Legendary Wabasso wrestling coach Gary Hindt dies
WABASSO — Gary Hindt, former long-time Wabasso wrestling head coach and football head coach, died of cancer Thursday at the age of 78.
Hindt, Wabasso’s first head wrestling coach up until his retirement in 2017, bowed out of the Wabasso wrestling program with a 49-year career record of 807-214-6. That record saw him finish as the second winningest coach in state history.
The legendary coach was a two-time Minnesota Class A Coach of the Year and a Section Coach of the Year six times. He also coached Wabasso and Wabasso/Red Rock Central to state team tournaments in 2004 (second place), 2006 (fourth place), 2011 (fifth place) and 2016 (sixth place).
He was inducted into the Dave Bartelma Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1994 and earned a National Wrestling Hall of Fame Lifetime Service to Wrestling award in 2018.
Hindt was also Wabasso’s head coach in football for 28 years until his final season in 1999, finishing with a 113-111 record. Hindt and the Rabbits advanced to the state tournament that year and also made it to state in 1987.
Wabasso Activities Director Joe Kemp’s memories with Hindt date back further than most people know.
“I don’t know if a lot of people know this but our families were friends,” Kemp said. “I went to Disney World with the Hindts and our family when I was 3 years old. So we go back a long, long ways. Our families were always doing things together. … My dad was assistant football [coach] for Gary and they came in roughly about the same time into Wabasso. Then I wrestled for Gary and played football for Gary.”
In the mid- ’90s, Kemp was an assistant wrestling coach for Hindt and was also an assistant football coach for Hindt in 1999 when the Rabbits made their second state appearance and first trip to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
After teaching in Tracy from 1998 to 2003 while living in Milroy, Kemp returned to Wabasso High School to become the AD, assistant wrestling coach and head football coach, with Hindt volunteering to be an assistant football coach under Kemp.
“I think we went to five state tournaments and he was always right there,” Kemp said. “He was the one I trusted when I had those quick questions because he had seen it all. We were tight. I would consider him one of my very best friends.”
Brothers and Wabasso wrestling greats Randy Zimmer and Dan Zimmer wrestled under Hindt, with Randy Zimmer graduating in 1975.
Randy Zimmer advanced to the Region 3 tournament five times during his career at Wabasso, a career that saw him wrestler varsity as a seventh-grader. His undefeated senior season was cut short just before the Region 3 tourney due to a shoulder injury.
Randy Zimmer ended up attending Worthington Community College, where he went on to capture a Minnesota State Junior College Championship. He then went on to be the head wrestling coach at Milaca High School after college and compiled a coaching record of 556-138-8. He was honored in 2019 by the National Wrestling Hall Of Fame with a Lifetime Service to Wrestling award.
Randy Zimmer’s success in wrestling was in large part due to what he learned from Hindt.
“Gary was so influential on me because I wanted to be like him,” Randy Zimmer said. “I followed him pretty close. I even went to the same junior college he went to [laughs]. Then I went on to St. Cloud and I went on to coaching like he did and it’s just been rewarding.
“I just can’t believe how long he coached. And I went through my coaching career and I was done, I coached for 37 years at Milaca High School, and by the time I was done, he was still going along [laughs]. … I can really understand how important he was to the community and every kid that goes through there. That’s what I tried to do, no one can keep up with Gary, though.”
Dan Zimmer graduated from Wabasso in 1976 as the school’s first-ever state champion, winning the Class A state championship at 132 pounds. But Dan Zimmer’s past with Hindt extends off the mat.
Before Dan Zimmer’s senior year of high school, he was expected to move with his family to Litchfield. Not wanting to miss out on his senior year at Wabasso, however, he was offered an invite to live with Hindt.
“I moved in with him and it was a great year,” Dan Zimmer said. “Out of the goodness of his heart, it worked out. We still, up until the day he died, we still laughed about — what were the odds taking in a wrestler that had never been to the state tournament before, taking him in his senior year and he wins it? It’s weird. We’d still look at each other and smile whenever we saw each other.”
Dan Zimmer also said Hindt was well-respected by his athletes and brought out the best in them.
“Gary was the kind of guy where all his athletes just wanted to do good for him,” Dan Zimmer said. “He kind of brought out the best in everybody. When he came to Wabasso, I don’t think he had any wresting experience as far as coaching, but it took maybe two, three years to build a program that was competitive as hell.
“I think it just was his mentality that brought out the best of all his athletes. Everybody wanted to be a wrestler, everybody wanted to be on the wrestling team. It’s just the way it was. He was a great guy. If he was mad at you, you knew it. And you didn’t want to get him mad, so you did the best you could … he usually brought out the best in you, that’s for sure.”
Kemp said Hindt didn’t expect wins every time, but he did want 100%.
“He always had a famous saying and I still used it until I was done coaching was, ‘You don’t have to win, you just have to go out there and perform like we do every day in practice. Wins and losses take care of themselves,'” Kemp said. “And he treated everything like that.”
Mitchell Altermatt was one of many Altermatts to wrestle and play football under Hindt at Wabasso.
Altermatt wrestled from his seventh-grade year in 2002 until graduation in 2007 under Hindt. During that time, Altermatt wrestled with the Rabbits as a team at state in 2004 (135) and 2006 (145). Altermatt also made it to the state individual wrestling tourney in 2005 (145) and 2007 (160).
Altermatt also played football and went to state three times under Kemp and Hindt (2003, 2005, 2006).
Hindt taught Altermatt many lessons on the mat and football field, but Altermatt said Hindt cared more about where his athletes went in life.
“He was always a selfless leader,” Altermatt said of Hindt. “Everything he did was for the kids and he truly didn’t care about the wins and losses. He cared about how you were going to perform in life. He was always looking at building you up as an individual from young on, and that’s what he focused on.
“The wins and losses, that was just part of it, and if we were able to perform on sports teams, that was just icing on the cake. But he truly cared about who you were going to be as an adult. That was his main focus, his main priority.”