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Now grandma can watch him wrestle - Joel Bauman signs on with Gophers

by Ted Almen, Kerkhoven (MN) Banner

November 18, 2009

With the Minnesota Rouser playing in the background, history repeated itself last Wednesday when Joel Bauman became the second KMS wrestler in two years -- and only the second Fighting Saint ever, as a matter of fact -- to sign a National Letter of Intent to the University of Minnesota athletic department.

Bauman, an outstanding senior wrestler, will fill out his high school obligations before joining J Robinson’s Golden Gopher wrestling team next year, joining former teammate Kevin Steinhaus. It was just a year ago that this same scenario played out before a room full of family and friends of the latter, and Wednesday’s affair was similar in many respects: Bauman was flanked by his parents at a table in front of rows of chairs where his coaches, relatives and friends sat to witness him lay down a little ink. Spilling through the doorway into one crowded corner were many fellow Saints wrestlers, some just beginning their prep careers and others who have been on the mat with Bauman since elementary school. Maroon and gold U of M flags ‘stood’ erect, taped up on the wall behind him.

KMS head wrestling coach Wes Haglund could get used to this drill, but like most of his peers he knows that the probability of sending two blue chip athletes off to a perennial national contending program in consecutive years is highly unusual. He had a few things to say about this latest prize athlete.

“It’s been a fun summer because of Joel,” Haglund started. “Because of him I’ve talked to eight Division I coaches, all very interested in him.”

“I’ve coached him since he was a little boy. He’s matured to become an excellent person.” Haglund elicited chuckles around the room when he recalled the youngster as “having a lot of energy.”

“I knew he was an excellent athlete. And as coaches we helped him get to this level but he had the determination to get here.”

“Joel is like a coach in the room. He’s unselfish. At last year’s Melrose Tournament Joel told us he would sit out. We had a big jam at his weight, so it made my job a lot easier, to give experience to another wrestler. But when we were up there he wasn’t just sitting in the stands. He was on the floor coaching the younger kids. It’s a credit to our program to have a kid like this. I’m very proud of Joel.”

Bauman will be a fifth-year starter on the wrestling team come December 4 when the Saints open a season full of speculation. Coming off a state championship with heavy losses to graduation, however, one thing is crystal clear: Whatever success KMS has on the mat will be led by Bauman.

A Class A state champ at the very tough 189-pound weight class last year, Bauman  has compiled a high school record of 126-29 heading into his final season. He also placed third in the state tournament at the same weight as a sophomore, and qualified but did not place at 171 pounds as a freshman. Besides that Bauman is a two-time Junior Greco-Roman All-American, placing eighth in 2009 and second in 2008. He is currently ranked 10th in the  nation at 189 pounds by Amateur Wrestling News.

Assistant coach Craig Johnson, too, has enjoyed watching his star pupil grow up on the mat. “When he was in sixth and seventh grade he was a gangly kid, all arms and legs, and he could run like a deer. We knew he had excellent athletic ability, and he’s shown it through the years. Even back then we could see the talent, the power. We saw him transform. Joel backs up what he says. He sets lofty goals and strives to be the best. More than any other wrestler I’ve coached there have been highs and lows. I’ve asked myself, can he do it? And then he walks out there and does it. I’m looking forward to seeing him as a Golden Gopher.”

The Bauman household has been bombarded by recruiting calls from all over the country for this kid, among those some pretty significant invitations from such wrestling powers as Oklahoma University and University of Iowa.

But the answer to why Bauman eventually decided to stay right here, close to home, can be seen in the very question. “This way my grandma can come and watch me wrestle,” the effervescent young man stated with a smile, matched at the end of the table by grandma, of course.

“All the people ask me why I chose wrestling over football,” he said. Bauman rushed for some 7500 yards in his four years as a starter for the Fighting Saints. “Wrestling builds character a little more than football. Since I was in fourth grade everybody that knows me knows I love to fight. What better way to pursue my dream to be the best fighter than with a national championship in division I? It’s a perfect fit. Hopefully I will do well.”

As of now the Gophers have Bauman projected to wrestle at 197 pounds.

Joel and Parents
Joel Bauman became the second KMS Fighting Saint wrestler in two years to sign a National Letter of Intent to continue his athletic career for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Seated beside him during the signing ceremony last Wednesday were his mom and dad, Bobbi and Jeff Bauman of rural Kerkhoven.

Joel's fans
Joel Bauman’s signing was witnessed by family and friends, including many of his Fighting Saints wrestling teammates.

Coach Craig Johnson, Joel Bauman, and Coach Wes Haglund
Joel along with assistant coach Craig Johnson on left and head coach Wes Haglund on right.