As the officials were introduced, one at a time, before the first matches of the state wrestling tournament Thursday morning at Xcel Energy Center, knowledgeable fans surely recognized one name in particular: Gabriel Mooney.
Mooney was assigned to referee at the state tournament for the second year in a row. That means he’s halfway – sort of, kind of – to matching a historic streak from his own days as a high school wrestler. He is in rare company as one of only 22 wrestlers who won four state championships; six of those went on to win a fifth title and Apple Valley senior Mark Hall is on track to become the state’s first six-time champion this week.
Wrestling at Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, Mooney won titles in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 from 103 to 125 pounds. His high school record was 191-17, which included a 133-match winning streak. He wrestled at North Dakota State, where he earned a bachelors degree in dietetics and a masters degrees in health care administration. He lives in Baudette and works in health care.
He thought about going into coaching, but his job didn’t allow him much flexibility. So he turned to officiating. He became registered with the MSHSL during the 2010-11 season and is a member of the Northstar Wrestling Officials Association.
“I always thought that I wouldn’t want to be an official,” he said between rounds Thursday in St. Paul. “Then I was out of wrestling for about a year (after college).”
He talked with veteran official Brian Bakke from East Grand Forks, and that was his gateway to becoming an official.
“Brian was my mentor. I asked him about it and he got me into it. He reffed me when I was in high school, he reffed me when I was in college, and he made a difference in that sense. He gave me a good taste for reffing.”
Baudette is about as far north as you can go and still be in Minnesota. It’s isolated, which means Mooney puts in lots of mileage working high school and college wrestling duals and tournament. Last season he drove 10,000 miles while officiating. His longest road trip last year was for collegiate wrestling in Mankato, which is 370 miles (one way) from Baudette.
Mooney is staying in the Twin Cities this weekend, where he will officiate an NCAA Division III regional tournament Saturday at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
“I do a lot of weekend tournaments,” he said. “Let’s face it, we don’t want to drive 200 miles one way for a dual meet.”
He said that when he first became a registered official, he was full of confidence … some of it misplaced.
“I’ll be straight out and candid: I walked out thinking, ‘Give me a few duals and I’ll have it figured out and be the best.’ I was standing in the wrong spot, I was not in good position, I didn’t know some of the rules. As a college wrestler, I thought I would come back and know all the rules.
“I still pick up little things. After about two years you realize where to stand, what to anticipate, the appropriate verbalization, how to be professional.”
Last year’s state tournament, Mooney’s first with a whistle around his neck, was a thrill for him.
“It was crazy,” he said. “I wrestled here for five years in high school. Coming out here (as an official) is a lot less stressful, to be honest. When I walk out as an official, I’m under pressure then, and I walk off and it’s done. You don’t worry about things before and you don’t worry about them after. You leave it on the mat in all aspects.”
The best part of his job, he said, is spending time with wrestlers; one wearing a red band around one ankle and the other wearing green.
“I enjoy being on the mat with the guys,” Mooney said. “You’re wrestling every match with the kids and you don’t care who wins and who loses. I see green and I see red.”
--Apple Valley won the Class 3A team title for the 11th year in a row. The top-seeded Eagles defeated second-seeded St. Michael-Albertville 31-26 in the championship match.
--Top-seeded Kasson-Mantorville defeated third-seeded Foley 37- 21 to win the Class 2A team crown.
--Top-seeded Kenyon-Wanamingo won the Class 1A championship with a narrow 26-24 decision over third-seeded Frazee.
CLASS 1A QUARTERFINALS
Minneota 41, West Central 15
Frazee 48, Sibley East 11
Kenyon-Wanamingo 39, Caledonia 26
Pierz 44, Kerhoven-Murdock-Sunburg 22
CLASS 2A QUARTERFINALS
Simley 53, Totino-Grace 15
Foley 33, Perham 18
Kasson-Mantorville 64, Mora 3
Scott West 35, Wabasso/Red Rock Central 25
CLASS 3A QUARTERFINALS
St. Michael-Albertville 55, Minnetonka 15
Anoka 44, Centennial 24
Apple Valley 46, Hastings 15
Willmar 37, Farmington 30
CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
Frazee 32, Minneota 21
Kenyon-Wanamingo 34, Pierz 21
CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
Foley 31, Simley 28
Kasson-Mantorville 36, Scott West 18
CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
St. Michael-Albertville 35, Anoka 25
Apple Valley 46, Willmar 24
1A/ Kenyon-Wanamingo vs. Frazee
2A/ Kasson-Mantorville 37, Foley 21
3A/ Apple Valley 31, St. Michael-Albertville 26
1A/ Pierz 39, Minneota 16
2A/ Scott West 40, Sinley 20
3A/ Anoka 42, Willmar 23
1A/ Caledonia 36, 21 West Central/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville
2A/ Perham 38, Wabasso/Red Rock Central 24
3A/ Hastings 44, Minnetonka 33
--Championship matches were held Thursday night.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 530
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,449
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn