Birt to head up restarted Millikin program

Last month, Millikin University announced their intention to restart their wrestling program after dropping the sport in 2008. Late last week, the Decatur, Illinois, school announced the hiring of Ryan Birt as their next head coach. Birt most recently was the Associate Head Wrestling Coach at Loras College where he was named 2014 Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year. As a wrestler, Birt was the 1999 NCAA Division III champion and 1997 runner-up for Upper Iowa University. He was also an All-IIAC performer on the football field. Millikin is the fifth school in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin with wrestling.


Ryan Birt

Millikin University Names Birt Head Wrestling Coach

DECATUR, Illinois—Millikin University is pleased to announce that Ryan Birt has been named the new Big Blue head wrestling coach. Last month Millikin announced that its NCAA varsity wrestling program would return to competition in the 2015-16 academic year after being dormant since 2008. Birt will start at Millikin on January 26.

“We are thrilled to welcome Ryan Birt to Millikin to lead the resurgence of a strong Big Blue wrestling program,” said Millikin University President Dr. Patrick White. “At Loras College, Coach Birt has been a driving force in recruitment and on-the-mat success for a team that has been consistently near the top of the Iowa Conference, the premier NCAA Division III wrestling conference.”

“We are very excited to have Ryan Birt joining the Big Blue staff to lead the return of our wrestling program,” said Dr. Craig White, Millikin Director of Athletics. “Birt’s excellent knowledge of the sport and a strong coaching background will serve Millikin well as we build a competitive wrestling program.”

“I am so thankful that President White and Dr. Craig White are giving me the opportunity to lead Millikin in the sport of wrestling,” said Birt. “It seems like there is a lot of support at Millikin and Central Illinois for wrestling so I believe we can be successful immediately. I can’t wait to get to work and put Millikin on the map as one of the top D3 programs in the country. I was raised an Urbana Tiger, so I am very excited to be coming home to Central Illinois and joining the Millikin staff.”

Birt comes to Millikin with over 16 years of wrestling coaching experience at the club, high school and collegiate level. Birt is an accomplished wrestler earning an NCAA National Championship and twice earning All-American status.

Birt was most recently the Associate Head Coach at Loras College in Iowa. Birt has been on the Loras staff since 2010 where he helped the Duhawks wrestling program become a top 20 program. Last season Loras finished 14th in NCAA Division III and earlier this season the Duhawks were ranked as high as eighth in the nation. Birt was named the NCAA Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year in 2014. He has coached nine NCAA qualifiers, five NCAA All-Americans and one NCAA Champion. He helped Loras raise over $100,000 to renovate team locker rooms and a wrestling room.

Birt started his coaching career in 2000 as an assistant coach at Forest City, Iowa High School. He then moved to Gibson City Melvin Sibley High School where he became head coach in 2002. He compiled over 150 dual meet wins, three regional championships and two sectional championships while at Gibson City. Birt qualified 20 individuals for the Illinois (IHSA) State Tournament, including 11 place-winners and two state champions. In 2003 Birt was inducted into Urbana High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

“An experienced teacher and coach, Ryan Birt will understand and further Millikin’s enactment of performance learning in every aspect of our student’s experience,” said President White.

Birt wrestled and played football at Upper Iowa University. His wrestling career included a perfect 39-0 season and NCAA National Championship in 1999. He was a two-time All-American and an NCAA runner up in 1997. He was twice an Iowa Conference Champion and named the Iowa Conference’s Most Outstanding Wrestler. He was also an all-conference linebacker in football at Upper Iowa. In 2010 he was inducted into the Peacock’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Birt graduated from Upper Iowa in 2000 with degrees in Physical Education and Secondary Special Education.

This fall Millikin will become the fifth College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) institution to compete in wrestling at the NCAA Division III level.

Millikin fielded a wrestling program from 1959 to 2008 when the program was suspended. Over the years, Millikin had 47 athletes advance to the NCAA National Championships with five wrestlers earning All-American honors.

Millikin wrestlers have earned 48 CCIW individual championships and have earned All-Conference honors 170 times. Millikin had eight second-place conference team finishes, including four times in the program’s final seven years.

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

High school wrestlers wishing to learn more about the Big Blue wrestling program and Millikin athletics should call Head Coach Ryan Birt 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 call Dave Brandon, Vice President for Alumni and Development at 217-424-6383 or email