A wrestling legacy worth crowing about

An Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to a story titled “Warriors celebrate 50 years of wrestling,” which ran in the Dec. 18 edition of the Caledonia Argus.

 

To the Editor:

Excellent story, Brady. Brings back many memories of CHS wrestling in the heyday of the 1970s. Congrats to all current and former CHS wrestlers, coaches, cheerleaders and staff who contributed to the legacy.

I remember when the Warriors won the 1970 all-class title in a stunning upset, beating even the Twin Cities school and others, such as archrival Albert Lea. I was 12, and if the motorcade that greeted the wrestlers on their return trip didn’t literally stretch from Spring Grove to Caledonia, it sure seemed like it did.

I remember what I still consider the single greatest individual feat I’ve seen in 50 years of watching and covering sports. Seriously. Details might not be 100 percent accurate, but it was the 1973-74 season, and Caledonia had embarked on a long dual-meet winning streak that would ultimately would wind up in the state record. CHS faced a powerful Waukon team in a home meet, and it was tied 23-23 entering the final match.

The fate of the match and the winning streak were on the CHS heavyweight, Steve Schellsmidt. It was said had to eat extra every week to make the minimum weight required to wrestle heavyweight – an inverse of the norm in wrestling. The Waukon heavyweight was bigger, but he wasn’t badder. He put Steve on his back, I believe it was early in the second period, and Steve stayed there, one shoulder barely off the mat, for more than a minute. Only guts and will kept him from being pinned. If you’re unfamiliar with wrestling, you can’t imagine how difficult it would be to not be pinned in that situation.

Steve somehow lasted the entire minute-plus of being on his back, and the period ended with him giving up a near-fall – but Steve and CHS still had a chance. In the third period, more guts, more will: Steve put the Waukon wrestler on his back and pinned him. Caledonia won, 29-23, and the place went wild. I still have not seen an athlete display more short-term willpower than that.

There were great wrestlers, and then there were wrestlers like Jan Thimmesch, Class of 1975. Jan was a fine wrestler, but he might have been less than great. If memory serves, he had a record right around .500 entering the region championships in Rochester. But he upset his way into a match that put him one win away from going to the state meet. He trailed by one point, I believe, with three seconds left in the match, with both wrestlers in a neutral position from a standing start. When the whistle blew, Jan impossibly took a shot at his opponent, grabbed a leg and took him down for the two points that improbably sent him to state. It was a wonderful reward for all the blood and sweat Jan sacrificed over the years to be in CHS wrestling.

There were a hundred other Jan Thimmesches throughout the years who didn’t win championships but still contributed to the Warrior legacy.

The next year was another strong year, fueled by my senior classmates Bruce Moe and Tom Danielson, who went on to successful college wrestling careers at Winona State.

My late father, Warren, was one of the biggest fans of CHS wrestling in those years and would go to as many meets, home and away, as he could take in.

Though I didn’t wrestle – I would have gone 0-25 in a 20-match season – I respected what all the wrestlers did and later got to know Leo Simon fairly well and appreciated his character.

Well done, Warriors.

 

Joe Bissen

CHS Class of 1976

White Bear Lake, MN

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