Column: A rip-roaring review of our state’s wrestling history

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

Not long ago I was heading for the magazine section of the Albert Lea Public Library when I happened to see a large book with a very colorful cover displayed on a shelf. What really grabbed my attention were the words Blue Earth and Minnesota as parts of the book’s cover. Then I noticed the book’s name, &uot;Grappling Glory,&uot; and the subtitle of &uot;Celebrating a Century of Minnesota Wrestling

and Rassling.&uot;

This book was published last year and is written by Ross Bernstein who grew up in Fairmont. He attended the University of Minnesota and became the costumed &uot;Goldy the Gopher&uot; mascot for the hockey team. At the present time Bernstein lives in Eagan and is, so far, the author of 30 books on sports topics.

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Bernstein’s book is based on the history of Minnesota high school wrestling, college wrestling, women’s wrestling and the professional performances. That last category is where the word rassling certainly fits in.

Our state’s most famous professional wrestler, or rassler, James George Janos, better known as Governor Jesse Ventura, wrote the introduction for this book.

One important point this author stresses several times in his book is that high school and college wrestling in Minnesota is really an import from Iowa. This actually started in the early 1930s. And this may help to explain why this sport is so popular in the southern part of the state.

As I read through this book, I found some significant references to the Albert Lea Tigers and several wrestlers with local connections.

Since 1937, the date of the first state wrestling tournament, the Tigers have been the team champions for the years of 1966, 1971, 1976 and 1981. The teams are pictured, but it would take a strong magnifying glass to read the names of the wrestlers.

Two former Tiger coaches, Paul Ehrhard and Neal Skaar, and present coach Larry Goodnature are given special attention for their 200-plus career wins.

Gary Neist of Albert Lea rated a special mention as a member of the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team at the 1972 Olympics.

One of the surprise listings of wrestlers with a local connection is Al Franken. He’s best known as a winner of the Grammy and Emmy awards, a comedian and actor, author of several best-selling books and a radio-television talk show host. As Bernstein correctly points out in his biographical sketch, Franken lived in Albert Lea for

several years (from about ages 4 to 6), then

moved to St. Louis Park where he became a high school wrestler.

One former Albert Lea wrestler who received a full page biographical sketch is Charles &uot;Chuck&uot; Jean. His interesting exploits are featured on page 62 of Bernstein’s book.

On the next page is information about the late Paul Krueger who grew up in Albert Lea, became the wrestling coach and athletic director at St. James High School, and was the founder of &uot;The Guillotine.&uot; This publication, started in 1971 by Krueger, is Minnesota’s amateur wrestling newspaper. It’s considered to be &uot;the best of its kind in the nation,&uot; according to Bernstein. At the present time &uot;The Guillotine&uot; is edited and published by Jim and Jeri Beshey of Glencoe. (As a

footnote, Krueger died in 1994.)

Another surprise listing and full page biographical sketch honors the late Senator Paul Wellstone who died in an aircraft crash on Oct. 25, 2003, near Eveleth. However, his actual wrestling career was as a high school student in Virginia and as a championship wrestler at the University of North Carolina.

Here in Minnesota Wellstone coached a junior high school team in the Northfield area and served as an official and referee at many wrestling matches. His two sons, David and Mark, had impressive records as high school and college wrestlers.

The last 40 percent of this book is devoted to the subject of professional wrestling or rassling in Minnesota, plus more than we need to known about these characters.

A copy of this book is available at the Albert Lea Public Library, or for purchase at The Constant Reader.

(Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears each Friday.)