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Mules Wrestling's New Practice Space Honors Coach Denker

Roger Denker Wrestling Facility

A big change happened in UCM’s Multipurpose Building at the end of the fall 2022 semester. Looking through the glass windows on the north side of the building, you no longer see an empty swimming pool but rather rows of shiny red and black mats with UCM’s mule logo in the center.

Wrestlers used to have to carry their 500-pound mats to whatever practice space they could find. Now they have more time to develop their skills not only with the team but individually in the morning or between classes.

Coach Garcia comes to UCM after seven seasons as head coach for Wildcats Wrestling at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas, where he coached 48 national qualifiers and five national champions. Before Baker, he served as assistant coach, then head coach, at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.

“They’ve been kind of nomads,” said Cody Garcia, who took over as head coach in April 2022. “To be able to have a mat down 24/7 and have access to that goes a long way. A big piece of recruiting is making sure you have the facilities that match your expectations and the experience you want the students to have. If we’re talking about winning national titles, we need the facilities that align with that vision.”

Wrestling Coach Cody Garcia

"It's good to be home. And it's good to have a home."

— Coach Cody Garcia


Cody is excited to get back to the NCAA after coaching at private universities in the NAIA. At the University of Nebraska–Omaha he was a two-time national champion and part of a team that won five national titles during his time as a student-athlete and graduate assistant. He has direct ties to UCM through his father, Mike Garcia, a 1982 alumnus who was the first Mules wrestler to win a national championship and is now enshrined in the UCM Athletics Hall of Fame.

Mike was recruited by legendary UCM Coach Roger Denker, after whom the new wrestling facility is named. He won the national title at the end of Denker’s 17-year coaching career at UCM.

Gary Ervin was one of Mike’s teammates and one of the lead contributors to the Roger Denker Wrestling Facility, along with former UCM wrestler Dan Power, ’73, ’74. Gary and Dan have carried their coach’s lessons with them throughout their lives and careers. In 1988 they established the Roger W. Denker Memorial Scholarship to help Mules Wrestlers get the financial support they need to earn their degrees.

“A scholarship is just as important now as it was back then to be able to afford a college education,” said Dan, who attended UCM on a full wrestling scholarship. “I know how much it helped me, and I can’t think of a better place than the University of Central Missouri. The university has taken good care of me, and I’m trying to take good care of it.”

Gary and Dan remember when the wrestling practice room was located in what players deemed “the dungeon,” in the basement of observers. It’s something for the wrestlers to be recognized by the student population.”

Dan was serving on the UCM Alumni Foundation Board of Directors in 2010 when an estate gift funded the reconstruction of Garrison and the Walter E. Morrow Building into what is now known as the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Unfortunately, the wrestling practice space was lost. Since then, Dan, Gary and other wrestling alumni have been working to find and fund a suitable space for a new permanent facility. After 13 years, the dream has become a reality.

“I know how happy Coach Denker would be knowing this came to fruition,” Gary said. “Being right there in the Multi with the glass overlook where people can see practice — that means so much to wrestlers.

Wrestling Ribbon Cutting Denker

The Roger Denker Wrestling Facility was officially dedicated on Jan. 14, 2023. More than 200 supporters turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The last few years we’ve been all over campus, so it’s pretty cool to have a big group of people here letting us know that we’re important,” said Austin Morgan, a Mules Wrestling Redshirt Senior. “The environment in the room is a big change too. We have our own room, so that makes us very happy, and we have more pride when we’re in here practicing.”

The community gathered to show support for Mules Wrestling and to remember Coach Denker, who passed away in November 2021. Many members of Denker’s UCM alumni legacy family were in attendance, including his widow, Connie Denker, ’81, and their children, Jay Denker, ’84, ’88, Shelly Denker, ’86, and Kel Denker, ’88.

“I think the future of UCM wrestling is bright,” Kel said. “It’s just an awesome opportunity to take UCM Wrestling to the next level.”



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