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Schmoker's National Wrestling Hall of Fame entry highlight's wrestling opener

Highlighting tonight's Lumberjacks mat opener will be honoring former coaching legend Ken Schmoker.

A large number of his former wrestlers will be on hand for the occasion, coming from as far away as Alaska.

Schmoker, who guided the Lumberjacks from 1958-76, will enter the National Wrestling Hall of Fame this year.

He was informed of his induction by John Grygelko, former Robbinsdale High and Augsburg College wrestling coach who is a board member of the Minnesota State Chapter of the Hall.

He and chapter President Spencer Yohe will attend tonight's ceremony.

Schmoker was informed of his honor at his Big Turtle Lake home by Grygelko and Howie Schultz, his long-time assistant coach at BHS. Grygelko also makes has made his home in the Bemidji area after his retirement.

That pair made the official nomination of Schmoker to the National Hall.

Schmoker excelled in both football and wrestling at Fort Dodge, Iowa High School where he was Iowa state runner-up at 145 pounds and also drew All State honors as a football guard

He entered Air Force following high school before attending Fort Dodge Junior College where he captained the football squad.

He then enrolled at Colorado State at Greeley where he lettered three years in football, won three conference wrestling titles, was a member of three Rocky Mountain Conference championship wrestling teams and was a 1950 honorable mention All-American.

His first teaching and coaching position was at Centennial High at Pueblo, Colo.

He guided that school's wrestling team to its first conference championship and later to the Colorado State AAA wrestling championship.

He also organized the school's first Junior High mat program.

While at Centennial, he also coached tennis and football and was a voting member of the Legislative Committee for the American Coaches and Officials Association.

He also was President of the Colorado Wrestling Officials Association and a member of the National High School Wrestling Rules Committee.

Schmoker and his wife Maedel yearned for an opportunity to return to the Midwest.

Before coming to Bemidji, both taught one year at Laporte where he coached football, basketball and baseball. The Wildcats did not have a wrestling program.

He joined the Bemidji faculty in 1958 as an industrial arts teacher and succeeded Jack Willhite as mat coach. Willhite had founded the mat sport two years earlier following two years as player-coach at BSU.

At Bemidji ,Schmoker served as assistant football coach for several years while heading the wrestling program.

He compiled a 129-83-10 record in 19 seasons. winning 10- of the 12 District 29 titles, nine Region 8 crowns, two Northwest Conference championships and produced three state champs in brothers Jerry and Rick Lee and Nestle Grimes.

A fourth, Tom Grimes, won the state one year after Schmoker retired.

He took individual wrestlers to the state tournament 15 times during his tenure.

In addition to his three state champions, Tom Detschman bowed in the finals and seven wrestlers placed.

From 1961-71, Schmoker's teams posted a 99-34-6 record with all winning seasons while winning six straight district titles and six region crowns.

He was inducted into the Bemidji High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1996, its inaugural year, and the Bemidji High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.

He was a long-time advocate for wrestling and the people who participated in the sport.

He was an analytical, thoroughly organized individual who ran many Region 8 wrestling tournaments at Bemidji and was also available to help others in northern Minnesota.

Two of his wrestlers, Rick Lee and Bob Whelan returned to coach the Lumberjacks.

Four other Jacks grapplers, Jim Cleveland, Rob Strand, Rob Whelan and Rance Bahr followed that tradition in later years. Rob Strand's father, Bob, was a Schmoker product as was Bahr's father Darrell.

As a coach, he was known as a taskmaster who molded young people to stand on their own two feet and strive to become the best individuals possible.

Many of his wrestlers gave him full credit for pointing them in the right direction in their lives.

His formal induction will be held at Owatonna at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame's Minnesota Chapter April induction ceremony.