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Bob Olson has been involved in NRI since 1973

Former New Richmond wrestling coach Bob Olson shares a laugh with a visiting coach during the 2019 New Richmond Wrestling Invitational, held Saturday at the New Richmond High School gym. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

Nobody knows more about the New Richmond Wrestling Invitational than Bob Olson.

Olson has been involved in the management of the tournament since 1973. The NRI celebrated its 50th anniversary when it was conducted Saturday at the New Richmond High School gym.

Olson was hired as a teacher and wrestling coach for the 1972-73 school year at NRHS. He served as wrestling coach for 26 years and since then, he's been one of the organizers for the NRI each year, with the tournament always being held the first Saturday in January.

The NRI was started by Wally Dunn in his final season of coaching the Tigers. Carl Olson coached the team for two years, before Bob Olson took over the Tiger program. He said during the first years of the tournament, organizers kept the tournament at eight teams, all from a different conference and all from Wisconsin. That resulted in teams from all over northern and western Wisconsin being part of the field. Olson recalled highly regarded programs like Chippewa Falls and Arcadia being staples of the tournament lineup in its early years.

Because the tournament was always held on the opening Saturday of the year, weather was often a threat. The tournament was only cancelled once, in 1978. Olson recalled one other year where the tournament was moved back to Tuesday afternoon because a storm plastered northern Wisconsin in snow. Gym classes were cancelled that day so the tournament could be held. Olson said Phillips made its way south through the snow, after using snowmobiles to get the wrestlers to the school so they could make the bus to the tournament.

Olson said there was another year where there was a power outage all over the southern side of New Richmond.

"The city set up a special line to get the school power," Olson said, so the tournament was able to be completed after a 90-minute delay.

Olson said technology is the biggest change he's seen in the management of the tournament. He said for many years all of the results were done by hand, with his wife, Henri, and school staff members Harris Peterson and Bill Komula at the scorer's table, keeping the tournament running smoothly.

The stories Olson has flow about all the standout wrestlers who've competed in the years of the tournament. He said one of the toughest displays came from Pete Stephens. Stephens had a cut open above his eye and it bled profusely. The coaches bandaged up the wound enough to get Stephens through his semifinal match, which he won.

"His parents then drove him to Holy Family Hospital, got him stitched up and he came back and won the tournament," Olson said.

The Olson family is still involved in the wrestling program. His granddaughter, Jhette Gabriel, is one of the team managers and his grandson, Bode Gabriel, is an eighth grader who wrestles in the middle school program. Bode is the only wrestler among Olson's five grandsons, with the others competing in a wide variety of sports from track to baseball to hockey.

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 more than 30 years.

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