SCMAT Exclusive Wrestling Article 2-24-12

College influences on S.C. high school wrestling ... 
... Part 2 ... Furman University

PLEASE NOTE ... this article may be updated with edits and corrections over the next few weeks.
                consider this a draft that will be refined as wrestling fans provide updates.

Furman wrestling team 1969-1970

Furman wrestling team 1969-1970

SCMAT continues a six part series covering the early years of high school wrestling in South Carolina.
This is Part 2 of our series on College influences on S.C. high school wrestling - Furman University.
In this Exclusive article, we will take a look at the years before the first SCHSL State Tournament
and go back to college influences on high school wrestling in the state, beginning in 1965.  Our first 
article was South Carolina high school wrestling ... in the beginning. We recognized Spartanburg Day School.
Our second article, College influences on S.C. high school wrestling ... Part 1 looked at all S.C. colleges 
that have had wrestling programs.

Furman University's influence on 
S.C. high school wrestling ...

Before we dive into the influence Furman had on S.C. high school wrestling starting in the 
mid to late 1960's, it is important to recognize several of the wrestling leaders at Furman
that helped develop a mentality across South Carolina that wrestling was going to grow fast.


A few years ago I stumbled across a wrestler's name in the early years of Furman's program
and I actually recognized the name as the founder of one of my favorite Theater companies,
Trustus Theater in Columbia, SC (  I also recognized his name as a former
wrestling coach in South Carolina.

I had lunch with Jim Thigpen at M Vista and was curious to hear about his wrestling background
and his years at Furman.  It was a nice surprise to discover I had met the person that could
fill in the missing pieces to half of this story.  He was the founder of Furman wrestling.

Jim Thigpen had grown up in Chicago, IL and wrestled in high school.  Before arriving on campus 
in S.C. he had been in the military, so he came to Furman a bit older than most freshman.  
Jim had a keen sense of initiative and leadership back in 1964, as I gathered during our lunch.
He wanted to pursue wrestling again, so he went to the Furman Administration and asked if
he could start a team.  Furman agreed and the varsity wrestling team was launched during 
Jim's sophomore season (1964-1965), with Jim as the Captain and the Coach.  Dr. Wilbur Carr
was selected from the Furman Faculty to provide guidance.  More details on that first season
and the rest of Jim's wrestling career at Furman will be provided further down in this article.

Jim Thigpen 1966

Jim Thigpen in the 1965-1966 wrestling season at Furman

After college, Jim coached wrestling at JL Mann and AC Flora.  He coached several state placers 
in his years at AC Flora.  His interest in theater would change his career by the early 1980's.
Along with his wife Kay as co-founder, Jim started Trustus theater in 1985.  Trustus opened in 
an old nightclub on Assembly Street in Columbia, SC. It was promptly vandalized. Then it had a 
bomb scare.  Trustus theater survived all of the early challenges and has contributed to the 
development of the Vista, as one of the early businesses to open there.  In 1988, Trustus Theater
(known for it's cozy, casual rockers and popcorn) moved to its current location at 520 Lady St.  
A 2000 Verner Award-winning theater, Trustus has been cited by the S.C. Legislature, recognized
with the S.C. Governor's Award for the Arts and brought national recognition to Columbia over 
the years with articles in The New York Times and American Theatre. 
Jim Thigpen profile on Trustus staff page
Jim Thigpen’s Swan Song - Trustus co-founder stepping down at the end of this season 
after 27 years as the theatre’s artistic director.


Coach Bob Bonheim arrived at Furman University in 1966.  He had been the head wrestling coach 
at South High School in Torrance, CA.  In 1962, Coach Bonheim's South Torrance wrestling team
would win the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation.  He was a winning
coach and he brought that mentality to Furman.  Much to the benefit of all South Carolina, while
Coach Bonheim was at Furman, he was instrumental across the entire state with expanding wrestling.  

He held Wrestling Clinics, started the first High School Invitational Wrestling tournament in 1967,
published a position paper in November 1968 in the South Carolina Journal of Health, Physical Education
and Recreation on the benefits of launching wrestling in S.C. - entitled "Wrestling, Why Not?".
Read all four pages of this historic article here - Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4.
He was also an Official at the first State Wrestling Tournament in 1969 ... and the list goes on.  
He was all over South Carolina promoting the sport and helping it expand at the high school level.
Coach Bob Bonheim

Coach Bob Bonheim

Coach Bonheim would take Furman out of the start-up phase of wrestling and build a competitive
program, recruiting and developing some of the best talent in the region.  Coach Bonheim left Furman 
to become the head wrestling coach at Liberty University in VA from 1974-1986 where he compiled 
a record of 118-31.  The Liberty wrestling program grew from a small group of walk-on athletes in 
1974 to one of the more successful programs in the nation.  The program began as a member of the 
National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) and Liberty quickly made its mark at the 
NCCAA level, winning five-consecutive national championships, starting with the 1976-77 season.  

In 1981, Liberty moved to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level where 
Liberty finished its first season 18th at the national tournament. The Flames followed with a pair 
of Top 20 finishes over the next three seasons, before moving to the NCAA Division II ranks for the 
1983-84 season. In its first season at the Division II ranks, the Flames placed 23rd at the national 
tournament, while continuing to improve over the next several seasons, highlighted by a fifth-place 
finish at the national championship in 1986.
The Liberty University Athletics Department inducted seven members into its inaugural Hall of Fame class
in 2009, including Coach Bob Bonheim.  The write-up at Liberty's wbe site stated "Bob Bonheim orchestrated 
the first true national powerhouse at Liberty, guiding the Flames wrestling program to five-straight NCCAA 
national championships (1977-1981). The two-time NCCAA National Coach of the Year (1976 and 1981) finished 
his days roaming the mats with a 118-31 dual meet record, winning at an impressive 79.2 percent clip. 

A 2003 inductee into the Central Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, Bonheim coached 35 All-Americans, including 
eight at the NCAA level. Twenty-one of his grapplers went on to win NCCAA national titles. Bonheim, who also 
served four years as a defensive line coach for the football program, helped wrestling move from NCCAA to 
NCAA Division II, finishing fifth nationally during his final season as head coach in the Flames third year 
at the new level."


Besides the Wrestling Clinics Furman held at regional high schools and helping
develop wrestling programs at Daniel and Belton-Honea Path, Furman would become
recognized as starting the first S.C. High School Invitational Wrestling Tournament.

Here is a history on this tournament: 
Furman University Invitational High School Wrestling Tournament.


The following links will take you to scans/photos from Furman University's 
early wrestling years in South Carolina:

1964-1965 season

Furman wrestling team 1964-1965

In the first season, Furman's wrestling team faced Emory, The Citadel and Carson Newman 
as well as competed in the Southern Conference tournament.  Jim Thigpen is a sophomore
wrestler and takes the leadership as Captain and Coach of the new team.

1965-1966 season

Jim Thigpen Furman wrestling 1966 - continues as Captain and Coach of the team
Article in The News and Courier - Dec 4, 1965 - Furman losing to The Citadel

1966-1967 season

Coach Bob Bonheim arrives from California and becomes the head wrestling coach.

Furman Wrestling roster 1966-1967
Furman Wrestling schedule 1966-1967
Coach Bob Bonheim and senior Captain Jim Thigpen 1966-1967

1967-1968 season

Furman wrestling was not active during the 1967-1968 season

1968-1969 season

Furman wrestling team 1968-1969
Article in the The News and Courier - Feb 25, 1969 - on match between Furman and The Citadel
Pete Smith finishes fourth at the Southern Conference tournament.

1969-1970 season

Furman wrestling team 1969-1970
Furman wrestling schedule 1969-1970

Bill Blue finishes third at the Southern Conference tournament.

1970-1971 season

Wrestling Clinic in Charleston with Coach Bob Bonheim of Furman

Photo from the 1970 wrestling clinic with Coach Bob Bonheim of Furman (left), 
Bruno Cerchiai (bottom wrestler), Chuck Jean (top wrestler), Coach Jim Flowers 
of Charleston H.S. and Coach Ken Shelton of The Citadel (on the right).

Bill Blue finishes fourth at the Southern Conference tournament.

1971-1972 season

Furman wrestling schedule 1971-1972
Furman wrestling roster 1971-1972

Furman scores 10 points at the Southern Conference tournament, all by it's 4 outstanding Freshman.

Note in this roster Ernie Grigsby, the brother of current Airport Wrestling Coach Ray Grigsby.
Ernie Grigsby was the 1971 S.C. State Champ at 165 lbs. while wrestling at Brookland-Cayce.

Also note in this roster, one of America's most well known executives, Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy. 

Since 2001, Dan T. Cathy has served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, Inc.
Chick-fil-A was founded by Dan's father, Truett Cathy.  Dan and his brother, Donald M. “Bubba” Cathy, 
who serves as Senior Vice President of Chick-fil-A, were both high school state wrestling champions
for the Woodward Academy in Georgia. Dan won the state title at 119 pounds in 1971 and had a 40-4 
record his last two years. Dan continues to help the sport of wrestling. For 20 years, Chick-fil-A 
and the Cathy family sponsored the Georgia state wrestling awards banquet. Dan Cathy was inducted into
the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008 as an Outstanding American, nominated by the Georgia State
Chapter.  Dan's brother Bubba Cathy would join him at Furman in the next wrestling season, 1972-1973.

Dan Cathy

Dan Cathy w/ National Wrestling Hall of Fame plaque

1972-1973 season

Furman wrestling team 1972-1973

Rick Lowe finishes fourth at the Southern Conference tournament.

Last and unfortunately a few articles describing the elimination of Furman wrestling in 1990:

1989-1990 season

Article in The Item - Nov 16, 1990 - Furman wrestlers to picket Game
Article in The News and Courier - Nov 17, 1990 - Wrestling terminated at Furman

As we have seen across the nation, many collegiate wrestling programs have been eliminated
due to Title IX - S.C. saw this occur to Furman, Clemson, Winthrop and most likely S.C. State.

This concludes our article on Furman University's impact on the early years of high school wrestling 
in South Carolina.  To the coaches and wrestlers at Furman University in the 1960's and 1970's, 
we express gratitude and thanks for helping start high school wrestling in South Carolina.

Special thanks to Coach Bob Bonheim and Jim Thigpen for sharing their stories from Furman wrestling.

These historical articles at SCMAT will hopefully provide accurate facts though we may always have missed
some data at some point.  If you notice a correction, addition or just want to comment please send a reply 

Mark Buford

Photos and Scans above were provided by Coach Bob Bonheim or were in the Furman Yearbooks, 
unless noted otherwise.