Editor’s Note: Lower Columbia Profiles is an occasional series featuring area residents who have interesting stories to tell.
In 1959, Kelso High School freshman Bob Lynn joined the school’s wrestling team. Nearly six decades later, he’s still deeply involved in the sport.
He wrestled through high school and college, was invited to the Olympic trials, coached for 30 years and refereed for 25.
“Wrestling’s been good to me, and I like to give back to the wrestling community and do as much as I can for kids,” said Lynn, 72. “I think it’s a great sport for young men and women.”
In his six decades in the sport, Lynn has become its regional elder statesman. He’s refereed in 20 Mat Classic state championships, helped guide a new generation of wrestling referees and is a consultant for state athletic officials.
“The guys that write the rules call me and ask me to come up with scenarios,” Lynn said, chuckling.
Kelso wrestling coach Bob Fruend said Lynn and other longtime referees are crucial for keeping the sport vital in the region.
“I just appreciate the fact that guys like Bob keep giving back to our sport, because we don’t operate without these officials,” Fruend said. “And to have these guys who have a great wealth of knowledge come back and get on the mat and officiate for us is definitely a plus.”
Lynn said he developed an interest in the sport because its challenging nature and accessibility enticed him.
“I wasn’t a great athlete, but in wrestling, you don’t have to be a great athlete. You’ve just got to be in good shape and be smart enough to learn techniques,” he said. “In football, you’re going to end up going against this 250-pound guy and get trumpled (sic). In wrestling, the guy’s going to be your size.”
As a Hilander, Lynn found success on the mat, placing fourth in state during his senior year. His name is still displayed in the Kelso wrestling room today.
After graduating from Kelso, Lynn competed for Central Washington University, where he wrestled against top-notch opponents, including the national Division I and II champions. A member of his team was a NAIA champion.
“I got to wrestle those guys all the time. You don’t get that kind of experience every day,” Lynn said.
Lynn managed to juggle a wrestling career with his studies and an early marriage — he was wed in his junior year at Central and became a father before graduation.
The balancing act toppled when Lynn participated in the Olympic Trials before the 1968 Summer Olympics. Although he was invited to the Olympic training facility, Lynn said his family obligations kept him from attending.
“I often wished I could’ve (gone), just to see what I could do,” he said. “With working and the kids and the family, you’ve got to keep everything going. And I just couldn’t keep it all going and go (to the facility).”
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In 1967, Lynn began teaching math and coaching wrestling at Hudson’s Bay High School near downtown Vancouver. He said also refereed for a few years on the side to earn extra cash.
He stayed at Hudson’s Bay for 30 years, building the school’s wrestling program into a powerhouse in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Lynn said the Eagles under his watch were consistent league and district champions, and reached second in state one year. In 1990, there were two individual state champion wrestlers and one second-place finisher on his team.
Lynn said teaching kids wrestling helps them learn about life’s difficulties.
“Wrestling’s still one of the hard things in life, and I think it’s good for people to learn life lessons,” he said. “One of them is that not everything’s going to come easy.”
After retiring from Hudson’s Bay in 1997, Lynn said he taught at Clark College for a decade, then bounced around as a long-term substitute teacher for schools in Kalama and Vancouver.
Although he stopped coaching, Lynn stayed connected with wrestling through refereeing, which he picked up again in 1995. He had to put that on pause for a couple years due to some health problems in 2014, but Lynn said he returned to help train the next generation of refs and improve the local referee association.
“We’re a small association and we’re competing with these bigger associations to get more and more of our referees notoriety and get to the state tournament,” he said. “I think I’ve been successful with that.”
Freund said having an experienced referee like Lynn on the mat makes a world of difference when it comes to controlling a match.
“When there’s a question on a call, (experienced referees) know the system of how things should operate, protocol-wise,” he said. “They’re able just to operate and run their mat efficiently.”
Connie Ogren, Lynn’s wife, said because of his long-time connection to the Southwest Washington wrestling community, unplanned reunions with former athletes are common.
“They always have a heartfelt thank-you for him,” she said.
Although he doesn’t wrestle often, Lynn said he still works out for two hours every morning and has run the Portland Marathon a few times, which he called “fairly easy.”
He’s so deeply involved that he’ll even volunteer to referee little kids’ wrestling tournaments, just to support young athletes.
“Sometimes they want to pay you, but I don’t care about getting paid,” he said. “Whatever I can do in my way of helping out the kids and the community, I try to do that.”