Bob Dettmer’s life is filled with accomplishments and service. He is a retired teacher, retired wrestling coach, former active duty soldier and Army Reservist who served in Kuwait. Currently he serves as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
But Dettmer has a job on the side that is very close to his heart: he is a wrestling official. He puts a whistle around his neck a couple of days a week and goes to the mat.
“I enjoy the sport, and I think when a coach retires from coaching he should still be part of the program,” Dettmer said between matches during a triangular at Cretin-Derham Hall High School.
Dettmer, 60, is as fit and trim as he was when he won a national wrestling championship at Bemidji State University in 1971. He retired as a physical education teacher and head wrestling coach at Forest Lake High School in 2008 and since then has devoted his time to the Legislature. He is unaware of any other legislators who also work as high school sports officials. But plenty of people at the State Capitol know about his side job.
Before leaving the House floor around 4 p.m. and driving directly to Cretin-Derham Hall for the first match at 4:30, Dettmer – a Republican from District 52A -- had a quick chat with House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Majority Leader Matt Dean.
“I told the speaker and the majority leader, ‘Hey, I hope we get through these bills so I can get over here in time,’ ” Dettmer said. “Luckily we did.”
Dettmer’s career record during his 32 years as a wrestling coach is 399-144-2. He coached multiple individual state champions and his 1993 Forest Lake team won the Class 2A state title. He began to work as an official immediately after ending his coaching career, and every year since then he also has worked at one of the matside tables during the state wrestling tournament.
He recently learned that he had been selected to work as an official during this year’s state tourney at Xcel Eenergy Center. A notification letter had been sent from the MSHSL to his home, and Dettmer was sitting in the House chamber when he got the news via a text from his wife, Colleen.
“I kind of jumped out of my seat,” he said.
He will work matches during the first day of the tournament, which is the team competition. The action will begin at 9 a.m. and Dettmer’s shift should end around 3 p.m. The House will be in session beginning an hour later, “so I’ll be able to scoot right over to the Capitol,” he said.
That day, March 1, is Dettmer’s birthday as well as Colleen’s. She will be on hand to watch her husband.
“That’s the one thing about my birthday,” he said, “it’s always been during the wrestling state tournament or national tournament or whatever it was during college.”
Dettmer was an official in the 1970s and 1980s but had to give it up because of family, coaching and military commitments. He said every coach in every sport would be wise to do some officiating, and officials should do some coaching.
“I think you can be a better coach if you do some officiating, and I think you can be a better official if you have coached some,” he said. “The key thing is positioning. You can anticipate what’s going to happen because you’ve been there yourself.
“Your job is to keep everything safe and legal. Wrestling is a sport where if you pick somebody up, you’re responsible for bringing them down safely. There’s no punching or hitting or anything like that. It’s a tough sport.”
Dettmer is a longtime member of the Army Reserve who served on active duty in Kuwait. The Dettmer’s three children also have been involved in the military. Sons Travis and Robb, who both wrestled for their father at Forest Lake, are West Point graduates.
Travis recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan after two stints in Iraq; in fact, Bob and Travis had a reunion when both were serving in the Middle East. Travis is now stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where his wife is a JAG officer (a military attorney.
Robb, who is now in the National Guard, lives near West Point in New York, where he and his wife mentor Army cadets in a Christian-based military ministry. And the Dettmer’s daughter Krystle, who graduated from Bethel College, lives in Fort Bliss, Texas, where her husband serves in the military police.
“I wish they were closer,” Dettmer said. “We’ve got six grandkids and it would be nice to have them closer.”
Officiating in this year’s state wrestling tournament will be one of many memorable moments in Dettmer’s career, and he’s happy to share advice for people who are considering becoming officials.
“Be around a wrestling program. Even if you did wrestle but you don’t coach, find a high school in your area and see if you can go in and officiate their wrestle-offs,” he said. “Learn, get certified, do some junior high, some JV, join an association so they can set you up with matches. There are a lot of middle school and junior high matches you can do.”
As long as his health allows, Dettmer will continue to put that whistle around his neck and give back to the sport that has meant so much to him.
“As long as I can do, I will,” he said. “I enjoy it. It keeps you in contact with the coaches, and I coached against a lot of these coaches. If I was coming out of college right now, I’d go into teaching and coaching. I’d do it all over again.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 281
*Miles John has driven: 6,271
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