Recently, Alma College in Michigan announced the hiring of Todd Hibbs as the head coach for their new wrestling team. The team is not really new, as Alma previously had wrestling until 1984 and won multiple conference championships in the early 1980’s. However, the program was dropped in 1984 and lay dormant until it was revived for the 2011-2012 season. In a push to expand the school’s offerings, wrestling will be joined by women’s bowling next season as well.
Located in Alma, Michigan, Alma College is a small liberal arts school of 1,400 or so undergraduates. The school competes in NCAA Division III and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Scots will compete in 22 sports in the upcoming school year, and Alma is located about 80 miles north of the other Division III wrestling school in Michigan (as well as Hibbs’ previous stop) Olivet College.
Todd Hibbs had built the Olivet College wrestling program into a national contender that consistently put wrestlers on the podium at the NCAA Championships. After the 2009 season, Hibbs stepped down as head coach but stayed at Olivet as the Vice President for Institutional Advancement. Most did not expect to see Hibbs matside again anytime soon, but there he will be next November when the 2011-2012 season gets underway. Getting to this point was a journey for Hibbs best explained in his own words.
This was a lifestyle move. A few months ago, Karen and I realized with two jobs requiring extensive travel that we needed help. We ran this ad, “Have you seen the Brady Bunch? We need Alice.” We got 35 applications and were narrowing the field, when Karen said, “You know who would be good at this job?” I said, “Who?” and she said, “ME!” I know that successful coaching requires time commitments, too, but I couldn’t take my 2-1/2 year old son Brock on a 10-day work trip to California with me. I can, however, take him to practice in the wrestling room. I won’t be missing any of my five-year-old daughter Kayla’s piano recitals anymore either. Still, it was a terrific wife and a college that made a real commitment to a new wrestling program that allowed me to go back to mentoring young men, which is what I enjoy doing most.
Any new program faces an uphill battle, not the least of which is filling out a roster. With Hibbs just recently taking the job, and the 2011-2012 season starting in a short eight months, getting the 20-24 wrestlers Hibbs hopes to start with in 2011 will be a challenge. Hibbs has a plan to get started. “We need to fill the roster with young men who believe that a college wrestling program is a great place to mature and become tomorrow’s community leaders of integrity – while picking up some nice wrestling hardware along the way. Since I don’t have to coach a current team while the rest of my buddies are out there at conferences, regionals and nationals these next four weeks – I had better hit the road now!”
That takes care of the short term, but the long term goals are important to Hibbs as well. He did not set a timetable for how long he would be coaching at Alma, but the long term goal when handing the team to his successor is to have “a classy program that is annually at or near the top ten both academically and athletically.” He managed that at Olivet during his five year tenure winning more than twice as many duals as he lost while coaching four All-Americans and 17 Scholar All-Americans while finishing in the top ten for team GPA in four of his five seasons.
Hibbs is excited to be back on the mat next year but is content to sit back and watch what is shaping up to be an exciting postseason at each level of college wrestling. “At both the Division I and Division III level it is a blast to see so many teams and so many new names in the mix. And I am also excited about the addition of other programs in addition to Alma College. Hopefully this resurgence will continue.”
Hopefully, Alma College will be an example to other schools encouraging them to start or restart their Division III wrestling teams in the coming years. Hibbs hopes to be a standard bearer showing that a new team can compete athletically and academically, making the investment in wrestling worth it to any Division III school.