WRESTLING: Rance Bahr steps down as Jacks’ head coach, will ‘pursue other options’ in local wrestling scene
Rance Bahr resigned from his position as Bemidji High School wrestling head coach after 14 seasons. Bahr looks to "pursue other options" as the most decorated head coach in program history.
BEMIDJI – Wrestling looks much different in Bemidji than it did 14 years ago.
Rance Bahr accepted the Bemidji High School wrestling head coaching position in 2009. Since then, he’s amassed a 298-129 career record, nine section championship appearances, three team state tournament appearances, a fourth-place state tournament team finish and a girls wrestling state championship in 2022.
During Bahr’s 14 years at the helm, BHS compiled 71 individual state tournament berths – 61 boys and 10 girls. Of those 71 entrants, 25 of them – 18 boys and seven girls – returned as medalists.
Bahr coached at every youth level before bringing the BHS wrestling program to unprecedented heights. In the program’s 67-year history, Bahr’s 298 career wins as head coach are 161 more than Ken Schmoker, who held the position longer than anybody from 1957-75. Bahr was also instrumental in developing the state’s most prominent sanctioned girls wrestling program over the last two seasons.
The Bemidji native has a myriad of accomplishments as a youth wrestling coach. However, he feels like it’s time for a fresh leader. Following the 2022-23 season, which included a Section 8-3A runner-up finish and 15 individual state tournament berths, Bahr resigned as head coach.
He explained that part of the reason he is stepping down is to have the opportunity to give his daughter, Tori Bahr, his full attention during her senior year.
“I want to help her and her teammates in any way I can as well. This girls wrestling team has absolutely exploded at Bemidji High School,” he said. “In the past two years, we’ve had the most girls in the state each year. To be running 70 high school athletes in one practice, there’s times when the athletes aren’t getting what they need. I want to be able to focus on more of the girls side of things.”
Bahr isn’t closing the book on his coaching career. He intends to take a step back and “pursue other options” in the local wrestling scene. Bahr said he wants to be a resource for the next head coach to lean on, especially when developing the rapidly growing girls wrestling program.
“I hope to be as involved as the next person allows me to be,” Bahr said. “I want to be there as a resource and help in any way or capacity I can. If that means taking a step back and not being in the practice room, I will do that. If that means the new person needs assistance in the practice room or at meets, I’m willing to do that. I’m just excited for whoever gets this program next, and I’m excited to see what they’ll do with it.”
Tori will be a senior captain for the Bemidji girls next winter. She is also among the 15 aforementioned state wrestling participants from the 2022-23 season. She’s the latest in a long line of Bahr family members to have their fingerprints on the Bemidji wrestling program.
It started with Darrell Bahr, a former BHS wrestler and a BHS Hall of Fame inductee. He took home a third-place finish at the 1956 state tournament. He also raised Rance on the wrestling mat in Bemidji.
“It’s where I’ve been my entire life,” Bahr reminisced. “I’ve known the wrestling room since third grade. It’s all I’ve ever known, really. My wife was a wrestling cheerleader, and we raised our family here. Wrestling has been a big part of my personal life and my everyday life. It’s just something that I’ve always known.”
He and his wife, Missi, raised three children in Bemidji – Natalie, Caleb and Tori. Natalie was a manager for the wrestling team for five years. Caleb finished an accomplished career for the Lumberjacks, wrestling on two section championship-winning teams and earning a state qualifier as a senior captain in 2021. Tori aims to make it to state again during her senior season in 2023-24.
Bahr wrestled for the Jacks from 1987-92. He finished with a career record of 62-40-1 and a fourth-place finish individually at the 1992 state tournament. He is also an emotional and behavioral development teacher at J.W. Smith Elementary School.
Bahr coached youth, middle school and junior varsity teams in Bemidji and Blackduck before taking the BHS head coaching position. Lean years early in his tenure helped mold a new path to a tradition of winning.
“In my first year in 2009, we had 17 wrestlers in grades 9-12,” Bahr said. “Now, in an average year, we have about 45 kids signed up in just the boys division. Then you add the 24 girls in grades 9-12, too. It’s really great to have the growth in the room.
He added that it wasn’t as though the wrestling program was unsuccessful in 2009, but the numbers were down.
“We had a couple of years where we had records below or near .500 in those first few years,” he said. “(We’d walk) into a gym with 10 teams in it, knowing you were the 10th-best team there. … We’d look at the teams like Frazee and Foley and Apple Valley and think, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have a program like that?’ That’s kind of where we are right now.”
With the help of his support system – family, BHS administration, boosters, parents and Bemidji community members – Bahr turned a middling program into a Class 3A power. In his first five seasons as head coach, the Lumberjacks posted 20 wins only once. Since the 2014-15 campaign, Bemdiji has never dipped below 20 wins and wrestled for seven section titles, winning two.
“To be regarded as one of the top teams in the state and to be able to beat anybody we wrestle (against) just shows the commitment and the dedication the wrestlers give year-round,” Bahr said. “We are competitive with everyone. When we walk into a gym, we know that if we show up and give our best effort, we’re going to be one of the top teams when we leave the gym that weekend.”
It takes a village to achieve a consistent level of success at the high school level, and it often starts long before incoming freshmen walk through the doors at BHS.
“We’ve had outstanding youth coaches and former wrestlers help at all levels,” Bahr said. “The administration has been wonderful. They’re always open and willing to listen and understand our concerns. They’re supportive and passionate about our program. I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate with the supporting cast we’ve had here at Bemidji High School. Those truly are the people that make it work. I’m just the fortunate one that got to sit on the top for a while.”