by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Gary Ebner, a bit puffier than he was in 1997 when he helped the Elk wrestlers place second in the state, paused at the 10th tee at Elk River Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 16, to answer a reporter’s questions.
“We lost to Apple Valley in the finals that year,” he said. “We were within three points of them the second or third week of the season , but things didn’t fall our way against them at state. Guys didn’t wrestle the way we expected.”
The 1997 team, which beat St. Francis and Owatonna to reach the title match, the only Elk mat team to do so, was the honored guests at the 14th annual Elk River Wrestlers Golf Extravaganza. Nine members and three coaches attended.
“I would say, we were in our prime then,” said Ebner when asked if Elk wrestling was pretty big in town at that time. “We were more dominant back then.”
The guys and coach Ken Jordan see still see each other “mainly at this golf tournament” each year, said Ebner, who still lives in Elk River and has served on the coaching staff ever since high school.
“I’ve got two little guys who wrestle, too,” smiled Ebner.
Ebner, the Elks 119-pounder, won his first two state matches that year, then lost two an Apple Valley state runner-up.
He played in a foursome with three older brothers who also wrestled, Leon, Lorena and Scott.
Current Elk wrestling coach Paul Nelson, a former state champ with the Elks, played with brothers Todd and Tony and brother-in-law John Piela. Todd is New Prague’s head coach. Todd’s son Tony, former Cambridge-Isanti athlete, is a two-time NCAA heavyweight champion with the Gophers.
The Nelson siblings were better wrestlers than they are golfers.
“Wrestlers aren’t very good at golf,” Nelson joked, after the reporter told him his swing looked a little like Charles Barkley’s. “But we’re having fun.”
The tournament is directed by Rick Roach, local insurance agent, 1997 team member, and current assistant coach.
“This is just for fun. We’re not quite as serious as the football team’s tournament,” Roach said, meaning the QB Club event earlier in August. “Boy, they’ve got some good golfers in that one.”
Roach added that trophies go to the first- and second-place teams — and to the last-place team, in which they lay the wrestler down like he’s been pinned. Paul Nelson’s wife Christina, her mom, Sue, and Ken Jordan’s wife Renae got the “Dead Last Trophy” this year.
The tournament had 84 paid entrants, with proceeds going mainly to support the middle school wrestling program, which is un-funded. Some money goes toward purchase of mats.
This year’s winning team included Tyler Hemmesch, an insurance agent in Rogers, and winner of two silvers and a bronze at state for the Elks in 2005-06-07. “I used to play a lot of softball, but not the last two years, because I play golf now,” said Hemmesch, who teamed with John Peterson, his coach with the Elks, and non-wrestler friends Brad Wrenlund and Jake Berger. They shot 16-under-par in the scramble format.
Runners-up were Jim Fritz, Brad Bouton, Paul Dilley and Jon Lavellee, who were last year’s champion.