Where Have We Been?
Minnesota held it’s first high school State Wrestling Tournament in 1937. There were very few programs competing interscholastically for the first several years. But in the late fifties and early sixties, wrestling gained a lot of popularity throughout the state. Pine Island joined the ranks in the 1959-1960 Season under the leadership of Coach Curt Cornelius. They lost their first dual meet 27-23 to Lake City. They had a 1-5 dual meet record that year. Maurice Klingsporn placed 4th in the post season District 3 tournament. In 1937 teams had 9 weight classes. By 1959 we were up to eleven weights. In 1960-61 it became 12. We went to 13 in 87-88, and to the present 14 varsity weight classes in 2002-03. These 14 weights were redistributed in 2012.
Schools of all sizes were competing together in the same post season tournaments until the 1975-76 season. That year, they began a two class system with single A being the smaller sized schools and AA designating the larger half as divided by enrollment. 1976 was also the year that Minnesota became the first state to conduct a team dual meet tournament to crown the state championship team. Previously, a school gained the title on points scored by individuals as they placed at the state tournament. The dual meet competition is also divided by the same classes. This process has become very popular and competitive. Since the 1995-96 season, the state has expanded the classes to three. They are : A, AA, AAA. Pine Island is class A but near the upper enrollment numbers cut off. School enrollments are re-evaluated every 2 years with classes and section distribution adjusted as needed. Class size is not necessarily an indicator of quality as Pine Island has always been able to stick with or beat probably better than 60% of the AAA teams. It is interesting that we as teams in Section 1 (which is still essentially the old Region 1), are very competitive in all three classes in relation to the rest of the state!
That being said, we in Pine Island have fared better over the years than many of the other wrestling schools throughout the state. Participation levels dipped in the early eighties and through the nineties. Coinciding with that were budget problems for schools that never seem to abate. The result for wrestling was that some schools dropped their programs and in order to survive, some districts combined their school’s teams to support 1 single team to save money and fill the squad. We have many of these paired programs now and some of them are still fighting low participation rates. Locally we now have; Zumbrota-Mazeppa, Triton (Dodge Center, West Concord, Claremont), GMLOK (Grand Meadow, Le Roy, Ostrandrander, Spring Valley, Wykoff) and Filmore Central ( Harmony, Preston, Fountain, Mabel-Canton, Lanesburo) among others. But Pine Island struggled through some tough years in the early 80s and became Wasioja Conference Champions in 1987 on their way to becoming a consistently competitive wrestling team. While most teams struggle to get 30 wrestlers out per year in grades 7-12, the Panthers were between 38 and 52 grapplers from the early ‘90s through about 2007. Participation for Pine Island has recently been lower than ideal with low to mid twenties in the last few years.
In our early days it was uncommon to have more than 20 individual matches a season, most wrestlers accumulate well over 30 per year now. You may remember, that you had to finish high in a tough District Tournament to advance on to the Region 1 Tourney. The District became Sub-Section after we went to multi class, and Regions became Sections. Then with three classes and the loss of some programs, it became unnecessary to hold a Sub-Section (District) tournament. Everyone is eligible right away at Sections. They still only take first and second place at the Sections to the State Tournament and the quality level at the State is still quite high.
The Panthers ended their long time affiliation with the Wasioja Conference after hosting the Conference Tournament in 1989. We switched over to the Three Rivers Conference from 1990 through 1993 and then joined the Hiawatha Valley League in 1994. The Wasioja Conference no longer exists but most of the old members are now in the H.V.L. conference. In 1995 Junior Heavyweight Ben Meyer placed as runner-up at the State Tourny. He followed that up his senior year as Pine Island’s first State Champion wrestler! We claimed our second individual State Champ in 2005 when Chris McPhail went 40-0 in his senior season to achieve his title at 189 lbs! In 2015, sophomore Noah Bauer became the Panther’s third State Champion at 113 lbs. As a team we have been enjoying continued Panther tradition with many strong seasons and achievements. Our proudest moment was in 2003 when Pine Island won the Section 1-A Dual meet championship, and earned our first berth in the State Tournament. The season culminated in a 2nd Place finish in the State among all Class A wrestling teams. We were greatly affected by our achievement and the overwhelming backing of the entire school and community. We spoke to our team and the student body about how this accomplishment was shared with all who have been a part of the Pine Island wrestling program. It is our philosophy to build on the past and never rest on our laurels. We stress that each individual is a member of the Panther Wrestling Family. We always support each other and appreciate the support of those who have paved the road before us!