On Saturday, November 17, four former Winona Senior High School wrestlers will be inducted into the Winona High Wrestling Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be at the Winona Elk’s Lodge with a social hour beginning at 4 p.m. followed by a spaghetti dinner at 5 p.m. and inductions starting at 6 p.m. Members of the public, especially any and all wrestling fans, are invited to this event.
Robert Awes – 1948
Robert Awes was born on April Fool’s Day in 1930 in Fall River, Md. He and brothers Vernon, Kenneth, and Melvyn moved to Winona from Annapolis along with their mother Lucille “Lu” just as their father Fritchoff “Fritz” was completing his career in the Navy and World War II was winding down in 1945. Fritz and Lu were looking for a place to settle down and raise their four boys. Fritz had a sister (Suzanne) and a brother-in-law (Rev. Harold Ingersol) living in Winona and decided it would be a nice place to live.
Bob was part of an experiment at Winona High to see whether there would be enough interest in wrestling to field a team. Bob was a captain in that inaugural season (1946-47) as well as the following season, Bob’s senior year. Those first few years were difficult for most outstate schools to get matches, as most high school wrestling took place in the metro area. Bob qualified for the state tournament both years at 120 pounds, going as a region-one runner up his junior year and winning the Region Championship as a senior, finishing fourth at the Minnesota State Wrestling Tournament both years.
Bob wrestled in the A.A.U. Northwest Regional between his junior and senior year, winning the 125-pound championship over wrestlers with college experience in the tournament. The 17-year-old Awes defeated accomplished wrestlers from Macalester, South Dakota State and the University of Minnesota in route to his title. Winona wrestling coach Robert Day described Bob as polite and soft-spoken, but one of the most aggressive and competitive wrestlers he had ever coached.
After graduating from Winona High, Bob enrolled at the University of Minnesota to join teammate Bob Searcy in wrestling for the Golden Gophers. Bob won the Big Ten Freshman Title that first year. In that time period, freshmen were not allowed to wrestle at the varsity level. From the U of M, Bob transferred to Luther Seminary in St. Paul and began preparing for the ministry. He worked at the Ford plant throughout his college years and also decided to join the Army, serving from 1950–1952. Bob also served in the Minnesota National Guard during his free time.
In 1952, Robert Awes participated in the United States Olympic Wrestling Trials. Bob married Janice Sorheim on March 24, 1956, and they raised three sons, David, Joel, and Thomas; and a daughter, Mary. He was ordained in 1958 and served at his first parish, Central Lutheran Church of Winona. Two months later, brother Vern joined him at Central as a fellow pastor. Bob served as pastor at three country churches near Crosby, N.D., from 1959 through 1963. He returned to Minnesota and served at a two-point parish in LaSalle and Lake Hanska from 1963 through 1968. From there, Bob answered a call to serve in a low-income area in Chicago’s inner city, first at Lake View Lutheran Church and also Timothy Lutheran Church. David and Joel both decided to go out for wrestling at St. Luke Lutheran. Bob began volunteer coaching and soon was asked to be the head coach, a position he enjoyed serving while his sons wrestled. He also enjoyed watching the Northwestern wrestling team and would regularly attend home meets at Northwestern’s Ryan Field House. Bob relished watching Olympic wrestling on television when the Olympics came around.
Robert Awes served as a Lutheran Pastor until his death on April 14, 2015. His wife Janice passed away on May 3, 2017.
Vernon Edward Awes – 1951
Vernon Awes was born in San Diego, Calif., and spent his early years in Annapolis, Md., with parents Fritchoff and Lucille along with older brother Robert and younger brothers Kenneth and Melvyn. Vern’s dad, Fritz, retired after 28 years in the Navy and moved to Winona where he ran a Citgo gas station for the next 20 years.
Vern decided to go out for wrestling his sophomore year and took a liking to the sport. He served as a wrestling captain his senior year and wrestled all the way to the state finals at 120 pounds, losing a hard-fought match to Richard Mueller, a three-time state champion from Anoka. Vern led the state finals match 2-1 after two periods, but the tenacious Mueller came on strong in the final period for a 4-2 decision. Vern also ran the 440 in track and played American Legion baseball.
Vern was an outstanding student, president of his senior class and Luther League president representing Winona’s Central Lutheran Church. He was a member of the WSHS Choir and a soloist in Central Lutheran Church Choir as well as a member of the Sunny Songsters Quartet, helping the group to a second-place finish in the Arthur Godfrey State Talent Show.
Vern was a participating founder of the Augsburg College wrestling team, wrestling for the Auggies in 1951 and 1952 before transferring to Luther College where he wrestled for three more years and sang in the Luther Nordic Cathedral Choir. He graduated from Luther Seminary and was ordained a Lutheran Pastor in 1959. Vern served parishes in Esmund, N.D., and Spring Grove, Minn., before serving as a Navy Chaplain at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and also in Seattle, Wash. Vern served a 13-month tour with the Marines in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Vern retired from active duty to serve as pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis.; Hope Lutheran Church in McFarland, Wis.; and a three-point parish in Cross Plains and Black Earth, Wis. Vern and his wife Marlys traveled to Guam twice, serving as missionaries.
Vern retired from the active reserve Navy after 28 years with a rank of Captain.
Vern’s and his wife, Marlys, an elementary school teacher, have three sons, Phillip, Stephen, and Timothy, and three grandchildren, Adrianna, Marina, and Aristotle.
Dale Schmidtknecht – 1983
Dale Schmidtknecht, son of Don and Kay Schmidtknecht, was born and raised in Winona with older brothers Dan and Doug and younger brother David. He was first exposed to the sport of wrestling as a third grader when his Uncle Tony took him to the YMCA along with Dan and Doug and introduced the boys to YMCA Wrestling Coach Hal Brink. Dale remembers winning the first tournament he wrestled in and really having a great experience. The Schmidtknecht family moved to a home a ways out of town and Dale did not participate in wrestling until he went out for junior high wrestling as a seventh grader under coach Bob Urness. By the time Dale was a sophomore he was wrestling varsity at 126 pounds and developing into an outstanding wrestler. After finishing third at the tough Winona Invite, Dale took first-place honors at the Shakopee Tournament — his first varsity tournament championship. Dale finished third in the Region Tournament at 126 pounds behind Scott Hanna from Albert Lea and Dave Seykora from Owatonna. Hanna and Seykora finished first and second at State that year. Schmidtknecht started out strong in his junior year, winning the Winona and Stewartville tournaments, but broke his hand in practice late in the season and settled for another third-place finish at Regions behind Faribault’s Greg Roehrick and Apple Valley’s Jim Farrand, who incidentally finished first and second at State that year. Dale’s senior season was even more dominating until he came down with some type of flu bug that hit him hard right before Christmas and kept him out of meets and practice for about 10 days. He finally felt like his normal self going into the Region Tournament, but didn’t have the stamina that he would have been able to build under normal conditions. Dale somehow made it to the finals, but came up short against Jeff Ocel from Apple Valley by a 7-5 score. But he was finally in the State Tournament. After winning his first two matches at state, Dale lost a hard fought 12-9 decision to Tim Koffski from Coon Rapids in the semi-final match, but came back strong in the wrestle backs and defeated Ross Solwold, a highly ranked wrestler from Moorhead, in the third place match by a score of 9-1. Koffski went on to win the State Title with a decisive win over Ocel from Apple Valley. That third-place match against Solwold was the first match since the beginning of the season that Dale looked strong throughout the third period. The very next weekend Dale wrestled in the Hutch open and dominated three State place winners, including the 145-pound State runner-up in the finals. The stamina was back.
After graduation, Dale attended Waldorf Junior College on a wrestling scholarship. He wrestled well all season and finished strong, qualifying for the National Tournament. In his second year of college, Dale transferred to Rochester Community College to complete his AA degree and wrestle one more year. Dale enjoyed his time in Rochester, but found it tough to go to college full time, work 25-30 hours per week, and compete in a demanding sport like wrestling. Dale decided it was time to explore the world and experience life. Dale spent the next two years living and working in Phoenix while taking classes at Arizona State. He continued to move west, spending the next two years living and working in California before heading for Hawaii. Dale soon realized he preferred the sandy beaches and tropical climate of Hawaii to the cold and snow of Minnesota. In Honolulu Dale began working for Costco Wholesale and, with the work ethic he had gained through the sport of wrestling, Dale moved up the corporate ladder quickly. During the next 25 years, Dale worked at 10 different Costco locations from Hawaii to Florida to Virginia to California and back to Hawaii. He held a wide variation of management positions up to and including assistant general manager. On any given day Dale was responsible for managing over 400 employees involved in a $250-million business. When Dale retired from Costco, he was asked what he liked most about his career there. Dale answered, “ I really enjoyed the management part of the business. It is a lot like being a teacher. I get to listen, discuss, and then advise adults on how to achieve a harmonious work environment on their way to becoming productive members of society.”
Dale currently resides on the Big Island along with his wife, Tani, who manages two retail stores specializing in beachwear, and his daughter, Tiffany, who attends Hawaii Prep Academy where she participates in and excels at the sport of tennis.
Dan Wantock – 1985
Danny Wantock grew up in Winona with older sister, Deb, and older brother, Mike. He first discovered the sport of wrestling when Mike decided to give it a try in the Park and Recreation elementary program. Danny soon followed and decided it was a sport he could really get into. After considerable success at the junior high level under coaches Bob Urness and Harold Christensen, Wantock cracked the varsity line-up at the end of his freshman year when he won a hard-fought wrestle-off at 98 pounds and wrestled in three varsity matches, just enough to earn a letter. Danny came back the next season and wrestled the entire year as the varsity 98 pounder, placing third in the Region Tournament. As a junior, Danny was a full 98-pound wrestler, actually having to watch his weight a little bit. He went into the Region Tournament as the second seed and met and defeated Simley’s Willy Short in the semifinals before losing to Gil Jaramillo of Apple Valley in the finals. Short came back for third place, so Wantock did not have to wrestle for the true second. It was off to State. Wantock defeated his first two opponents at State before running into eventual Minnesota State Wrestling Champion Dave Calliguri of Hibbing. Dan came back in the wrestle backs, but was knocked out in the match that would have put him in the third-place match. The fifth- and sixth-place match was taken out of the tournament during that time period, so Dan had to settle for a hearty handshake and a promising pat on the back.
As a senior, Wantock wrestled most of the year at 105 pounds, dropping down to 98 at the end of the season. Dan went into the Region Meet as the second seed and, after a hard fought win over third-seed Scott Babcock of Faribault, Wantock was defeated in the finals by Mitch Hegland from Apple Valley. Danny came back with a solid match to win the true second-place match and qualify for State. After winning his first match at the State Tournament, Dan was defeated by Darren Droegemueller of Osseo by a 10-3 score. It turned out that was Darren’s closest match of the tournament. Droegemueller defeated his other three opponents by scores of 13-0, 17-2, and a fall. Wantock came back strong through the wrestle backs winning four straight matches in decisive fashion. His closest score was a 7-3 decision in his third-place match. Head wrestling coach Bill Schmidt describes Dan as a dedicated and serious athlete — one of the most coachable wrestlers he has ever had the pleasure of working with.
Dan had an opportunity to represent his home state in the Minnesota–Iowa Wrestling Classic. Wantock traveled to Ames to practice at Iowa State and ended up getting bumped up to 105 for his match. He wrestled a kid who was huge for the 105 class, about six inches taller than Dan, but was able to get his patented duck-under early and often and held on for a 9-9 tie.
After graduating from high school, Wantock enrolled at Winona Vo. Tech. and earned a degree in carpentry. Dan went to work for Breza Construction and then for Burns Builders out of Lewiston, working as a rough framer after spending a couple years in footings and foundations. Wantock bought a dump truck and continued in the construction business as a private contractor hauling gravel and fill to building sites.
Dan currently resides on a small farm just outside Fountain City.