UA Little Rock unveils plans for Greg Hatcher Wrestling Center
September 10-16, 2018
By Becca Bona
During the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, this past March, UA Little Rock announced its decision to add Division I Wrestling to their athletic repertoire. This marks the 15th sport the University will offer to students and the community.
The decision to add wrestling represents a growing popularity of the sport across the state, as well as a strategic plan to increase enrollment and strengthen the campus community. This past summer, Neil Erisman was announced as UA Little Rock’s new head wrestling coach. Erisman’s career includes competing and coaching at the Division I level at top programs including Oklahoma State and North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, the plans were unveiled in a press conference at Jack Stephens Center surrounding the state-of-the-art wrestling center that will become an anchor on the campus in 2019.
The wrestling center is possible thanks to a very generous donation from Greg and Lee Hatcher of $1.4 million, which will not only fund the center, but will also help secure the sport at the University.
“Greg and Lee’s gift to UA little Rock of $1.4 million will initiate and support a world-class wrestling program and center here on campus,” said Chancellor Andrew Rogerson at the press conference. “On behalf of our president Don Bobbit, and the UA Board of Trustees, this University and the City of Little Rock, we thank you for this generous gift to launch intercollegiate wrestling here at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.”
The center will consist of a 16,000 square foot, top-notch facility complete with four wrestling mats, locker rooms, a player’s lounge, training room, coaches’ offices, and two mixed-use patio areas that will strengthen the campus community.
Athletic Director Chasse Conque explained further, “Faculty, staff, and students will be able to gather and congregate [on those patios], and it will give us an opportunity for student engagement right in the heart of campus.”
Greg Hatcher, a prominent Little Rock businessman, built the local Hatcher Agency from the ground-up in the ’90s, providing services rooted in insurance consulting. Before moving to Arkansas, Hatcher was a competitive wrestler at the collegiate level back in Michigan. He is an avid supporter of sports across the state, and believes that there is a great need for wrestling at the collegiate level in Arkansas.
He detailed how far wrestling has come, saying, “I always give credit to the guy that really helped get [wrestling] started and that was Don Schuler in Bentonville, Arkansas. He called me thirteen, fourteen years ago and said, ‘I understand that you were a college wrestler, we had a couple clubs up here, can we get together and talk about it?’”
Since then, Hatcher has been involved with getting high schools on board in the Natural State to wrestle competitively. The need for a collegiate program is there, but getting a Division I program off the ground can be challenging.
“To be competitive – the common denominator of every single wrestling program we’ve started comes from leadership at the top. Sometimes it’s a guy at the top who wrestled and has a passion for it, but more often than not it’s just somebody that cares about giving kids the opportunity or doing more for their school,” said Hatcher.
“When the chancellor and athletic director said yes, we got the vote from both of them – that ultimately means more work and more energy, but also more resources and more opportunity. What I’m most proud of is that we get to offer these opportunities to more kids.”
Before Hatcher got involved, the sport was almost nonexistent in the state. Conque said, “Today we have some 4,000 wrestlers at 200-plus high schools, and we’ve hosted the state championships here for a number of years. The enthusiasm is there.”
UA Little Rock’s new coach is an embodiment of that excitement. Erisman is glad to be in Little Rock, as he said, “I grew up in Kansas City – I wrestled at Oklahoma State, and have been all over Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Me and my family used to come camping and riding horses in Arkansas, so I love the area.”
Beyond the natural beauty, though, he’s fallen in love with the campus.
“When I got on campus I realized that this is a small niche community here at Little Rock. Everybody’s on the same page, everybody has the same goals – we’re all going in the same direction and working together,” he said.
The program should be up and running in 2019.
“We’re excited to be able to put together a national schedule that will excite our fan base,” said Conque. “We’ve got some learning to do […] for those of you that attend some of our basketball games this year, I think we’ll have Coach Erisman out there with a microphone to teach us a few things. I can tell you it’s going to be exciting.”
Some information was compiled from UA Little Rock Office of Communications
On Tuesday, Aug. 28, UA Little Rock unveiled plans for the Greg Hatcher Wrestling Center amidst Arkansas high school wrestling coaches, UA Little Rock supporters, and the media. (Photo by Becca Bona)