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Gladiator High School

Posted Sunday, January 15, 2012, at 2:14 PM

My 50th high school reunion will take place in August of 2012. I wrote an article for the reunion committee to be placed in the reunion booklet. In the process, I ran across an old newspaper column I wrote in April of 2005, also about my high school -- as follows.

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Beyond the obvious theatrics, professional wrestlers are gifted athletes with an abundance of strength and coordination. They are also nasty dudes. If you don't believe it, walk up to one and slap him upside the head. The next 20 seconds of your life with be incredibly exciting, followed by a long period of pain and regret.

Robbinsdale is a suburb of Minneapolis. In the 1940s and 1950s, Robbinsdale High School was legendary in team sports, particularly in wrestling where they were state champions on a regular basis.

Verne Gagne was a graduate of Robbinsdale High School in 1943. In 1944, he won the Big Ten wrestling championship in his weight class as a freshman. After a couple of years in the Marines, he returned to the University of Minnesota and became Big Ten champion in 1947, 1948 and 1949. He was also NCAA champion in 1948 and 1949, a member of the Olympic team in 1948 and AAU wrestling champion in 1949.

Vern Gagne went on to become one of the most successful professional wrestlers in history, winning many heavyweight championships. Years later, he became owner of the AWA (American Wrestling Association).

One of Gagne's professional wrestling opponents was Larry "The Axe" Hennig, a graduate of Robbinsdale High School in the 1950s. Hennig played villain to Gagne's good guy image.

Many other professional wrestlers were products of Robbinsdale High School.

Curt Hennig (class of 1976) -- dubbed "Mr. Perfect" by the promoters, Curt was the son of Larry Hennig. He was an all-around high school athlete who had been offered college scholarships in football, baseball and wrestling. As a pro wrestler, he was a top performer on several circuits.

Rick Rood (class of 1976) -- became Ravishing Rick Rude, a major headliner with a chiseled body and a narcissistic attitude. Former pro wrestler Eddie Sharkey once said, "People didn't realize how tough this guy was. He'd slap guys with an open hand and it looked like their head exploded."

Tom Zenk (class of 1976) -- also known as the "Z-Man," he was a very prolific "scientific" wrestler who became champion of the PNW (Pacific Northwest Wrestling).

Dean Peters (class of 1976) -- former high school gymnast (team captain) who wrestled under the name of Brady Boone. He became a very acrobatic wrestler, later known as the "Battle Kat."

John Nord (class of 1977) -- known as "The Barbarian," Nord was a big bruiser who also played professional football with the New Jersey Generals of the now defunct USFL.

Steve Simpson (class of 1977) -- became the Russian villain "Nikita Koloff" in the ring. Wrestled in Georgia Championship Wrestling, the NWA and the WCW.

Barry Darsow (class of 1978) -- mostly performed as the "Smash" character of Demolition (Ax, Smash, Crush). In the WWF he was "The Repo Man" and in the WCW he was "The Blacktop Bully."

It's quite remarkable so many professional wrestlers came from such a small community as Robbinsdale.

Many others came from the nearby Minneapolis area, such as Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Ric "Nature Boy" Flair, Scott Norton, Jim Brunzell, Brock Lesnar, Sheldon Benjamin and Sean "The Lightning Kid" Waltman.

I attended Robbinsdale High School in the early 1960s. When I was a junior, we were the Minnesota state wrestling champions once again. We were also the state champions in football that year as well.

I wasn't a wrestler though. Rolling around on a mat in the clutches of some sweaty psychopath was not my idea of fun. I preferred more gentlemanly activities, such as pocket billiards and chasing skirts, neither of which was sanctioned by the school. I did reasonably well in pocket billiards but was a bust in my other endeavor.

Robbinsdale High School was not for the timid. Part of the daily lunch menu included a cup of nails. It was a school for gladiators with a little book-learning on the side. If you could survive it, you were prepared for anything the rest of the world throws at you.

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Quote for the Day -- "Wrestling is ballet with violence." Jesse Ventura

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Bret Burquest is the author of 7 books, including THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY and ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS (available on Amazon). He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and the ghost of the Crusher.

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nice heritage!

-- Posted by conventional1 on Wed, Jan 18, 2012, at 8:08 PM


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Bret Burquest
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.
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