On the Bench with Byron Higgin

The man who started the team tournament

It was one of those chance meetings. I was having a bite to eat at the state wrestling tournament, standing up, of-course, and this gentleman with a jersey that said, “Albert Lea” plopped right next to me. We began to talk and I learned he was Paul Ehrhard.

Now the REAM (Retired Educators Association of Minnesota) president elect. But he was quick to tell me, “I started the state (wrestling) team tournament.”

He was the wrestling coach in Albert Lea for many years, where he bumped into Canby Coach Gerry Gingels many times during Canby’s hay day.

“I kept telling the president of the Minnesota High School League we needed a team tournament in wrestling,” said Ehrhard.

It took awhile, but he finally got the man’s ear and the board approved his plan for the state team tournament. It’s a very popular part of the state tournament today.

Ehrhard, who also coached football, won four state titles at Albert Lea and three in football, but he always wanted to go to California.

He ended up in San Diego, where he coached for 19 years — again with highly successful teams. Two of the athletes he coached were names I was totally familiar with.

One was running back Reggie Bush, who was a running back who played professional football.

The other was quarterback Alex Smith, now with the Washington Redskins and formerly with the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Ehrhard also helped coach track and he helped win a state title there — and said, “We would have won another one but Reggie dropped the baton in the 4x100-meter relay.”

I had to laugh at that one. What a memory to have of a great athlete. Ehrhard was an amazing man — and as far as wrestling goes — the right guy in the right place at the right time.

Thanks to him, Minneota and lots of other schools across the state have been able to enjoy the extremely popular state team tournament.

Paul Ehrhard

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