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‘He brought the best out of people’: Wrestlers remember late BHS coach, Ken Schmoker

BEMIDJI -- Bemidji lost a local wrestling legend last week with the death of Ken Schmoker at age 91.

He coached the Bemidji High School wrestling team from 1958-1976, guiding the team to 10 district championships, nine Region 8 titles and two Northwest Conference titles, and was inducted into the BHS Lumberjack Hall of Fame in 1996, the MN State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002, the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003 and the National Wrestling Hall Of fame in 2009.

Ken Schmoker

“He was one hard-working, hard-nosed guy, but he had a heart like a teddy bear,” said Howie Schultz. “He was my best friend. I tell you what, whatever I became – and I’m not saying I became anything special – but it was because of him. I learned so much about being who I am and what I could do. And I was like anybody else.

“That’s what he did. He brought the best out of people.”

“He was a heck of a coach,” said Darrell Bahr, father of current BHS wrestling coach Rance Bahr.

Darrell Bahr wrestled for Schmoker in 1958 and 1959, his junior and senior years of high school, before joining and wrestling for the Army after he graduated. When asked what made Schmoker a good person to have in Bemidji athletics, he said, “Because he liked to help people. He’d go out of his way to help people. He wanted to make sure the kids had a good time, graduated and did the best they could.”

Schmoker was born August 15, 1926 to Harley and Mildred Schmoker in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and grew up on a farm. He wrestled, played football and ran track for Fort Dodge High School. He earned Des Moines Register All-State honors as a guard on the football field and was state runner-up at the 145-pound weight class on the wrestling mat.

After graduating in 1944, Schmoker enlisted in the Army Air Force, serving in the European Theatre from 1946 until his discharge.

With a degree in industrial arts and minors in physical education and social studies, he began his teaching and coaching career. After meeting and marrying his wife, Maedel, the couple eventually built a house on Lake Bemidji.

Starting in 1958, Schmoker took over as the industrial arts teacher and wrestling coach at Bemidji High School. He also helped as an assistant for the football team, ran the summer baseball program and helped with other sports as needed.

Despite his impressive accolades as a wrestling coach, Schmoker’s true success came in his abilities in making his wrestlers better people.

“Kenny was a guy that could break bread with anybody, and he was always willing to help,” Schultz said. “But he was very driven, and he took some kids that probably never would have finished high school. (They) not only finished high school, but became very, very respected citizens once they left Bemidji High School.”

A former region champion wrestler at Chisholm High School, Schultz wrestled for Bemidji State and lettered three years before being injured in his junior season. While he was still a senior at BSU, Schmoker asked Schultz if he would help coach the high school team.

The next year, Schultz sealed his spot on in the wrestling program and was hired on as a teacher at the junior high level.

“Kenny had some outstanding teams,” said Schultz. “And if you were gonna wrestle against Bemidji and Schmoker was coaching, you were in for quite a night.”

Schmoker is survived by his wife Maedel, son David, daughter Mary Ann (Rod Anttila) and grandson Kenneth.