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Former Perham Coach Jon Rhodes to be inducted to wrestling hall of fame

Jon Rhodes spent over 20 years in Harmony, serving as the head wrestling coach. Since Jon "winters" someplace other than Harmony, we did a question and answer piece with him, via E-mail. It turned out great, and you will see that in some occasions he answered more than one question, and even went back to previous questions, as we were working on another.

Q: Bill Bentson

Good morning, Jon. Bill Bentson here. I do the sports for the local paper and we'd like to do an article on your upcoming induction into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Can we start out with some background information? Where did you grow up and go to school, include years, etc. What sports were you involved in during your high school days? Other school activities? College years? Wrestle? What kind of success did you have, awards, record, etc. I'm assuming you wrestled in high school and perhaps college? Let's start there. Thanks, Bill

A: Jon Rhodes

Thanks for your interest in my story.

First of all, I did not wrestle in high school (Gaylord High School) because my high school didn't have wrestling when I went to school there. They initiated a wrestling program a couple years after I graduated. I was actually the captain of the high school basketball team. I also played football (running back) and participated in track and field (primary event was the pole vault.)

I started my wrestling career in college, as my best friend, who was a state champion wrestling for Blue Earth, talked me into trying the sport. Wrestling on a college team without benefit of high school experience translates into my taking my lumps. But, wrestling became a part of my personality.

I started my coaching career at Perham High School (two years). I followed that with one year as a volunteer coach in Forrest Grove, Ore., as I had also started graduate school. The following year I continued my coaching career in Harmony (20 years). My final 14 years in the coaching profession was done at St. Mary's International School in Tokyo, Japan.

My final won/lost/tied record was 249-99-8. My teams also won 17 conference championships, and 54 tournament team titles. One hundred and four of my wrestlers won individual tournament championships. My teams also completed four undefeated seasons.

I hope this is enough information for your newspaper article.

Q: Bill Bentson

Not done yet...don't think you're getting out of this that easy! Can you put some dates with the information? Also, which college and who was the buddy from Blue Earth? Would like to concentrate on the Harmony years, especially with some of the individuals that you coached here in Harmony.

A: Jon Rhodes

I am going to have to go completely by memory as I don't have any yearbooks or documents with me here in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. But, here goes.

My competitive years at Bemidji State University were from 1960-1964. I also competed for one year following my university years through the AAU program, primarily in the pole vault.

I came to Harmony in the fall of 1969. I also coached football as an assistant and was the head track and field coach, besides being the head wrestling coach. Some of the outstanding wrestlers at Harmony included John Broadwater, Rich, Dan and Vince Ryan, Dennis Gaul, Mike and Andy Prinsen, Jim and Rob Love, Kory and Kendall Bigalk, Reg and Mike Sikkink, Mike Turk and Mike Tollefson, Jim Brink, Reg and Ryan Rhodes, Jim Steinmitz, Ralph and John Whalen, Steve Henry, Todd Vagts, Ricky Russet, Dino and Rob Lange, Craig and Dave Hanson, Joe and Rick Morgan, Dennis Hovey, Steve Applen, Casey, Andy, Torrey and Chris Martin, Tim Troxel, Frank Browning, Troy and Terry Kraling.

I am giving you these names strictly by memory, which means I've certainly left out someone or maybe more than one.

The name of my good friend who got me started in wrestling was Dave Frank, a Minnesota State Champion in 1959.

A couple more very important former wrestlers just came to mind. They are Doug Barnes and Rusty Barnes (not brothers).

Q: Bill Bentson

Do you have any memories of any special matches, upsets, etc. Who were some of your assistant coaches? How did you hone your coaching techniques? Thanks. I've ordered my tickets for the banquet, so I'll be there for pictures, etc.

A: Jon Rhodes

There have been dozens of heart-stopping matches through the years. I can't possibly list all of them here. But, here are some that come to mind.

Chris Martin and Kendall Bigalk both had to "throw" their opponent directly to their back late in the match to win in elimination tournaments, and they did.

John Whalen overcame the superior physical strength of his opponent to fight off a furious attack to win a district semifinal match and move on into the finals.

Casey Martin also withstood a powerful opponent to hold on and win his semifinal district match.

Rusty Barnes beat an opponent in the district semifinals that had beaten him twice earlier in the year. His dad almost broke his leg jumping off the bleachers to celebrate the unexpected win.

John Broadwater defeated a future state champion in the region finals to move on into the state tournament.

Dennis Schmidt (Perham) defeating a previous district finalist to win his first district championship in his very first year of wrestling.

Rob Lange catching an outstanding opponent in a reverse inside cradle to bring him to his back late in the match to win a district championship. There is a sampling of the many heart-thumping matches.

I honed my coaching technique by attending coaching clinics every year, sometimes two a year. I watched and listened to the finest wrestlers and wrestling coaches, including the Russians, in the world go over their favorite technique. I also attended many world class wrestling competitions including the World Championships, U.S.A. wrestling trials, NCAA National Championships, World University Championships, even the women's World Championships. I also collected numerous technique videos and World Class competitions. Plus, I sat in the coaching chair for thousands of matches. One never stops learning.

I still keep up with wrestling all over the world. I will probably attend the U.S.A. wrestling trials this spring. It's impossible to get wrestling out of your blood.

I forgot to mention some of my assistant coaches. Frank Tribon helped me for a number of years. Doug Ofstedal also assisted me, both in Harmony and in Tokyo.

Q: Bill Bentson

Jon, did you have any special wrestling superstitions, good luck charms or special rituals? What "life skills" did you try to instill through your coaching?

A: Jon Rhodes:

Another outstanding wrestler popped into my mind early this morning. Dave Smutny.

I had absolutely no superstitions or rituals. I did not believe the gods would punish me or my kids if I didn't turn in six circles to the north before breakfast or wear odd looking, floppy socks. Very unusual for a pole vaulter.

I always emphasized to my kids that they were to behave like gentlemen. I reminded them that if they had a positive reputation that that would pay dividends in whatever life endeavor they choose. I also emphasized team unity. While wrestling is an individual sport, being on a strong team helped each individual be successful. During my career, that proved to be absolutely true.

Q: Bill Bentson

Were there any schools/coaches that you just hated to wrestle, for whatever reason?

A: Jon Rhodes

We wrestled a pretty strong schedule which included Winona, Decorah, Cresco, Stewartville, Caledonia, Lewiston, La Crescent and LeRoy when they had a strong wrestling tradition. But, the team that put the best kids on the mat year in and year out was Caledonia. Leo Simon was an outstanding coach and his teams were always among the best in the state. I didn't hate to wrestle them, but they were the hardest to beat.

I knew that my attempt to "remember" everyone would end up being a dribbling in process. Another set of brothers that were outstanding were Bob and Chuck Phillips.

Q: Bill Bentson

Tell me, what is a typical year for you? Time in Harmony, time in Havasu City, or what? What is a typical day down there? Thanks.

A: Jon Rhodes

We always kept our house in Harmony, despite our 14 years (1992-2006) in Japan. But, we also continue to leave Harmony at various times for travel and adventure. It was just a little over a year ago that we spent 2 and 1/2 months in Rwanda (east central, Africa) on a substitute teaching gig. Last year we also spent time in Boston, Denver, Las Vegas and Spain. Our winter (three months) is spent someplace warm. The last two years we have been here in Lake Havasu City. The year before that we were in Gulf Shores, Ala., and the year before that we were in Las Cruces, N.M. Our first year home we just drove through Oklahoma, Texas, down to Mexico, over to New Orleans and then back up to Minnesota. So, our being someplace other than Minnesota in the winter is a typical thing for us to do, but the "where" is not something that is carved in stone.

These are things that geezers can afford to do, and they are things that need to be experienced while we still have our youthful good looks and health.

Courtesy Bluff Country Newspaper Group