The Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association recently announced this year’s inductees into their hall of fame. One member of the list is Jim Williams, former wrestling coach and BRE teacher. He is listed under “Contributor,” Williams has run the gamut of wrestler, coach, and for the last 40 years he’s been officiating for high school and college duals.
Williams graduated from Clarkfield in 1974. His high school record 78-12-3. In 1973 Clarkfield was the district champion as well as the region champion. In 1974 Clarkfield was the region champion and the team region runner up. Williams described the region tournaments back then, “Four districts of 11-12 teams came together for the tournament. Each district brought three or four individuals for each individual tournament. There were a lot of schools involved, a lot of them have merged now.”
He had participated in the State Tournament twice, but didn’t place. He has two older brothers who also wrestled, which helped spark his passion for the sport. He went to SMSU to study education. He was on the wrestling team, and suffered injuries each year. During his Freshman year he hurt his knee, tearing the ACL and MCL. The trainer at the school was phenomenal. Arie Coleman advised him to focus on building up flexion more than strength, advice that has helped him retain about 95% of his range of motion to this day.
During his Sophomore year he separated his shoulder. During his Junior year, a number of “little injuries” added up to his not being able to pass a physical, keeping him from competing. Injuries didn’t squash his love for the sport though. He started officiating after he graduated. In 1984, the head wrestling coach position in the Clarkfield school opened up. He worked there until the school merged with Yellow Medicine East in 1990. He was hurt to lose his position as head coach, but chose to focus more on officiating.
In hindsight, he discovered that it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He did coach his two sons, both of whom ended up being State tournament runners-up. Over his years of coaching, he had four state entrants. One became a champion. Williams likes to focus in 100% when he is involved with something. He has become very valuable as a wrestling official. He teaches clinics to help newer, younger referees learn what to do.
“You have to know the rulebook. I read it two or three times every season just to keep it refreshed in my brain. And the high school and college rules are very different. So if I have a high school meet on Friday, and a college meet on Saturday, I’ll read through my rule book again, I have highlighted sections.” The Minnesota State high school league has been putting substantial effort into building a mentoring program. Every year there’s state referee meeting, where they try to recruit new officials, and have the veterans work on basic mechanics with them.
Williams was born and raised on a farm in Clarkfield. In his words, “if you’re close to heaven, why would you leave?” He considers the area a good place to raise a family. When he’s not on the mats officiating, he enjoys gardening. He bought a lake cabin, where he thoroughly enjoys taking his grandkids. Three of his own children live near the cabin, making for a fantastic family getaway.
Williams will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony on April 28th. He will be presented by his two daughters, and supported and cheered by his family. He was driving back from a college tournament when he got a phone call letting him know about the award. “I was shocked. Just shocked.” He feels honored to receive the award, “especially when you look at who’s in there (the Hall of Fame.)”
He’s taking the decision to retire one year at a time. “I’ve been blessed, especially with God having people not get mad at me.” - an eternal challenge to referees across any sport, at any age, from toddlers chasing a soccer ball to professionals clashing on the gridiron on national television.
As a coach, the biggest lesson he encourages kids to take from wrestling is: “Wrestling teaches a lot about overcoming adversity. When you get beat it’s just you, there’s no one else to blame. What are you going to do to get better. What are you going to do to be the best you can be? You gotta deal with some pain to get the gain.