Hardly anybody calls Tuffy Hoard by his given name. The longtime Grand Rapids assistant wrestling coach's real name is Laverne, which is a fine name. But ever since his cousins started calling him Tuffy when he was just a little sprout in Grand Rapids nearly seven decades ago, he has been known as Tuffy.
When the late Skip Nalan, Grand Rapids' Hall of Fame wrestling coach, first laid eyes on Hoard he asked, "Who is that little guy?" The answer: "That's Tuffy."
The name was fitting. Hoard was small, weighing only 75 pounds when he wrestled in the 95-pound division as a ninth-grader in 1963. He was only 90 pounds when he graduated in 1966. But boy, could he wrestle.
Tuffy was the first four-time Region 7 champ, meaning he wrestled at state four times. He finished third at state as a junior and second as a senior.
"When you don't finish first it bugs you," he said this week. "You always remember that one."
The 1963 state tournament was held in St. Peter, the 1964 event in Mankato and in 1965 and 1966 at Williams Arena. The current location, of course, is Xcel Energy Center and Tuffy, 70, is back at state this week, 56 years after his first appearance. Along with Grand Rapids head coach Mike Schauer and fellow assistants Jackson Schauer and Roy Peterson, the Thunderhawks were represented on the mat in Class 2A by three wrestlers: Connor Wakefield at 113 pounds, Kellen Schauer at 145 and Brendin Morian at 152.
Wakefield and Morian were eliminated with opening-round losses Friday but Schauer is one of the favorites, coming to state with a record of 51-0. He pinned Jan Soto-Henderson of Minneapolis Patrick Henry in Friday's opening round and defeated Sean Howk of New Ulm 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Schauer will meet Tucker Gifferson of Hutchinson in Saturday's semifinals, hoping to advance to the championship round Saturday night.
During Tuffy's four years wrestling at state in a single-class tournament, the team champions were Hopkins, Mankato, Cooper and Albert Lea. Grand Rapids has sent teams to state 13 times with 2A runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1987. The Thunderhawks were at the team state tournament in 2017 and 2018 before losing to Mora in this year's Section 7 finals.
"I'm not positive but I believe every year since wrestling started here in 1952 we've probably had individuals in the state tournament every year," Hoard said. "The team has gone for quite a few years, we're always in the running."
After graduating from Grand Rapids High School, Tuffy was drafted and served in Vietnam. Afterwards he returned to his hometown and has never left, working as a carpenter and in construction.
Wrestling was always part of his life, it seems.
"I got the opportunity to help coach and started out at the grade school," he said, "then junior high, then high school, boy probably in the early to middle '80s."
When Grand Rapids activities director Anne Campbell asked Tuffy to sit still last week for a photo (seen above) and a Tweet commemorating his long ties with the state tournament, he said OK but he wouldn't smile because, he told her, "wrestlers don't smile." (Here's a secret: Tuffy smiles a lot.)
"Oh my gosh," Campbell said. "He is the legend of Grand Rapids wrestling. He's been here forever and the kids love him.
"He's just unbelievable. He cares about the kids and they love him, they work hard for him. He's a huge asset to our program."
Eighteen returning state champions qualified for the 2019 tournament and all 18 advanced through Friday's first two rounds of competition. Semifinals will be held during Saturday's first session, which begins at 9:30 a.m. The final session, featuring fifth-place, third-place and championship matches, will begin at 4 p.m.
Class 1A returning champions
120/ Jeron Matson, Kenyon-Wanamingo
145/ Kyle Cavanaugh, Caledonia/Houston
182/ Jaden Kindopp, Canby
285/ Craig Orlando, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie
Class 2A returning champions
113/ Joey Thompson, Totino-Grace
113/ Maxwell Petersen, Byron
120/ Jaxson Rohman, Fairmont/Martin Co. West
126/ Mitchel Petersen, Byron
160/ Bennett Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
160/ Cade Mueller, Waconia
170/ Isaiah Thompson, Detroit Lakes
182/ Patrick Kennedy, Kasson-Mantorville
285/ Daniel Kerkvliet, Simley
Class 3A returning champs
120/ Derrick Cardinal, Forest Lake
126/ Reid Ballantyne, Stiillwater
145/ Cael Carlson, Willmar
182/ Zach Glazier, Albert Lea
182/ Cade King, Owatonna
--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.