May 6, 2015 at 5:15pm
Deb Hale Kirchner

After an absence of seven years, wrestling is returning to the Big Blue lineup of NCAA Division III varsity program offerings for the 2015-16 academic year. The university is also exploring the possibility of an additional women’s sport that could begin competition within the next two-to-four years.

“There are more than 17,000 high school wrestlers in Illinois, and the restoration of the Big Blue wrestling program will provide additional student-athletes the opportunity to experience Millikin’s performance-learning educational program while competing in the sport they love,” said Millikin President Dr. Patrick E. White during the December announcement of the program’s return.

In January, Millikin hired Ryan Birt, a seasoned wrestling coach with more than 16 years of coaching experience, to head the program. Birt most recently coached at Loras College (see related article, next page). Millikin will become the fifth College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) institution to compete in wrestling.

“The Midwest has a number of wrestlers who have their college choice limited to the few schools offering the sport,” says Athletics Director Dr. Craig White. “Millikin is now in a position to offer these student-athletes the opportunity to perform on the wrestling mat and in the classroom as they prepare for success in life. Birt’s excellent knowledge of the sport and strong coaching background will serve Millikin well as we build a competitive wrestling program.”

Millikin originally fielded a wrestling program from 1959-2008, when the program was placed on dormant status. Through the years, 47 Big Blue wrestlers advanced to the NCAA National Championships with five of those student-athletes earning All-American honors. Millikin’s best finish at nationals was second place by Kip Crandall, class of 1989, during the 1987-88 school year.

Helping to expedite re-establishment of the program, an anonymous Millikin alumnus issued a challenge to alumni and friends, offering to match dollar-for-dollar all donations to Big Blue wrestling, up to $100,000.

High school wrestlers and coaches wishing to learn more about the Big Blue wrestling program and Millikin athletics should call Dr. Craig White at 217-424-6344, email him at, or visit to view Millikin’s new wrestling page. To make a gift in support of the program, visit or contact Dave Brandon, vice president for alumni and development, at 217-424-6383 or

Justin Edwards ’07 wrestled for the Big Blue in 2006.
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