Next time college wrestling fans witness a scoring error in a high-stakes match, they need to take a cue from more than a half-century ago, at the 1963 NCAA championships: Speak up and let the officials know.
Two months ago at the 2015 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in St. Louis, a scoreboard error in a quarterfinals match between Cornell’s Brian Realbuto and Kent State’s Ian Miller changed the actual outcome by incorrectly awarding the win to Realbuto. (For a straightforward account of the match and scoring snafu, check out the “Centre Daily Times”, a community newspaper in Pennsylvania, with essentially no dog in the fight.) To add insult to injury in the minds of a number of college mat fans: the NCAA’s handling of the situation, refusing to reverse the result, and essentially blaming Kent State coaches for not challenging the score during the match.
College Wrestling Examiner recently came across an account of a somewhat similar scoreboard error at the 1963 NCAA wrestling championships which was resolved much more quickly – and, arguably, to the apparent satisfaction of most. (Interestingly, the nationals were held that year at Memorial Gym at Kent State University, the first time the northeast Ohio school had hosted the event.)
The incident from a half-century ago took place in the 157-pound finals, in a match featuring the two top wrestlers in the weight class: Oklahoma State’s Phil Kinyon, and Lehigh’s Kirk Pendleton. A number of factors added to the stakes. Both Pendleton and Kinyon were seniors, in their last college match. It was the third finals appearance for both Kinyon and Pendleton. Each wrestler had only two losses in his collegiate career; for Pendleton, those two losses were in the ’61 and ’62 NCAA finals. And, it was a rematch of their 1961 NCAA title bout at 157, where the Cowboy Kinyon shut out his Lehigh rival, 3-0.
Both Kinyon and Pendleton brought impressive wrestling resumes to their match at the 1963 NCAAs. Prior to wrestling at Oklahoma State, Kinyon had wrestled freestyle while in the Navy, and barely lost out on a spot on the 1960 US Olympic men’s freestyle team to Doug Blubaugh in a series of ten bruising bouts. The 28-year-old Kinyon – referred to as “the ancient Marine” by some Lehigh Valley media – was a three-time Big Eight (now Big 12) conference champ. With his compact, muscular physique, and thick hair on his arms and chest (but a receding hairline up top), Kinyon was a formidable-looking foe whose strength and aggressiveness on the mat put fear in the hearts of many college middleweights. Although a bit more boyish-looking, Pendleton was no less feared. The lean-muscled Lehigh mat star was undefeated in dual meets… and was a three-time EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) champ who earned the nickname “the Crusher” by pinning 33 of his 64 college opponents. To add to Pendleton’s “don’t mess with” cred: the 1961 “Epitome” yearbook featured a photo of a bare-chested Pendleton sparring with a member of the Lehigh boxing squad.
Before the 1963 NCAAs, Lehigh head coach Gerry Leeman weighed in with his prediction for his man Pendleton. Leeman – himself an NCAA champ and 1948 US Olympic team member – told the “Bethlehem Globe-Times”: “Kinyon’s going to lose … Kirk can’t get to the finals three times and lose. He’s just too good.” If all that didn’t add to the pressure… the ’63 NCAAs were the first to be nationally televised on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” (albeit in a highly-edited, tape-delayed basis).
Both Kinyon and Pendleton wrestled stripped to the waist (the last NCAAs where that was allowed)… though the Lehigh mat star had his ribs heavily bandaged. There was no scoring in the first period, though, according to the Lehigh “Brown and White” student paper, Pendleton had nearly scored two double-leg takedowns. In the second period, Kinyon escaped from the down position after 32 seconds… then Pendleton took the Cowboy down with a “leg and arm lift” only to have Kinyon escape again, tying up the score, 2-2. However, the scoreboard indicated that Kinyon was ahead, 3-1, at the end of the second. “After an interruption of more than a minute, with fans shouting the correct 2-2 score, the mix-up was finally straightened out,” the “Brown and White” reported. (Coach Leeman later said, “Things like that can take a few years off your life.”)
After the scoreboard snafu was settled, the third period was wrestled. Pendleton broke the tie with an escape, followed by a leg-arm takedown in the final 33 seconds… making the final score 5-2 for the Lehigh senior. (After being taken down towards the end of the match, Kinyon said, “Congratulations, champ”, Pendleton said in an interview years after the match.)
Next time there’s a scoreboard screw-up, don’t depend on the NCAA to make things right, wrestling fans. Raise your voices from the stands, like the folks at Kent’s Memorial Gym did in 1963… and avoid repeating the 2015 NCAA scoring debacle.