Longtime Panthers coach to add Lifetime Achievement award, May 3

For 35 years Gary Rettke helped Spring Lake Park wrestling become one of the premier programs in the state with 339 wins, 50 state meet entrants and seven state champions between 1968-2000.

Rettke also led the football program for 35 years and taught health, physical fitness and science classes before retiring in 2000. He was inducted into the Spring Lake Park Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011.

Gary Rettke, left, was inducted into the Spring Lake Park Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011.         Photo courtesy of Vicki Burns
Gary Rettke, left, was inducted into the Spring Lake Park Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011. Photo courtesy of Vicki Burns

Now Rettke can add Lifetime Leadership Award recipient to his list of accolades during the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014 induction ceremony, May 2 in Austin.

He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1994.

Current Panthers football coach Jeff Schleiff coached alongside Rettke for seven years (1993-2000) and also served as an assistant coach during that time.

Before joining Spring Lake Park, Schleiff experienced Rettke’s dominance on the mats as a wrestling coach at Mounds View. Schleiff was an assistant coach under his father, Harry Schleiff before taking over the program from 1986-1993.

“It’s very well-deserved for Gary,” said Schleiff, whose father was inducted into the hall of fame in 2006. “I saw Gary battle my dad. Then I battled him before I decided to join him, like the saying goes, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’”

Schleiff added: “Watching what he has done for Spring Lake Park wrestling over the years, become a staple force in the top-half of the North Suburban [Conference] has been amazing.”

Rettke coached the middle school football program and Schleiff said having someone like Rettke involved with the middle-schoolers helps strengthen the entire program, regardless of sport. “Its great to have a guy like him, being a hall of fame coach who knows how to work with kids and how those ties between football and wrestling run so deep. We’ve been extremely fortunate.”

Rettke’s reach in wrestling goes well beyond Spring Lake Park from his days growing up in St. James to leading Gustavus Adolphus College from 1963-65.

While a part of the Panthers program, he was heavily involved in the growth and development of the sport statewide as a section representative, president of the state wrestling coaches association and was on the search committee that hired J Robinson at the University of Minnesota.

At the youth level ,he has officiated freestyle and grecco-roman age-group tournaments for 25 years, including the first age-group freestyle tournament at Columbia Heights.

Rettke also coached a Minnesota team that participated in a cultural exchange tour to Finland in 1975. The team wrestled in soccer stadiums, community bandstands and Finnish gymnasiums.

Rettke’s family hosted a Finnish exchange student Jukka Rahalla who went on to earn a bronze medal in the 1984 summer Olympic games in Los Angeles.

Rahalla has gone on to lead the Finnish national program and served as host for the world championships in Moscow in 2010.

Jason Olson is at
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