Before the glitz and glamor of professional wrestling caught fire in the 1990s, a group of friends in Anoka banded together to form a kids-only wrestling universe called the National Wrestling Federation.
Back in 1984, NWF Wrestling was born with characters like Shawn “Crusher” Crossen, Matt “Kid” Kelsey, Todd “Killer” Kampa, Andrew “Ace” Karlsen and the Super Ds tag team of brothers Todd Dusosky and Troy Dusosky from ages 10-16.
That group will be the first class inducted into the NWF Hall of Fame as a way to mark 30 years after the first show.
To mark the anniversary, several of the hall of famers will tape a show at the Brooklyn Park cable-access studios on June 5 for rebroadcast throughout the metro.
What started on four mattresses in the Crossen family’s basement grew into multi-camera television productions broadcast on community access cable across the country, including live shows that attracted hundreds of wrestling fans.
In 1984, NWF’s “Kid’s Wrestling” television program was appointment TV for those with community access television in Anoka, Ramsey Coon Rapids, Andover and Champlin and helped spur live shows including several events at the Anoka Armory where several hundred fans would fill the seats.
The reach of the cable access program grew not only throughout the Twin Cities but to 20 markets across the country including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.
Seeing what was going on television helped attract classmates to wrestle and build the hype of what was going on.
Crossen, who know lives near Wausau, Wisconsin, graduated from Anoka High School in 1988 and reflects fondly on those days where he was the go-to person for everything related to the NWF from championship title holder, promoter, match-maker, television producer, director and general manager.
Most of the other hall of famers still live around the north metro area and have stayed in touch over the years.
The league dissolved in the late 1980s but interest was rekindled in 2004 after the book “Pro Wrestling Kids Style,” was published.
A documentary called, “NWF Kids Pro Wrestling: The Untold Story,” further sparked interest.
The documentary won several national and international awards including the Best Sports Documentary award from the New York Film Festival in 2005 and 2006 Screencraft Award from the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The awards renewed interest in the NWF’s history and helped create an on-line fan base to help push for some recognition of the 30th anniversary.
Crossen created a Facebook page where alumni can reconnect and used the page as a source voting in the first hall of fame class.
Hulk Hogan was one wrestler Crossen and another of the original members of the league, Charley Lane pointed to as a major influence along with the rest of the American Wrestling Association and National Wrestling Association cast of characters.
“Hogan influenced me the most before he became this huge Hulkamania start after appearing in Rocky,” Crossen said. “[Hogan] was the reason Charley was watching it and the reason I was watching it. We were huge fans of his and I remember when the Rocky movie came out, we were first in line to see it.
“[Hogan’s] whole character influenced me the most and the idea of being on TV was a big thing. If you wanted exposure, this was the way to do it because there wasn’t an internet yet.”
No one in the group really knew where to start with videotaping so Crossen and Lane took a television production class after Crossen signed the paperwork for a public access show.
“That was fun,” Lane said on the documentary, about the early days wrestling on mattresses in the Crossen’s basement.
“Everybody had the same vision to do this wrestling show. It was almost a quest and it was just fun to keep doing it,” Crossen said on the documentary.
How did these kids learn the ins and outs of professional wrestling?
Crossen and others met with legendary trainer Eddie Sharkey in Minneapolis to learn the proper techniques needed to really wow the crowd and develop a more serious reputation.
Sharkey trained The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) and Jesse Ventura, among many other notable wrestlers.
It took the group two years from the start to be ready for a live show.
“We didn’t know what we were doing in the beginning but 1984-85 were the growing years from developing moves and creating feuds and rivalries. It was entertaining while we were learning the ropes still,” Crosse said.
By the time the first live event went down at the Anoka Armory, the fan base knew the good guys from the bad and let the wrestlers know it.
“It was really fun to go there and hear reactions from the first event,” Crossen said, after taping a show twice a week leading up to the live show.
Of course bits and pieces of the matches were scripted, but in the beginning Crossen left the winner and loser up to the wrestlers in the title matches.
“It was scripted but I wanted it to be fair,” he said. “I wanted that to be for real and not just the perception of who should become champion.”
As the NWF grew, feelings were hurt and friendships got in the way of the decisions.
“Sometimes the guys would agree who should win and start off fun then all of a sudden it would turn into a real high school [wrestling] match,” Crossen said. “And then egos got in the way and friendships were damaged so we decided not to do it that way after 1985.”
As for getting parental consent, Crossen explained they didn’t have YouTube clips of today’s backyard-style wrestling with smashing tables or jumps off a roof.
“It happened so gradual that they saw us staying committed,” Crossen said. “Parents knew we were in there for a show and not to hurt each other. There was no such thing as backyard wrestling. We never had an injury and we had close to 100 kids. Maybe a bruise or busted lip but parent’s really don’t have anything to compare it to today. They were at the live shows and would chip in and help with anything, selling tickets or concessions or escorting us to the ring.”
Jason Olson is at