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  Thursday December 18th, 2014    

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Dave Mertes to be inducted into WSHS Atheletic Hall of Fame (05/14/2006)
By
This is the third in a series of articles on the four athletes that will be inducted into the Winona Senior High School Athletic Hall of Fame on May 21.

Dave Mertes called himself "an average high school athlete who got some breaks in his life."

Maybe Mertes' athletic career at Winona Senior High School was just average. He lettered in three different sports - football, basketball and baseball. He was the starting center for two years in football, and also started at linebacker his senior year in 1953, when the Winhawks went 8-1 and finished second to Rochester in the Big Nine Conference standings.

Mertes was a reserve on the basketball team for two years, and broke into the starting lineup his senior year in baseball as a center fielder.

But when Mertes went to Winona State and played football for four years, he was anything but average.

Average athletes don't break into the starting lineup as freshmen and make the All-Northern Intercollegiate Conference team four straight years at center. Average athletes aren't elected team captain for three years running. And average athletes certainly aren't named to the Associated Press Little All-American team, as Mertes did in his junior year in 1956.

"The highlight of my career was probably my freshman year, being accepted and being able to play with veterans that were four or five years older than me," Mertes said. "What a thrill it was to play with guys who came out of the service. They're still some of my closest friends."

Mertes got interested in football in seventh or eighth grade and still remembers the words of his junior high coach, Norm Indahl.

"He said ‘Dave, you're going to play center,'" Mertes recalled. "I was there ever since.

"We played all the way through from junior high all the way up. We had an undefeated sophomore team. That kept us together. It was a great team my senior year. We had five or six guys named to the all-conference team (Mertes was one of them). Our halfback, Dick Brown, was all-state."

Mertes thought about going to vocational school after graduating from WSHS in 1954. But he listened to his high school baseball coach, Eddie Spencer, and future WSU teammate Arnie Boese and chose to stay in town and play at Winona State.

It turned out to be a great decision.

Mertes stepped into the starting lineup at center the second game of his freshman year and did not miss a start the rest of his career. And that was playing on the offensive line and at linebacker at around 185 pounds.

"We didn't have a big team at Winona State," Mertes said. "Our middle guard on our five-man defensive line was 150 pounds.

"We didn't have face masks back then. Our shoulder pads were leather and we had leather hip pads. I was very fortunate. I never had an injury. I saw some teammates with broken noses."

In Mertes' first year, the Warriors came within a foot of winning the NIC championship against St. Cloud State.

"We ended the game on the one-foot line," Mertes said. "It's still a big disappointment in my life.

"My sophomore year, we weren't very good. We had a new coach (Russ Owen) and we lost a lot of seniors. It was a rebuilding year."

It didn't take long to rebuild. WSU won the conference titles in 1956 and '57. That's when the big honors came in for Mertes. He made the Little All-American team as a center as junior. A year later, he was recognized for his academic and athletic success by receiving the NIC Glen Galligan Award. That year (1957), Mertes was also named to the Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities.

"I think I got it for being a linebacker," Mertes said of his All-American honor. "Back then, they didn't have an offensive or defensive team. It was one team. They put you where you played on offense."

Mertes looks at today's offensive linemen at WSU, who range between 260 and 300 pounds, and shakes his head.

"It's an entirely different game," he said. "We worked out and conditioned ourselves, but not what they do today. It's a 12-month dedication now. We never had spring practice. We didn't weight train."

While at Winona State, Mertes studied business. One of his professors, Dr. Ruth Hopf, took an interest in him and played a key role in his future career. Hopf's husband, Cal, was the superintendent of Winona Public Schools at the time.

After graduating in 1958, Mertes took a job at Black River Falls (Wis.) High School. He returned to WSU to get his master's degree, then was hired by Winona Senior High School in 1962 and taught business classes for 35 years before retiring in 1997.

His athletic success, however, hasn't gone unnoticed. In 1987 he was inducted into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2002 he was inducted into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Athletic Hall of Fame. Last fall he was named a member of WSU's All-Century football team.

"Those were very humbling honors," Mertes said. "This one (the WSHS Hall of Fame) is one too. I look at the other recipients and feel very honored to be with them."

Mertes still lives in Winona with his wife, Judy, and spends a lot of his free time volunteering at various events. 

 

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