Ron Edwards Honored for Mizzou Wrestling Revival

COLUMBIA, Mo. — You won’t find Ron Edwards’ name adorning any banners on Mizzou’s campus. There are no statues bearing his likeness. Even the most passionate Tigers fan has likely never heard his name. 

But his impact is historic. His presence still echoes decades later. Nowhere does Edwards’ contribution to Mizzou Athletics mean more than the fourth floor of Hearnes Center — the “Penthouse,” as longtime wrestling coach Brian Smith calls his decades-old home to Mizzou Wrestling.

Without Edwards, though, Smith’s program might never have existed. That’s why Smith, entering his 27th season at Mizzou and putting the final touches on his autobiography, visited Columbia’s Kiwanis Park this week to honor the little-known but tremendous legacy that Edwards left behind. On Tuesday, the Kiwanis Club of Columbia presented its annual Don Faurot Sportsperson of the Year Award to its first posthumous recipient: Ron Edwards, the man responsible for reviving Mizzou’s wrestling program more than 60 years ago. Edwards, who died in 2023 at the age of 85, was represented by his children, Tammy Hickman and Davin Tipton, both of Columbia, who accepted the award on his behalf. 

Ron Edwards/Faurot Award
Tammy Hickman, left, holds a plaque featuring her father, the late Ron Edwards, alongside Bill Clark, center, and her brother, Davin Tipton./ Mizzou Athletics

The list of past winners is loaded with some of the most famous names in Mizzou history. Past winners with MU ties include men’s basketball’s Doug Smith (1991) and Norm Stewart (1994); football’s Corby Jones (1999) and Brad Smith (2006); women’s basketball’s Cindy Stein (2001) and Sophie Cunningham (2015); wrestling’s Smith (2019) and J’den Cox (2016); track and field’s Rick McGuire (2008) and Karissa Schweizer (2018); and assorted administrators, coaches, and trainers, including Fred Wappel (1995), Mike Alden (2009), John Kadlec (2010) and Gene McArtor (2014).

Smith attended Tuesday’s ceremony to pay tribute to Edwards — and collect some material for his afternoon practice. Always a diligent student of history, Smith often shares history lessons that can resonate with his team. That was especially true this week.

“It’s an important thing in our program, to share the history of the program and keep it going,” Smith told a small gathering of Kiwanis Club members. “So today’s history lesson at practice — because all 38 guys will be at practice today — they’ll get the Ron Edwards story.”

Ron’s story lives on thanks to journalist, activist, historian and chronicler of all things Columbia Bill Clark. With vivid memories and colorful details, Clark shared Ron’s story on Tuesday. It started with a visit to Faurot, back in 1959, when the Hall of Fame football coach was into his second tenure as Mizzou’s athletics director. By then, the school had gone nearly two decades since disbanding its wrestling program, part of university-wide budget cuts triggered by the Great Depression. 

Edwards had just transferred from Southern Illinois-Carbondale, where he wrestled as an underclassman. Mizzou’s wrestling program had gone dormant since 1937. Edwards wanted to do something about it. So he went straight to the one person who could grant his wish.

The athletics director.

“Don Faurot told him, ‘OK, young man,'” Clark recalled this week, ” ‘if you can find a coach and explain there’s no salary and no money for travel, no money for food, no money for recruiting — no money for the program now or down the road … I’ll give you the tumbling room at Rothwell Gym.”

That’s when Edwards crossed paths with Clark, who came to Mizzou to study journalism and already had his own column at the Columbia Missourian, called “Columbia Sports Review”— a precursor to his long-running column in the Columbia Daily Tribune. 

As he always would through his prolific career, Clark had connections. Not far away in Sturgeon, Missouri, Clark knew of a man named Marshall Esteppe. He was the town’s assistant postmaster and a cattle farmer. Oh, and he happened to be a former state high school championship wrestler and spent 30 years as a professional wrestler, going by the ring moniker “The Masked Marvel,” among others.

Edwards had found his coach. Esteppe had the time and expertise to take over the team. He also had the funds to support the program — and coached without a salary!

But it wasn’t a smooth launch: The first season — during the 1959-60 school year — saw the Tigers lose all seven of their matches, three without scoring a single point.

“They were bad,” Clark recalled.

But it was a start. And by 1964, the program broke through with a winning record. From there, Hap Whitney, another Faurot Sportsperson of the Year winner, took over as head coach and the program continued to make progress. In 1998, Smith inherited a program short on flashy facilities and financial resources but over time guided the Tigers to unseen heights with gobs of All-Americans, national champions and top-10 finishes.

This article is provided by University of Missouri Athletics
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