BY JEFF NORTONPassion is defined in the dictionary as a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. Bob Hanson is a man that can be defined by his passion for the sport, or more appropriately, the art of wrestling.
The longtime head coach of wrestling at Chisago Lakes will be inducted into the Chisago Lakes Wall of Fame on Friday, February 11.
Although when Hanson was growing up in the small town of Minneota, Minnesota, wrestling wasn't even in the spectrum of varsity sports. Hanson was an accomplished football player for the Vikings after he graduated in 1957, and he continued his football career at Concordia University.
Along the way, however, Hanson started developing an interest in the sport of wrestling. Minneota was a small town, and there was a military man in town who Hanson befriended that happened to wrestle for the Marines.
As Hanson got better at football, his interest in wrestling, surprisingly, took off. The athleticism and toughness he displayed on the gridiron, he found out, transferred well to the mat. Despite his interest, there still weren't any programs around the Minneota area for Hanson to guide.
In 1967, as he and his wife, Katsy, were searching for teaching jobs around the state, Hanson found a perfect opportunity at Chisago City High School. The school needed a physical education teacher, an assistant football coach and a head wrestling coach. It was like three puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly and Hanson was the missing fourth piece. Despite having no official background in wrestling, Chi High's wrestling program was only two years old at the time, and they wanted some fresh blood to run the program. "Wrestling was young at the time, and there just wasn't a large pool to pick from for coaches," Hanson said.
Katsy also found a job as an elementary teacher in the district, and Hanson began his tenure as a coach and teacher in the area.
A quarter century of coaching
Things started out rough for Hanson and his grapplers. At the time, the Minnesota wrestling scene was just forming and there was only one class of wrestling. Chisago City -- and what became Chisago Lakes High School two years later -- had to regularly go against teams from Grand Rapids and Hibbing, who had their wrestling programs going for a while, for a chance at the state tournament.
The Rum River Conference didn't offer them any easy tasks, either. Foley, who was a state power then, was always a big bully for Chisago Lakes.
But, Hanson began recruiting early. Since he was also an assistant football coach, he would talk to any kid on the pigskin team who would listen into joining wrestling in the winter. Despite basketball being wildly popular, Hanson convinced enough of his football players to supplement the already 20 to 30 kids on his team, and the team slowly developed into a strong contender every year.
After nearly 10 years of chipping away and developing a small wrestling tradition at Chisago Lakes High School, Hanson finally took a team to the state tournament in 1976. That came in the two-class system as a smaller school, but Hanson brought his team back in 1983 and 1984 as a Class AA school with the big boys in Minnesota wrestling. "We really seemed to go in five or six year cycles," Hanson explained. "We had to get kids young and get them to stick with it and then we would have a good team after developing them."
Those three state tournament teams, along with Hanson's conference championship teams from 1969, 1971 and 1989, were some of the better highlights of his career, he said. He also remembers all the individual state tournament entrants he had, which he said totaled over 60 wrestlers in his 25 years.
Hansen oversaw the program from being a nomadic pack of wrestlers -- they originally didn't have a wrestling room, they just had to carry their outdated mats from room to room when one was available -- to an organized group of highly skilled and trained athletes.
"We just had to haul the mats into the lunch room every day for practice and put it away at the end of the day," he said. "They were just cheap wall mats too."
Eventually, Hanson got a wrestling room to work with and a permanent 36x36 wrestling mat that the kids only had to move for meets and tournaments.
As the facilities improved, so did the style and competition in wrestling. "The technique over the years became much better, and there was more emphasis put on the feet and takedown skills," Hanson said. "It came with these wrestling clinics and intensive wrestling camps in the summer."
Life after wrestling
Although he stayed with the program for a quarter of a century, Hanson stepped away after 25 years. He is now being recognized with a Wall of Fame induction at the Wildcats' dual meet on February 11. "It's quite an honor that they even considered me," Hanson said. "I really appreciate Perry Aadland nominating me and for being selected."
Hanson continued with the praise, saying, "It really was the time I spent with the kids that made me enjoy what I was doing for 25 years. If I wouldn't have enjoyed it, I wouldn't have done it," he said. "I've always appreciated the support I've gotten. My wife has been to nearly every meet I ever coached at and kept score plenty of times. It was also an honor to have Larry Lundberg assist me for many years, he really meant a great deal to the program and to me."
Hanson also opined on the current state of the wrestling program, which is in the midst of four straight years with a winning record. "The program now is very good under Coach Shawn Frederixon. From the young kids to the varsity, the kids are very skilled and very committed," he said. Hanson also noted how impressed he was with senior Travis Kammerer's recent milestone win. Kammerer, who has been wrestling since seventh grade, broke the career wins record at the high school with 156 victories. "It's quite an achievement," he said, noting that in his coaching days, that number would've been virtually impossible, as they really only had between 10 and 15 matches a year. "Back then, it took forever to get to even 100 wins," he noted. "But I like the system now. It gets wrestling more exposure."
Although Hanson stopped coaching, that didn't fully stop him from staying connected with wrestling. For years after he retired, Hanson operated the clock for the varsity program while his wife did the book. But now Hanson just enjoys the sport of wrestling casually as the competition has gotten stiffer over the years.
It's been quite a ride since that first season in 1967, and through the ups and downs and thick and thin, one thing stayed consistent throughout: Bob Hanson's passion for wrestling.