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From "The Hill" to "The Hilltop"

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In honor of UNI finishing the season as the only Division I team undefeated in dual meets and Cornell College hosting the NCAA Division III Championships in a little more than two weeks, it might be good to revisit the first great Iowa intercollegiate rivalry - the post WWII teams at Cornell College and Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI).


World War II interrupted the lives of every one in America - including those of college wrestlers. ISTC stars Gerry Leeman and Bill Koll went off to war, Leeman as a fighter pilot and Koll as a combat engineer who earned a Bronze Star for his actions on Omaha Beach on D-Day. In 1946 America was returning to normalcy. Dave McCuskey was the ISTC coach and he was anticipating the return of his stars. Seventy miles away in Mount Vernon, coach Paul Scott was looking to improve his Cornell team. His first step was to recruit three highly touted seniors at Waterloo West: Dick Hauser, Leo Thomsen and Lowell Lange. His sales pitch was built around the fact that McCuskey had a lot of guys coming back. The NCAA had decided to allow freshmen to compete in varsity competition and in Cedar Falls they might have to wait to crack the lineup, but he, Scott, could get them on the mat right away. Hauser and Thomsen were sold, but Lange was undecided - McCuskey was also recruiting him.


Scott's next step was to organize an AAU team and take them all to New York for the AAU championships. The story of the trip is pretty fun, but the most important result was that Lange committed to Cornell.


Both schools had a long wrestling history and each has two Distinguished Members in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Finn Eriksen and Leroy Alitz from ISTC and Dick Barker and Lloyd Appleton from Cornell. For the six years from 1947 to 1952 (with the exception of 1948 when Scott withheld his team from the NCAA Championships), these schools were among the most powerful in the country. They are the only two teams to ever win the NCAA and AAU team championships in the same year - Cornell in 1947 and ISTC in 1950.


ISTC has 7 Distinguished Members of the NWHOF from that era and Cornell has 3. Combined they have four 3X NCAA champions. ISTC has produced an Olympic Champion (Bill Smith) and Silver Medalist (Gerry Leeman) and Cornell an Olympic Silver Medalist (Lloyd Appleton).


Cornell grad (and member of the 1947 "Dream Team"), Dale Thomas, coached at Oregon State and won more dual meets than any NCAA coach in history. Bob Siddens, Bill Koll, Keith Young, Gerry Leeman and Lowell Lange all went on to successful coaching careers - including coaching a guy named Gable.


As a side fact - Lloyd Appleton (Cornell) and Leroy Alitz (ISTC) had combined tenures of 42 years as the head coach at the US Military Academy. Alitz coached Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf.


If you find this stuff interesting at all, I highly recommend Arno Niemand's book, The Dream Team of 1947.

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