runner up as well as in third place within the PAC-12, but it’s a far cry from the “to rival championship Oregon State” team Kilkenny promised back in 2007.
The one thing that Duck baseball has been able to do is out draw Duck wrestling. The last home baseball game Vs the Beavers drew a crowd of over 3,000. The final home wrestling dual Vs the Beavers drew 930 people. (The Ducks also wrestled a final dual meet at Oregon State which drew 1,852). A not so subtle reminder of the importance of getting out and attending dual meets.
Overall I wish that both Duck wrestling and Duck baseball could exist and thrive side by side and I hope one day to see that vision a reality. Until then, may we celebrate some of the best in Duck wrestling history.
While not the best wrestler in Oregon history, he is undoubtedly the most famous. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST author Ken Kesey won a high school state title before wrestling for the Ducks. Some say had it not been for a serious shoulder injury, the man destined to write one of the most beloved novels of his time may have been good enough to have made an Olympic team. We sadly lost Kesey in 2001.
A standout for the Ducks, John Miller was ever bit as impressive in the classroom as he was on the wrestling mat. The honor student won a national title as a junior in 1969, finishing in fifth as a sophomore and fourth as a senior at the NCAA championships. Along with three All American awards, Miller was also a two time PAC-12 champion. He ended his career with a record of 78-12.
We unfortunately lost Miller in 1978, when he was killed during a robbery.
A three time PAC-12 champion for the Ducks, Erb earned All American honors his senior season placing seventh at the 1983 NCAA championships.
Having trouble reading this? If so, I know a good optometrist. Before become a wrestling coach at Cascade Christian high school and working as an optometrist, Vidlak first had a stand out career at Oregon wrestling for the Ducks. A four time NCAA qualifier, Vidlak took All American honors in his sophomore and junior seasons placing eighth and seventh at the NCAA championships. He also won PAC-12 titles in his junior and senior seasons.
Roberts came to Oregon from the state of Washington where he won a state title for University high school. A four time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks, Roberts took All American honors twice. He placed fourth as a sophomore in 1994 and eighth as a junior in 1995. Post graduation, he coached at Northern Idaho, Minnesota & Oregon State.
A two time state champion for Hillsboro high, Ensrud had a very successful career for the Ducks. Two PAC-12 titles placing fourth at the NCAA championships as a junior in 1997 and third as a senior in 1998. He was also a runner-up at the Midlands.
Ensrud coached at Oregon for a while after graduation and has been exceptionally instrumental in getting girls wrestling into the state of Oregon & it’s growth.
Jarrett made an immediate impact for the Ducks winning a PAC-12 title as a freshman in 1985. He’d win another PAC-12 title as a senior in 1989, adding an All American honor to his resume with a seventh place finish at the NCAA’s.
Bill Nugent was a four time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks between 1979 and 1982. Winning PAC-12 titles in 1981 & 1982, he was named the Outstanding wrestler of the 1982 championships. In the same season as a senior, he placed fourth at the NCAA tournament.
Post graduation, Nugent coached at Oregon City High School.
Wrestling for West Albany high where he won three Oregon state titles, Scott Glenn started his career off at the University of Iowa before returning to Oregon for his final three seasons. Glenn qualified for the NCAA championships three times, taking eighth place All American honors in his final season of 1991.
A native of Kodiak, Alaska, Scott Norton was also a standout on the cross country and track team while in high school. He finished third twice at the Alaska high school state wrestling championships before winning a title his senior season. Wrestling for the Ducks, Norton won three PAC-12 titles, placing fourth at the NCAA championships his senior year of 1997.
A native of West Mesa, New Mexico where he was a state champion, Bracamonte won a PAC-12 title and took fifth place All American honors for the Ducks in 2006. In the same season he pinned would be NCAA champion Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State in the first period of the finals at the Reno Tournament of Champions.
A state champion for Cimarron Memorial high school in Nevada, Harris spent a year at Lassen Community College before transferring to Oregon. Wrestling for the Ducks he qualified for three NCAA tournaments, winning a PAC-12 title and placing fourth at the national tournament as a senior in 2002.
A four time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks, Duane Stutzman took All American honors placing fifth at the 1974 NCAA tournament as a junior. He won PAC-12 titles in 1973 & 1975.
Scott Bliss had a very successful career for the Ducks which involved placing sixth at the 1978 NCAA tournament as a sophomore and took second as a senior in 1980 also winning a PAC-12 title. Graduating with 120 career victories he became the youngest NCAA Division I head coach when he took over the reigns at the University of Montana. He coached the Grizzlies up until the program was dropped in 1987. Ironically the same year the school won its one and only BIG SKY conference title.
A member of the 1981 World team, Bliss also coached at Wyoming and Oregon State. He, like Ensrud was very instrumental in the growth of girl’s wrestling in Oregon. He sadly passed away in 2013.
Chuck Kearney started his career at Oklahoma State before finishing his career at Oregon where he won a PAC-12 title and took fifth place at the 1988 NCAA championships as a senior. He was the final head coach of the Duck wrestling program when Kilkenny eliminated the program in 2007.
Ironically enough he later coached baseball for a short stint before getting back into coaching wrestling.
Don Brown came to Oregon from California where he finished in third place at the 1976 high school state championships. Wrestling for the Ducks he made All American honors his junior season of 1979 placing sixth at the NCAA championships. Although he fell short of All American the next season, he did cap off his career by winning a PAC-12 title.
A three time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks, Strahm placed third at the NCAA championships as a senior in 1991. He was also All PAC-12 academically during his career as well.
A standout in football & baseball as well, Doug Lee had 130 wins during his two time state championship career at Crater High School. Wrestling for the Ducks, he placed fourth at the 2000 NCAA championships, winning a PAC-12 title in 2001. He also placed fifth at the prestigious Midlands tournament.
Also from Crater high school, Webster won three state titles in an impressive 160-6 career record. He was every bit as impressive wrestling for Oregon as he’d take sixth place All American honors as a true sophomore in 2003. He’d come back as a senior in 2006, capping off his career by becoming the second wrestler in Duck history to win a national title.
Not that I think Chael Sonnen would ever read anything I wrote but if he is reading this article, up to this very point he’s probably thinking to himself, “Why in the Hell is this jackal calling Ken Kesey the most famous Duck wrestler? Is he serious? Doesn’t he know that I wrestled for Oregon?”
Yes indeed, I am well aware. A two time PAC-12 runner up who placed eighth at the 1998 NCAA’s as a sophomore, Sonnen saw his best performances at the Midlands championships where he went fifth, seventh, third in his last three seasons.
The MMA superstar who finished in second place at the Oregon State tournament wrestling for West Linn, began his career at Brigham Young (another program we’ve lost) before transferring to Oregon.
He took a Silver medal at the University Worlds in 2000.
His brother Cory was a three time NCAA qualifier for the Ducks as well.
Although he never won an NCAA title I think the two time NCAA runner-up in 1975 & 1976 would have to be considered as the best wrestler to ever come out of the University of Oregon. The native of Shasta high school in California won a total of 18 medals in his international career post college. We’re talking World silvers in 1981 and 1983, a World bronze in 1982 and an Olympic silver in 1984.
Hate to end it here as there are so many more greats to talk about in Duck wrestling but I can’t name them all.