Seniors on the wrestling team were honored at a recent meet. Matty Ziebell, left, is planning to attend North Dakota State School of Science in Wahpeton next year, in nursing. Max Dykhoff, right, plans on attending M State Fergus Falls, and will continue on with plans of an environmental sciences degree. At left, Harold “Happy” Holt, who has coached the team since 1982–only the third head coach in the history of the 60 year program.

It’s been a 60th birthday party–all season long–for the Pelican Rapids High School wrestling program. 

The squad celebrated in style, with one of the better seasons on record. 

The only thing that would have made the birthday year sweeter would have been a 300th win for Coach Harold Holt. 

The Vikings narrowly lost to New York Mills Feb. 11–halting Holt at 299 wins for Pelican.

A 1990s Pelican wrestling squad. Kneeling from left, Dan Thompson, Travis Hunter, Thang Tran, Quentin Henry, Paul Rotz, Jamie Kugler, Troy Wimmer. Standing, Steve Morgan, Jeff McKeever, Mike Wiese, Çoach Dean Fox, Coach Harold Holt, Coach Paul Pfeifle, Mike Robinson, Steve Swenson and Jason Bruun.

Oh well.  There’s always next year–which will be Holt’s 41st year, and 39th with Pelican–where he also grew up and wrestled himself.  

The Viking matmen finished the year 13 and 8 as a team. 

But several Pelican guys have a chance to move to the state tournament as individuals, which will be determined Feb. 22 in Wadena. State tourney is Feb. 27-29. 

With 46 kids in the program, the future looks as bright as ever for the 60 year program.  

It all started in 1960.

The beautiful mats used by the Pelican Rapids wrestling squad today, complete with “Vikings” printed along the edge, are the envy of old coaches like Bob King. “Those mats are two times the size of anything we ever had,” said King, who founded the program in 1960 and coached until 1974. Pictured here, Sebastian Centeno in action. The sophomore has already reached the 25 pins and 50 wins milestones — and he has two more seasons ahead of him.

A notice in the January 7, 1960 Pelican Rapids Press stated that the high school was starting a new sport: Wrestling, to be coached by Bob King. It also advised readers not to confuse high school wrestling with the show biz grappling  seen on television. “It is a clean, manly art and is fast becoming very popular in high school athletics,” stated the ad. 

The initial problem faced when the program began was where to practice. A recurring theme was that Pelican was and always has been a “basketball town,” so the wrestlers got bounced from the hallway to the ag classroom to the floor in the shop room. 

Of course, Coach King and his assistants Dean Fox and John MacGregor were always competing with the Pelican “basketball syndicate” for talent.  

“I was always fighting basketball,” said King.

One year, King managed to pull six guys from the court to the wrestling mats. 

“I took his whole bench away from him,” laughed King. Well, former principal and superintendent Chauncey Martin had to step in to do some diplomacy. 

“Chauncey came to me and said, ‘you’re going to have to give some of those kids back,’” recalled King.  “The one I was really sorry to lose was George Gorton…I could have taken him to state.”

Despite the tug-of-war with the basketball “establishment,”  King established the foundation that spawned nine HOL champions, seven district champions and two region champions. He had three wrestlers qualify for the state tournament in an era where there was only one class and a lot more teams in each region. Gary Johnson competed at the state meet in 1962; Keith Johnson took second in 1965; and Larry Hovland competed  in 1967.

Head Wrestling Coach Virgil Kollar, preparing Brad Ouren for the Minnesota Class A wrestling tournament in 1981. Ouren wrestled at the 98 pound class.

When King retired from coaching, the district hired Virgil Kollar, a former Fergus Falls wrestler.

Holt, who was a Pelican wrestler, graduated just before Kollar began as coach. They knew one another because Holt would return from college to work with the team once in a while. He ended up being Kollar’s replacement eight years later.  Holt coached in Belle Plaine, Browns Valley and Underwood, before returning to his home town in 1982–and he’s been matside every winter since.

Only three head coaches in the entire 60 year history of the program is a rare claim in Minnesota High School sports.  

Coaches past and present see wrestling as a sport which is available to anyone willing to work hard. The first minority athletes in Pelican Rapids started with wrestling. 

Southeast Asian immigrant Phu Ha, ten years after U.S. troops left Vietnam, went to the state meet in 1985 and 1986.  By 2012, Pelican’s Hispanic community was represented at the state wrestling meet, by Jesus Romero.  Following his footsteps in 2014 were a  trio of Pelican’s  Hispanic athletes at the state meet: Danny Franco, Hobet Diaz and Eddie Ramos.  

One of Pelican’s winningest wrestlers, Jake Anderson, won 130 matches and lost only 19.  He qualified for the state meet in 1997, and then went on to take 4th in 1998, second in 1999, and second again in 2000.

A pair of Evensons wrestled their way to state: Dylan in 2006 and 2007; and McKale in 2007, 2008 and 2009–when he won Pelican’s first and only state title.  Dylan continues with the sport, as an assistant to Coach Holt. 

Matside at the recent home meet against New York Mills, the founding father of Pelican Rapids wrestling Bob King, left. Working the sidelines is Mitch VerDorn, who wrestled for Pelican as a student in 1994-95. Center, Sheri King–Bob’s daughter, who was a “mat rat” as a youngster when her dad was coaching, and has continued to work at meets to this day–and is a phy ed teacher at Viking elementary. Far right, Pelican school board member Anne Peterson, who was a wrestling statistician for the team in her hometown of Jamestown. Pelican Rapids School Superintendent Ed Richardson is a Pelican graduate, and wrestled for Harold Holt, from about 1984-86.

Pelican’s wrestler with the most career wins is Kip Anderson, who amassed a 142-59 record.  He took sixth at the 2004 state meet.

The able assistant through its first 35 years, the late Dean Fox,  is enshrined at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Fox, who died in 2007, was named to the Minnesota State Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1986.  He taught junior high math and history from the mid-1950s to 1994, and was involved in the wrestling program from 1959 to his retirement in 1994. Dean’s sons, Scott and Brian, also wrestled as Pelican students.

The program has been “blessed with very good assistants over the years. These guys do the technique and I do the paper work,” said Holt, who spoke recently at the Pelican Rapids area Rotary Club meeting. In addition to Dylan Evenson, Holt noted assistants Aaron Kapenga, Charlie Blixt, Brian Dykhoff, Mike Osborne and Carlos Gutiarez, in recent years.

Holding the single season record for wins is recent graduate Carson Haugrud, who notched 39 mat victories in 2017-18.  

Another state level competitor was Jim Cossette, who compiled a record of 117-39; and made two trips to the state meet in 2010 and 2011, when he placed third. 

The current crop of Pelican matmen include a bunch of 20-plus winners: the Ziebell brothers, Matty and Johnny, Sebastian Centeno, Max Dykhoff, Tommy Thach and Jacob Willits.  

Matty Ziebell explained the joys of wrestling at the recent Rotary meeting.  “No matter how many times I’ve been hurt, I still have fun…we make memories and build lifelong friendships.”

And, lest you accept the stereotype of wrestlers being muscle, brawn–but no brain–it’s important to note that Pelican has earned academic honors as a team for 17 of the past 20 years.  

As the old coach and Pelican wrestling “Godfather” Bob  King, now 87,  sums up the beauty of wrestling: “It’s one of the fairest sports out there. Individuals get matched up according to weight and the best athlete wins.”

Virg Kollar, the second of three wrestling coaches in the history of the 60 year program, pictured here in the late 1970s.

Individual win-loss records Pelican Rapids 

Kip Anderson 142 59 0

Alin Bakken 137 78 0

Jake Anderson 130 19 0

Jeff McKeever 125 70 0

Jon Warmbold 124 59 0

McKale Evenson 120 56 0

Jim Cossette 117 39 0

Dylan Evenson 116 35 0

Phu Ha 116 35 1

Dakota Pixley 115 101 0

Matthew Ziebell 114 54 0   

Steve Morgan 106 55 1

Sam Klovstad 106 100 0

Dan Franco 105 57 0

Jake Wiese 104 39 0

Carson Haugrud 102 44 0

Tyler Willson 100 42 0

Alex Klovstad 100 90 0

Ben Dillon 94 73 0

Justin Meyer 91 62 0

Richard Milbeck 90 39 0

Thang Tran 86 44 0

Kelly Tweeton 84 88 0

Steve O’Brien 82 28 2

Jacob Johnson 81 52 0

Rob Miller 80 36 3

Jordan Arntson 80 46 0

Mitch Johnson 80 56 0

Robert Mazariegos 78 62 0

Jesus Romero 77 39 0

Dave Seifert 74 24 0

Hobet Diaz 73 39 0

Chris Bakken 73 49 0

Steve Swenson 73 61 0

Ryan Ness 72 30 1

Lee Hovland 72 40 2

Tony Heintzelman 71 43 0

Doug Aas 70 55 0

Tom Nygaard 69 30 0

Johnny Ziebell 69 58 0 

Son Nguyen 68 47 0

Jeff Robley 66 24 0

Daryl Pixley 64 36 2

Jamie Kugler 64 37 0

Phil Rotz 64 46 0

Doug Pixley 62 27 1

Carlos Gutierrez 62 49 0

Casey Kulsrud 62 53 0

Tom Michels 60 14 0

Brad Ouren 60 17 1

Cole Anderson 60 18 0

Rick Evenson 60 41 2

State tourney individual entries

Pelican Rapids total:  51

1962 127 Gary Johnson

1965 95 Keith Johnson 2nd

1967 95 Larry Hovland

1981 98 Brad Ouren

1985 105 Phu Ha

1986 105 Phu Ha

1987 185 Steve O’Brien

1996 160 Jake Wiese 3rd

1997 112 Jon Warmbold

1997 119 Jake Anderson

1997 160 Jake Wiese

1997 171 Jake Sheridan

1998 112 Jake Anderson  4th

1998 119 Jon Warmbold

1998 160 Jake Wiese  4th

1998 171 Billy Schaefer  4th

1999 119 Jake Anderson  2nd

1999 130 Jon Warmbold

2000 119 Jake Anderson  2nd

2000 152 Ben Dillon

2001 103 Cole Anderson 2nd

2001 152 Ben Dillon

2004 140 Jacob Johnson

2004 112 Kip Anderson 6th

2005 125 Kip Anderson

McKale Evenson, right, is Pelican’s sole state champion, winning the title in 2009.

2005 215 Doug Aas

2006 Dylan Evenson

2007 Dylan Evenson

2007 Aaron Field

2007 McKale Evenson

2008 Alin Bakken

2008 McKale Evenson

2008 Justin Meyer 

2008 Sam Klovstad

2009 McKale Evenson  1st

2009 Tyler Willson  6th

2009 Sam Klovstad

2009 Alin Bakken

2009 Justin Meyer

2010 Jim Cossette

2011 135 Jim Cossette  3rd

2012 120 Jesus Romero

2014 113 Danny Franco

2014 160 Hobet Diaz

2014 220 Eddie Ramos

2016 138 Dakota Pixley

2016 145 Casey Kulrsud

2017 145 Casey Kulsrud

2017 182 Carson Haugrud

2018 160  Matty Ziebell

2018 182 Carson Haugrud

2019 170 Matty Ziebell