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A trio of wrestling Hall of Famers

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The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2008 will have a western Wisconsin flavor.

The 2008 Hall of Fame class includes:

Bob Olson, former New Richmond and Somerset coach;

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Lindy Johnson, former St. Croix Central and UW-River Falls coach;

Joe Jilek, long-time wrestling official from Glenwood City;

Bill Lockington, former Arcadia coach;

Ed Lenard, former Cadott coach.

Induction will be held on Sunday, Aug. 10, at the Holiday Manor Inn and Convention Center in Menomonie. Social hour is at 3:30 p.m., with the dinner at 5 p.m. The cost to attend the banquet is $25.

For anyone wanting to attend the banquet, contact these people to purchase tickets.

For Bob Olson, contact John Ball at 246-6341;

For Lindy Johnson, contact Brad Holzer at 688-2432;

For Joe Jilek, contact Phil Ottney at 265-4481.

Here are stories covering the careers of the three local Hall of Famers: Olson, Johnson and Jilek. The three share several bonds within wrestling. One bond is that all three are former UW-River Falls wrestlers.

Bob Olson

Bob Olson coached wrestling in Somerset and New Richmond for 25 years. Olson retired from coaching in 1992, but he has remained ardently involved in wrestling at the state level.

Olson coached 36 conference champions, 24 state qualifiers, 11 state placewinners, three WIAA state champions and two state runners-up during his 25 years of coaching.

Olson was born in Baldwin in 1945 and graduated from Baldwin-Woodville High School in 1963. The two school districts consolidated in 1961. That was when the B-W wrestling program was started, with Olson being a part of the first two Blackhawk teams.

Olson then attended UW-River Falls, earning a degree in mathematics education. He wrestled for four years under Falcon coach Byron James. He qualified for the NAIA national tournament three times. In 1968, Olson was a regional champion in the Olympic wrestling trials.

In 1967 Olson was hired in Somerset, as the math teacher, head wrestling coach and head track coach. Somerset's wrestling program had only been in existence for one year, so Olson again was involved in a fledgling high school program.

In 1972, a math position and head wrestling coach became open at New Richmond High School. Olson was hired for those roles. He coached the Tiger wrestling program through 1992 and he taught through 1998. His dual meet record as a head coach was 196-139-4.

For 26 years, Olson was co-host of the Mat Talk program on WIXK radio in New Richmond. This program became one of the premier sources for wrestling information in western Wisconsin.

Olson is deeply involved in the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association. He was District 1 representative for 10 years, Hall of Fame chairman for 10 years and has helped develop a portable display to feature Hall of Fame inductees. In 2003, Olson was inducted into the WWCA George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Currently, Olson is coordinator of the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association Web site (www.wwca.org). In the last four years, Olson has been in the forefront of organizing the WWCA Alumni Association. This group, known as SAGES, has been instrumental in gathering the history of Wisconsin wrestling. Olson has taken on the task of identifying the name of the head wrestling coaches at every school in the state, high school and college, since wrestling began in Wisconsin.

In 2007, Olson retired after serving for 33 years as a firefighter in the New Richmond Volunteer Fire Department. He serves as a volunteer for the St. Croix Valley American Red Cross and with the local disaster action team.

Lindy Johnson

At the end of the 1989 WIAA State Championships, Lindy Johnson was carried off the mat by his team, the WIAA State Division III championship team from St. Croix Central. The state championship was the pinnacle of a wrestling career that spanned more than 30 years.

Johnson said Central's state championship was the result of a group of talented, devoted athletes who stuck together throughout their high school career.

"You luck out once in a while," Johnson said with his typical modesty. "In a small school, to get a group of 10-11 seniors that stay together, that's rare."

The state team championship came a year after Johnson's team had taken second in the WIAA Division 3 team competition.

Johnson began his wrestling career in Ellsworth, where he graduated from Ellsworth High School in 1968, wrestling under long-time coach Kirby Symes. He then attended UW-River Falls, competing for four years under another area wrestling icon, Byron James. Johnson was a Wisconsin State University Conference champion in 1970 and he placed second in the WSUC meet in 1969 and 1972. He was an All-American in 1970, placing second in the NAIA national meet. He finished eighth at the national meet in 1969.

Johnson began teaching and coaching at St. Croix Central in 1972. He coached the Panthers from 1972-95. His teams won five conference championships. He was named the District I Coach of the Year in 1989, earning the honor to coach Team Wisconsin in the 1990 Minnesota/Wisconsin Classic.

In 1993, Johnson was inducted into the UW-River Falls Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1998, Byron James retired at UW-River Falls. Johnson was hired to fill out the season. He continued to serve as the team's head coach until the university cut wrestling in 2002.

The family tradition of wrestling continues at St. Croix Central. Johnson's sons, Andy and Pete, wrestled for the Panthers. Andy is now an assistant coach at St. Croix Central.

Johnson has also been civicly involved. He served on the Hammond Village Board. He served in the Hammond Lions Club, serving a term as president of the organization. He was Lion of the Year in 1990. In 1998 he was voted by the residents of Hammond to serve as Grand Marshal for Hammond's Heartland Days celebration.

Joe Jilek

Joe Jilek retired from officiating wrestling after the 2008 season. It was his 40th year of serving as a wrestling official.

Jilek graduated from Rice Lake High School in 1963. His career went full circle, when he officiated his final match this winter at Rice Lake.

Jilek was considered one of the deans among wrestling officials in Western Wisconsin. Jilek was always a stickler on details. He conducted the rules interpretation meetings for area wrestling officials for many years.

"He's been at the forefront, especially in our area, of rules interpretation," Olson said.

Olson and Jilek have known each other since they were freshmen together on the UW-River Falls wrestling team in the 1963-64 school year.

Jilek, who also officiated football and baseball, got his start officiating in the Fall of 1968. Jilek was highly honored in his officiating career, working the WIAA State Wrestling Tournament on 14 different occasions. He had the distinction of working the match where Matt Hanutke became the first four-time WIAA state wrestling champion.

Jilek spent more than 30 years working in education. In his first teaching job, he taught one year at Mondovi. He then worked at Clear Lake for 10 years. He worked as an assistant principal in Hayward for two years, before moving to Glenwood City. He served as athletic director and assistant principal in Glenwood City for 20 years, before retiring in 2000.

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Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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