by Dr. Michael S. Yuhasz (Past Wrestling Coach & Professor Emeritus, School of Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario)
Wrestling started at Western in 1931, on a club basis preceding Intercollegiate competition, which began in 1932 when Western wrestled at Toronto. The team was coached by Vic Lafontaine. Western was a small regional University with only 600 students at the new campus on the hill and didn’t have a gymnasium until 1950. All of those years, the wrestlers and boxers practiced in a cleared out locker room in the football stadium on gym mats covered by a canvas cover. Mat burns were common. Early wrestling practices and training consisted of learning wrestling holds and wrestling. Wrestlers would help each other with their skills. Coaching was laissez-faire and quite informal. In competition, the wrestlers wore black wool shorts with a Western crest and no top and black high-topped basketball shoes. The strength of wrestling was in the YMCA’s and competitions were informal and held in the stadium locker room. The contestants were usually matched for weight without specific concern for weight classes. There was no scoring and no spectators. In the Intercollegiate Tournament the three combative sports,- wrestling, boxing and fencing were combined for scoring purposes and called an Assault-at-Arms. The Assault-at-Arms lasted until 1949 when boxing was discontinued at Western. Until then wrestling took place in a standard boxing ring with ropes. The match was ten minutes long or until one opponent scored two falls. If there was no fall, the match was decided by a judge who scored the winner of each minute of the match. The one with the greater points in the sum of the ten one-minute periods was declared the winner. If they tied, they wrestled another five minutes.
Claud Turner, who had wrestled for the University of Toronto, was appointed coach in 1936 and continued until 1949, except for the war years when intercollegiate competition was suspended. He coached Mike Yuhasz to his championships in 1948 and 1949. Mike Yuhasz succeeded him as coach in 1949-50 when Western entered Senior Intercollegiate Wrestling team competition. Western was growing and expanding and in 1949-1950 the enrolment had increased to 1,600.
The first full use of the new Thames Hall occurred in 1950-51 and the wrestlers enjoyed a spacious new combatives room with three full sized practice mats with a vinyl cover. The new coach, Don Conway, held full time faculty appointment in Physical Education with coaching responsibilities. Wrestling practices became more organized. The wrestlers competed in full wrestling tights and the use of head gear was introduced as an option. The bouts were three three-minute periods under NCAA rules. Dual meets were initiated with a few American Colleges. Conway’s 1951-52 wrestling team, with Colin Hubling (Wall of Fame Inductee 1989), was the first to win a Senior OQUAA championship. Don Conway left Western after only two years and Dr. Earle Zeigler, the Head of the Department of P.E., filled in. He was Glynn Leyshon’s coach when he won his wrestling championships in 1953 and 1954. Leyshon felt that Zeigler set high standards, motivated and treated the wrestlers well. Leyshon remembers the yellow ‘GLUP’ that the wrestlers consumed before the match that Zeigler concocted to replace the electrolytes lost by fasting and dehydrating.
When Mike Yuhasz returned to Western he shared the coaching with Earle Zeigler in 1954-55. It was one of the few years that Western never won an individual title. Yuhasz coached for the next nine years, winning Sr. Intercollegiate Team Championships in 1956, 1958 and 1960. The 1958 team was outstanding as it had a record six individual champions in the nine weight classes, including Wall of Fame Inductees,- Reg Reynolds, Jim Joy, and Don Nielsen. The wrestlers during Yuhasz’s tenure, learned their skills at University as none of the team members had any prior wrestling experience. In 1959, Mike Yuhasz held the first High School Wrestling Tournament inviting eight teams to Thames Hall. Glynn Leyshon’s team from Winston Churchill Collegiate, Toronto, won the team championship. A second tournament was held the next year before OFSAA ( Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) began its high school tournament in 1961. To promote wrestling as a high school sport, Mike Yuhasz inaugurated wrestling as part of the physical activity curriculum in the Honours Physical Education Program for future Physical Education teachers and coaches. The course content was eventually put together in a book, “ Basic Wrestling for High School Instruction” in 1963, co-authored by Mike Yuhasz, Glynn Leyshon and Bill Salter. It was the first Canadian wrestling book written for high school use. As the interest in wrestling began to take hold, Yuhasz ran wrestling clinics for coaches and teachers in several centers throughout Ontario. Dr. Mike Yuhasz continued to coach until 1963.
Glynn Leyshon appointed in 1963-64 and coached the Western teams for the next 17 years. In the early years of the sixties Western had a surge in enrollment and even more rapid growth in the latter half of decade when the enrollment doubled to over 11,000 students. Wrestling in high schools experienced phenomenal growth in the decade so that the university wrestlers had several years of wrestling under their belt. Dr. Leyshon actively recruited wrestlers. Leyshon was a knowledgeable coach with loads of energy. He became one of the top coaches in Canada. His goal was to have the team compete in the National Open Championships and he was successful. He was able to influence the governing body of Canadian Amateur Wrestling to change the dates of the finals so that university wrestlers could compete at the close of their finals. International (FILA) rules were adopted in 1969-1970, the same year that National (CIAU) competition was inaugurated. That same year, Peter Michienzi, served as interim coach while Leyshon completed his PhD at Oregon. During Leyshon’s tenure the wrestling team won championships in 1965,‘69,’71,’73,’75,’78, and 1979. Wrestlers who competed on Leyshon’s teams and have been inducted into the Western Wall of Fame are: Guy Zink, Clive Llewellyn, Ron Schad, Charlie Nixon, Bill McDonnell, Brian Renken, John Park, Lloyd Renken, Peter Lockyer. Ray Takahashi won four OUA & CIAU individual wrestling championships, two with coach Leyshon in 1979 and ‘80, and two under Josip Mrkoci in 1981 and ‘82. Leyshon had been selected as the 1980 Olympic Games coach and was extremely disappointed when Canada boycotted the Games. With his heavy workload as Assistant Dean, Athletic Director, wrestling coach and teaching professor, he thought that it was time to step down. Josip Mrkoci, coached by Leyshon, and a Western wrestling champion in 1973, was hired part-time to coach. Two years later, in 1982-1983, Rob Moore, a University of Toronto graduate, was recruited and hired by Leyshon on a part-time basis and became the next coach through the 1985 season.
Ray Takahashi , was appointed as wrestling coach in 1985-86 while a graduate student within the Faculty of Physical Education. The idea for the creation of the Wrestling Wall of Fame was immediately initiated by Takahashi and several of his past teammates. It was supported by a donation from Glynn Leyshon, Earle Zeigler and Mike Yuhasz who formed the selection committee. Western won its first CIAU Championship in 1990 and won OUA championship titles in 1990, ‘91, ‘94, 2012, 2103, AND ’14. The Glynn Leyshon Trophy for the Most Dedicated Wrestler who demonstrated leadership and team spirit was initiated by Takahashi. The first wrestler to receive the trophy was Ian Sinclair in 1992. Anne Guzman was the first woman to be put on the wrestling team roster at Western in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2000-2001 that Western officially recognized Women’s Wrestling as an official varsity team and Intercollegiate sport. In 2001, Western had its first CIAU Women’s champion when, Belinda Chou, captured the 53 kg title, and was selected as Western’s outstanding female athlete during 2000-’01 (FWP Jones Trophy). The CIAU league was renamed the CIS – Canadian Intercollegiate Sport while the OUAA is now called the OUA – Ontario University Sport. In 2007, the women’s team won its first OUA title. Western announced funding support to Athletic Financial Awards in May 2007.
Western has become a stronghold for wrestling and tradition of excellence has been established in the sport. In the first 30 years of Senior Intercollegiate competition the wrestling team were always fighting it out for the championship. The team won nine Senior Intercollegiate Championships and placed second 13 times. Most of Western’s wrestling coaches have been full-time members of the Faculty of Physical Education/Kinesiology and, therefore, gave stability and continuity to the wrestling program. Western was the first university to provide a tournament for high school wrestlers and to actively promote wrestling and aid in its development. The coaches selected have been outstanding, and as a result have attracted good athletes.
In March 2009, Saeed Azarbayjani joined the coaching staff at Western and the London-Western Wrestling Club. His position, along with being able to provide Athletic Financial Awards to high level recruits, was made possible by fund raising efforts (ongoing) through the “Changing Lives One Wrestler at a Time” campaign initiated by a group of alumni and past coaches.