Column: From rags to riches

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 6, 2006

What a difference 63 years makes.

When I came to teach at Albert Lea High School 63 years ago I was hired to teach Phy. Ed, and coach B-Squad football, wrestling and track.

I attended the wrestling match on Dec. 16, 2005, at ALHS. It was a once in a lifetime match. Owatonna was ranked No. 1 in the state and Albert Lea was ranked No. 2. Albert Lea won the junior varsity match by a score of 51-17 and the varsity match by a score of 42-15. The Albert Lea Tribune estimated the crowd at 3,500. It was a packed house, the most I have seen at an ALHS match.

As I sat in the bleachers, I decided to write an article and compare wrestling in my early days to wrestling today. High school wrestling was in its infancy, so in reality, I was a pioneer in the sport.

Wrestling in 1943: I was the only coach and I had from 25 to 30 kids out for wrestling and they were all ALHS students. We had no uniforms so the kids wore gym shorts or swimming trunks.

We had the worst practice facilities in the state. Our practice room was under the bleachers in the old gym, you could not stand up on one side of the room. We had no wrestling mats. We had to take 4-foot by 8-foot mats and tie them together to form a mat. We tried to use a ticket booth and an empty class room but that did not work carrying the mats around. We had one water boy, now they call them managers.

We had 11 weight classes. A match consisted of three, three minute, rounds with a one minute rest between rounds.

Now here is wrestling at ALHS in the year 2006.

Fifty-one kids report for wrestling. They come from four different high schools: Albert Lea, Alden, Emmons and Glenville. We have four high schools wrestling under the Albert Lea banner. This is legal and a common practice. This is allowed by the Minnesota state high school league to allow small schools to participate in the sport. The ALHS team has the best equipment and facilities that money can buy.

When wrestling started this year 51 students came out for the sport and they were greeted by seven coaches. Larry Goodnature is the head coach and Neal Skaar is the first assistant. Skaar was the assistant coach for many years and then became the head coach and now he is an assistant coach again. At one time he had the winningest record of all ALHS wrestling coaches. He has been inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame. Rick Loock is the Alden head coach, and there are four volunteers. Four of the coaches are former ALHS wrestlers.

The practice room at ALHS is one of the finest in the state. They also have an excellent weight room for conditioning. I must point out that ALHS has a great wrestling booster club that spends thousands of dollars on equipment and supplies. The club also has a coaching program where they have kids as young as four years old competing on a local and regional level.

Now here are some statistics to show what the two top high school wrestling teams look like: ALHS has 14 junior varsity weights; 14 varsity weights; seven coaches; four captains; three managers, two girls and one boy; 11 cheer leaders; two cheerleader coaches; one statistician.

Owatonna has 14 junior varsity weights; 14 varsity weights; 11 coaches; four captains; two managers, one girl and one boy; eight cheerleaders; three cheerleader coaches; and one statistician.

In my opinion, Larry Goodnature is an excellent coach. He is my kind of coach, a disciplinarian with the best interest of the kids coming first. I also think that Neal Skaar is the best assistant coach in the state. They are both products of ALHS wrestling.

Now for the big question: How many high school wrestling teams in the state of Minnesota, or anywhere, have over $100,000 in a scholarship fund for all students who are a part of their team? There is one now.

You can still be a part of this scholarship by sending your donation to: The Leroy Maas Wrestling Scholarship Fund, 2430 Anthony St. South, St. Paul, MN, 55075.

Our web-site address is www.lmaasscholarship.org.

(Leroy Maas is a former Albert Lea High School wrestling coach.)