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Wellstone, the proud wrestling dad

MN Sports Blog on November 6, 2015 - 11:33 pm in Reflections & Columns

By Bruce Strand, 2002

Paul Wellstone’s enduring image, to me, won’t be the public servant or professor, but rather the passionate father of a wrestler.

In 1991, early in Wellstone’s tenure as a senator, his son Mark was one of the stars of the state champion Apple Valley wrestling team. A former college wrestler himself (North Carolina), Wellstone, taking a weekend break from his Washington duties, was the most animated fan I ever saw at the state wrestling tournament, a sport that inspires a lot of loony behavior from followers.

While Mark dueled in the individual finals at the St. Paul Civic Center, the senator was prowling up and down the steps like a puma. Everybody in the place noticed this high-profile fan unable to contain himself. I don’t think anyone begrudged his behavior. Wrestling zealots, especially parents, understand.

In the aisle, Wellstone couched and gyrated and clenched and swung his arms and screamed, those piercing eyes riveted to the action, his movements mirroring those of Mark’s as the boy battled his opponent. The senator tugged at his phantom foe, trying to help his son with intense body English.

Any sense of senatorial decorum was out the window — hey, this is wrestling, and that’s my boy —and when Mark completed his victory, Wellstone leapt and yelped and hugged everyone in sight. It was probably a sweeter moment than either of his victories over Rudy Boschwitz.

The Star-Tribune’s wrestling coverage included an interview with the senator, who related that he had worried if he could justify leaving two straight weekends (regionals and state) to watch wrestling, but a Washington colleague had advised him to make the trip because it was such a special time for his family. It probably didn’t take much to convince him.

You know that old saying about how nobody on their deathbed ever lamented having not spent more time at the office? Wellstone, who died Friday with his wife, daughter and five others in a small plane crash, may have been a workaholic, zealous as he was about both his academic and political jobs, but wrestling fans know the senator never lost sight of what was most important. They remember the frenzied wrestling dad who couldn’t stay in Washington, or even in his seat, when his boy had his big moment.


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