1966 brought Albert Lea its first wrestling state championship

Published 10:14 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

In 1966 the Albert Lea wrestling team secured the first of its four state championships and helped cement the program as one of the state’s best.

This is the fourth article of 11 highlighting the 11 state championship teams in Albert Lea High School history. Each state championship team will be honored as part of the inaugural class into the Albert Lea High School Athletic Hall of Fame July 9 at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea.

The Tigers entered the 1965-66 season with heightened expectations following a fourth-place finish at the state meet the previous season and a strong core returning. For half the season Albert Lea was ranked second and in the second half of the season the Tigers were ranked No. 1 and they lived up to that ranking when they brought four individuals to the state tournament.

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The state tournament at that time was based on individuals, unlike today’s dual meet format, which former coach Paul Ehrhard helped implement a few years later.

Albert Lea sent Mark Allen, Bob Hatch, Ken Stencel and Chuck Jean to the state tournament and captured the title by scoring 44 points. Hopkins finished a distant second with 28 points.

The Tigers crowned one state champion, a runner up and two consolation champions.

Mark Allen won the only individual title for Albert Lea as he capped undefeated season with a 3-0 victory over Red Wing’s Jerry Berning in the finals.

Hatch finished as runner up after he lost a match decided on riding time points while Stencel and Jean both won the consolation championships. Jean became a state champion a year later.

John Forman wrestled on the 1965-66 team and recalled the headline in the Minneapolis paper following the championship.

Forman said the team got new powder puff blue uniforms for the state tournament and the headline read: “Albert Lea looking tougher than their powder puff blue uniforms wraps up the state title in the first day.”

The team was given a police escort around town when they returned and held a welcoming home ceremony at the high school. Around 500 people turned out to celebrate.

Tribune writer John Polis wrote of the 60-plus car caravan that ensued: “There had been nothing like this in the history of Albert Lea. It began east of Albert Lea and grew larger and more colossal as it entered the city and wound its way to the high school.”

The victory elevated the status of the wrestling program and set in motion a continuance of dominant teams for years to come.

“It set us apart from the other teams,” Forman said. “Ever since 1966 we’ve been a target because we’ve been looked at as the best.”

The preparation Ehrhard put in to every match and every opponent helped develop the wrestling program’s strength.

“He worked harder than anyone else in preparation,” said Neal Skaar, who spent 11 years as Ehrhard’s assistant coach. “He never left anything to chance. Neglecting something was not an option. You covered every base, you prepared in every aspect of the game.”

That preparedness inspired confidence in the wrestlers and in turn success.

“They were tough because they had confidence in their preparation,” Skaar said. “It’s a lot easier to be tough if you have confidence in your preparation.”

The biggest dual meet of the season came against third-ranked Rochester in the final meet of the season. Around 3,500 fans showed up for the dual and watched as the Tigers kept their perfect record intact with a thrilling 24-17 victory. The deciding match came at 175 pounds with Albert Lea’s Rogers Klukow facing Rochester’s Steve DeVries. Klukow trailed DeVries 8-2 after the first period but pinned DeVries in the second period to secure the win.

As a team the Tigers completed their first undefeated season and third consecutive Big Nine title.

The four individuals who competed at the state tournament were unique both on and off the mat.

“Chuck was made out of steel to begin with and a farm boy,” Skaar said. “Stencel was just plain ornery and a natural physical specimen. Allen … he was a pretty good athlete. They just had a lot of natural power.”

Jean went on to win four national titles as an individual and with a team, two at Iowa State and two at Adams State College in Colorad. Hatch became a history professor.

During this year’s inaugural hall of fame event for Albert Lea High School, both an induction banquet on July 9 and a best-shot team tournament July 10, will be held at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club. Banquet tickets at $35 and team four-some sign up at $80 per person are available online at hall of fame.

The banquet and golf tournament forms can be printed out, completed online, or sent with checks to: ALHS Athletic Hall of Fame, C/O Education Foundation, P.O. Box 828, Albert Lea, MN 56007.

Banquet and golf registration must be in by June 25.

This fundraiser is established to hopefully reduce the participation fees for student athletes and encourage boys and girls to get involved in ALHS athletic programs.
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Albert Lea’s 1919 state basketball championship
Albert Lea’s 1970 football state title team
1952 Albert Lea golf state title