Dr. Mark Fergeson '93: The Place to Be an All-American & Go to Med School
Dr. Mark Fergeson '93 sat in the stands in the Big Red section at the 2023 NCAA Tournament in Tulsa with fellow Oklahomans David Sims '93 and Kyle Rackley '93 and couldn’t help but reflect back to their trip to Nationals as competitors in Oklahoma City in 1992.
“The Cornell section has so many people now, but back then it was just our families,” he said. “It’s just incredible to see. I walked around the tournament in a Cornell shirt with so much pride.”
In 1992 at Nationals, Fergeson was a junior, looking to make his mark in his first time competing in Oklahoma since high school. [He was a three-time Oklahoma high school state champion]. The year before as a sophomore at Cornell, he expected to make the podium at the NCAAs, but fell 6-5 in the blood round at 134 pounds to the eventual fourth placer.
This time he reached one of his goals in a match he called one of the most memorable in his career - an overtime victory over Michigan’s Joey Gilbert, who was the #3 seed.
“I had friends and family there and I felt like I had a good tournament,” he said. “I had split matches with [Gilbert] in the past and I took him down in sudden [victory]. I thought I would be an All-American as a sophomore, so it was a huge relief and also huge elation knowing I accomplished that goal.”
He’d do it again the next year, taking fourth at 134 to finish a stellar career with a 134-19 record.
“It was an absolutely great training environment,” he said of the Big Red room. “[Cornell had EIWA champs at the first three weights with John Bove '94, NCAA champ David Hirsch '94 and Fergeson]. We won the EIWAs for the second year in a row and I was so proud of the team - we hadn’t won for around 30 years before that. We knew we were building something special.”
Fergeson captured his second consecutive individual EIWA crown as a senior, but was solely focused on the NCAAs. He won his opener, but dropped his second bout 3-2 before getting his hand raised five times in a row to make the third place match.
“That tournament was overall a disappointment,” he said. “I was ranked #1 in the country that year and beat both eventual finalists during the season. You have to approach every match with the same level of intensity.”
Fergeson finished an outstanding career that landed him in the New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame as a two-time All-American, two-time EIWA champion, two-time Ivy League Wrestler of the Year, Ivy Rookie of the Year, four-time NCAA qualifier, three-time team MVP, and four-time First Team All-Ivy honoree.
Fergeson also graduated as the all-time wins leader at Cornell, a mark that would stand for around a decade.
“The record was surpassed by Travis Lee '05 and by others since,” he said. “And that shows the growth of the program. The match [in which he broke the record] was midseason at home and I’ll never forget the crowd giving me a standing ovation. For an Oklahoma kid over 1,000 miles from home who had hardly left the state before coming to Cornell, I saw so many friends and proxy family members in the crowd that day. That’s something that definitely hasn’t changed - the family feel. There was a great warmth to Cornell wrestling then and it's the same now.”
While he piled up the wins on the mat, he also stood out in the classroom as a multiple time Academic All-American majoring in nutritional sciences.
Fergeson said he entered college thinking dentistry was his future, but over time gravitated toward the medical path. And he was confident that Cornell would get him where he wanted to go professionally.
“I was looking for excellence in athletics and academics at the same place,” he said. “People say there are several places to do that but to do both at a truly elite level is rare. Cornell is the place.”
After graduation, Fergeson returned to the Sooner State to attend the University of Oklahoma Medical School. He said he was uniquely prepared for the challenges there.
“A lot of students come into medical school unaccustomed to the degree of sacrifice and discipline it takes to succeed, but after wrestling at Cornell, this was nothing new. Wrestling combines individual effort and glory with teamwork and requires sacrifice and discipline. That takes you far. Plus, I could eat without worrying about my weight,” he said with a laugh.
Fergeson contemplated neurosurgery in his early years in Norman before recognizing that pediatrics was his desired direction.
“I realized I didn’t like the operating room and I really like the hopefulness that comes with the pediatric world," he said. "I also saw the opportunities for long term relationships with patients.”
He stayed at the University of Oklahoma for a residency in pediatrics, became Chief Resident, and then joined the faculty.
Fergeson holds a number of titles now: Associate Professor of Pediatrics, CHF/Harris D. Riley, Jr., M.D. Chair in Pediatric Education, and Pediatric Clerkship Director – OU College of Medicine. He recently served as Dean of Students for the medical school for seven years as well.
What does that mean? “The easiest way to boil it down is that I’m the chair of pediatric education for OU College of Medicine,” he said. “I see patients about half the time and teach in the med school the other half.”
And far away from Ithaca, he often wears his Cornell wrestling gear. What was the best part of being a Big Red wrestler?
“There are too many to name,” he said. “The friends I’m still close with are so important. I’m extremely proud of athletic achievements and the education, but it was more the people and the environment in the Cornell community. The diversity in every way - ethnicities, opinions, people from all over the world. Sitting down and eating lunch in the quad with interesting and smart people every day, that was honestly one of my favorite parts.”
He didn’t realize that his passion for Cornell influenced others, until recently.
At the NCAA tournament this March, he said he started talking to Eric Fell ‘98 , another Oklahoma native.
Fell said that in 1993, he was in a book store and saw the recently graduated Fergeson sporting a Cornell wrestling shirt. They began to talk, with Fell asking for college advice as he was considering the Big Red. The message Fergeson shared with Fell that day is applicable now as well.
“I told him that I was recruited to Oklahoma State and Penn State and probably would’ve been an All-American at those schools,” Fergeson said. “I also was accepted to Harvard and Yale and probably would’ve gone to medical school if I’d gone to those schools. But the place where I could confidently be both an All-American and go to medical school was Cornell. It’s the only place in the country that year after year reaches excellence in academics and in wrestling, without question.”
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