Wrestling is a comparatively new sport on the high school level at least for Brainerd, starting in the 1955-56 school year under Harvey Shew as coach with Bob DeRosier a regional champion during a 3-2 season.
Merv Jensen, a former University of Minnesota star, took over in 1957 and steered the Warriors to four 10-2 seasons in his six seasons at the helm before giving way to George Jezierski in 1963, who was replaced after a 9-3 campaign by Alan Smaagaard. Jensen, returned in 1967 as Smaagaard was drafted into the army and Keith Dyre took over for three seasons (1968-70) and Vein Moore for 1970-71.
Best dual meet record of them all was attained under Smaagaard in 1965 when the Warriors won 14 of 16 and claimed district and regional titles and a tie for fourth in the state meet with 22 points.
Dennis Stamp gained the school's first and only state mat crown in that season at the 178-pound level and went on to college stardom at Concordia. Gene Smart captured third at 130 pounds that year, one in which the Warriors qualified five for the state.
Brainerd has had several other youths capable enough to gain the state tournament field, including Fred Parker, Gene Gordan, both third, and Jack Graham, seventh, in 1958; Jordan (second) and Bill GouId (fifth) in 1959; Ron Kramer (fourth) in 1960; Jim Borg (third) and Tim Parker in 1962; Hugh Warner, Bob Albrecht and Mike Fordyce in 1966 and Warner again in 1967; Tim Gutzman, a regional champion at 106 pounds in 1968 and again in 1969; Steve Wessman, who made it in 1969 and took second in 1970; Glenn Herman, third in 1969 at 141 pounds; heavy. weight Corky Smith in 1969; ana Steve Borders, a regional champ at 136 pounds in 1970.
Brainerd, for the past three seasons in its new gym, has been sponsoring the Paul Bunyan Holiday tournament and inviting some of the top teams in the state. Winner in 1968 was Albert Lea with 88 points to 66 for Hopkins in a six-school field. Austin beat out Hopkins, 130 to 84, in an eight-school tangle in 1969; and last year's winner was Foley with 104 points to 99 for Bemidji.
Brainerd's best showing came with a fourth place and 78 points in the 1970 tournament.
Professional wrestling held a strong hold in the Brainerd area for many years, running the gamut of Ed Pelkey to Fred Gilmore to Ralph Lasher to Hal Masem and his protege, Chuck Svendsen, who moved to Coon Rapids several years ago and now is kept busy following the collegiate career of two sons, Gary and Tom, both at St. John's university where Gary flashed a 34-4-1 record and took fifth place in the NAIA tourney and Tom came through with a 16-2-1 mark.
Pelkey was a rugged competitor just before World War I, while Gilmore, a local auto mechanic, came on later only to die in an auto accident on Mill avenue. Lasher, who later moved to Deerwood, came to the fore in the early '30s. He formed a traveling wrestling show through the upper mid-west, but always returned home in time to challenge some other show's top grappler whenever it happened to make an appearance.
Masem, who headed Town Taxi for many years, was intercollegiate middle weight champion at Lafayette university before coming to Brainerd in 1946. He established himself as world middleweight titlist, staving off challenges from such worthies as Red Bastien and Bobby Andorff here and defeating Bobby Henderson, a leading contender, twice in battles at Minneapolis and Anoka.
When Masem took the part of matchmaker and the Brainerd National Guard that of promoter in 1950, the Armory was treated to some top pro matches and a number of turnaway crowds. Dr. Len Hall, Abe Kashey, Ray Steele, Sandor Szabo, who appeared here while he was champion of the World, were among the earlier big names.
Then came the Baillargeon brothers, Farmer Marlin, the Russian Kalmikoffs, Vein Gagne, Hard-Boiled Haggerty and Kinji Shibuya. Marlin's appearance against a wrestling bear brought the largest crowd of all times (an estimated 2,500 fans), according to the late Bob Olson, former National Guard commander here.
Other sellouts were Marlin's first match here and one in which the Baillargeons locked holds with the Kalmikoffs.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).