By Spencer Yohe
Caledonia Wrestling Enthusiast
One of the legends of Minnesota High School Wrestling is Southeastern Minnesota’s Leo Simon. As a coach he shook the Minnesota wrestling world in 1970 when his small town Caledonia High School team won the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament in the old one class system. Several of his teams also combined for an incredible 83 dual meet win streak.
Born on “Whisky Hill” in Winona County, his family moved to Fairwater, just 12 miles from St. Charles. Simon got his start in wrestling at St. Charles High School where he compiled a most impressive 112-16-2 overall record and finished as a state runnerup in the one class tournament.
He also played football at St. Charles High School and was a five-year letterwinner and a two-year all-state honorable mention player. He also lettered five years in the sports of golf and track. Simon graduated in 1961.
Simon enrolled at Winona State College where he played football and wrestled his freshman year. His wrestling coach Bob Jones told him it would be best if he didn’t play football his sophomore year and concentrate on wrestling.
Coach Bob Gunner replaced Jones. Gunner was an NCAA runnerup at Michigan State University. Simon credits Gunner as the most knowledgeable wrestling coach he had.
Wrestling against some of the toughest teams in the country like Iowa State, Cornell, Lock Haven, Bloomsburg and Northern Iowa, Simon compiled a 55-17-3 record. He went on to place fifth in the NAIA national tournament and place fourth in the highly acclaimed Midlands tournament. His two losses there were to two defending NCAA champions.
Simon was a four-year letterwinner and key member of the 1966 Northern Intercollegiate Conference Championship Team. He ranked sixth on the all-time Winona State Wrestling win percentage.
As good a wrestler as Leo was, coaching is where he made his biggest mark in the sport of wrestling. Leo guided Caledonia teams to 15 district titles, four region titles and seven runnerup finishes, along with that state championship in 1970. He also coached a state runnerup team and consolation championship team.
Simon finished his coaching career with an impressive 205-49-2 dual meet record and coached teams to an incredible 83 dual meet win streak, which stood as a state record from 1974 to 2010.
Simon also had the pleasure of coaching his sons Brad and Trever. Brad placed 3rd in state in 1984, and Trevor placed 5th in state in 1985. Brad went on to wrestle for Hall of Fame Coaches Scot Davis at the University of Wisconsin-Superior where he was an All-American in 1986. He entered the national tournament undefeated. Later, he wrestled for Coach Neil Ladsten at the University of Minnesota- Duluth where he was again an All-American.
Simon’s coaching career started at Goodhue High School in 1966 where the program was just getting started. Simon said when the next coach Bill Sutter came in, “I told him, ‘We have a good program here, don’t screw it up.’ He didn’t!” Simon’s first year at Goodhue they went 9-3, then 10-2 and the third year 11-1. He moved to Caledonia in 1969.
In 1985 Simon retired from coaching and started officiating and selling cars for a GM Dealership. He also continued teaching. In 1993 Simon retired from teaching. Around 2000 he retired from officiating. Later in 2010 he retired from selling cars and started volunteer coaching at Caledonia High School where he currently subs and continues coaching.
In 30 years of coaching and officiating Leo Simon left a mark unmatched by most and envied by many.
“He will always be remembered for his shrewd judge of character and ability, as well as an accomplished strategist,” says former coaching competitor Bill Schmidt.
Simon’s bride of 50 years is Marion Simon. Who retired as a nurse in 2009. His two sons, Brad and Trever, each are married and have sons. Brad and his wife Robin have two, Tanner and Connor. Trever and his wife Karen, have four boys in Matt, Nick, Taylor and Ty. Brad is currently assistant wrestling coach at St. Charles High School and works at Crenlo in Rochester. Trevor works in the engineering department for General Electric in St. Louis, Missouri.
Simon spends a good share of his time now fishing for trout, salmon, red fish and sea trout. He also hunts coon, deer and wild turkey. In addition, he does rod crafting, fly tying, gardening and landscaping around the house.
Leo Simon will always be remembered as an important figure in the sport of wrestling in Minnesota.