Steven D. Carlson – Fridley, 2023 Outstanding American
Steve Carlson started wrestling in 7th grade at Fridley, Minnesota, where Coach Don Meyers started the wrestling program in 1958. Nine years later, Fridley was Team State Champions in the one-class system. Carlson is still today the only two-time State Champion from Fridley. In 1967, Steve won at 138 pounds, and the following year won State at 154 pounds.
In 1967 Carlson’s record was 26–3, and he took 2nd in the District losing to Tim Stenson from Coon Rapids. He then found himself in the Region wrestle-backs and had to face Stenson for 3rd place with the winner qualifying for State. Steve scored a reversal in the last few seconds of the match to win by a point and qualify for State. The following weekend Carlson cruised through the State Tournament without a close match and won in the finals by a score of 11-0. Taking second in Districts, third in Regions, and first in State was a story told in Fridley for many years. The lesson: “Each match provides a new opportunity – and history does not dictate destiny.”
In 1968, Carlson moved up Two weight classes and was undefeated with a record of 31–0 with 21 pins and placing first in Districts as well as Regions, but the 154-pound weight class was deemed the toughest weight class in the tournament with three prior State Champions and one Jim Klemz, who was a three-time third-place finisher at State. Carlson’s only close match was with Klemz, who ended up taking took third place again by beating the other two defending State Champions.
In addition to winning the State Championship up two weights from 138 pounds to 154 pounds, Steve wrestled at 175 pounds in the Dual Meet with Cooper. Fridley was ranked #1, and Cooper #2. The match was close, and Coach Meyers told Carlson, “We are going to move you up to 175 pounds, and We Need a Pin.” Carlson followed Coach Meyer’s instructions and pinned the Cooper 175-pound wrestler, who went on to be the 175-pound Individual State Champion.
Carlson was rated one of the top two 154-pounders wrestlers in the Nation by USA Amateur Wrestling. As a result, he had a number of offers for college scholarships but chose the University of Minnesota, which is where his coach, Don Meyers, and a number of past Fridley wrestlers had competed.
Between his Junior and Senior year of High School, Carlson was a member of the USA Pan American team as the “Bat Boy” for the actual wrestlers. This gave Carlson a chance to work out with some of the best wrestlers in the Nation during the four weeks he spent with the team. This tremendous experience gave Carlson’s wrestling prowess a huge boost.
In 1968, Freshmen were not allowed to compete at the Division I level. They were supposed to be spending their first year adapting to the classroom and working on their grades.
Carlson’s first opportunity to compete after High School came in an open qualifying tournament for Team USA. Carlson was unseeded but ended up defeating a number of nationally-ranked wrestlers to get into the finals. Steve defeated the “Outstanding Wrestler” of the Big 10 Tournament in the Finals and, as a result, was awarded the “Outstanding Wrestler” of the 1969 United States Wrestling Federation Freestyle Tournament.
In Carlson’s Sophomore year, his left shoulder was severely ripped out of joint with detached tendons requiring surgery and forcing Steve to sit out his entire Sophomore season.
Carlson ended up having two additional surgeries in his Junior and Senior years, preventing him from ever having the opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament as a result.
The individual who ripped Carlson’s shoulder out was “Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri” the Iranian 190-pound Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler who defected to the United States. Hossein came to Minnesota to wrestle under Alan Rice, the USA Greco Wrestling Coach. Hossein was 40 pounds heavier than Steve and asked him to wrestle in the practice room. Steve calls it “A Big Mistake on My Part”. Hossein went on to be a Pro-Wrestler, going by the name “Iron Sheik,” and became World Champion, eventually losing the Title to Hulk Hogan.
When healthy, Carlson did have some success at Minnesota, defeating the #2 ranked wrestler in the nation in the Iowa Dual Meet. Carlson fondly remembers what he calls “the most fun match of my career” against Gene Davis, NCAA Champion for Oklahoma State, 4x National Freestyle Champ and Olympic Bronze Medal winner. Carlson lost that match 17-15, but it reassured Carlson that he could compete with the best when healthy.
Bottom Line – Carlson will go down in history as a “Would Have, Should Have, Could Have” wrestler who was never able to compete in the NCAA Div. I Wrestling Tournament due to his shoulder injuries.
Steve graduated from the Carlson School of Business with an accounting degree and became a CPA working for Arthur Anderson, an international CPA firm. He left after five years to start his own CPA firm servicing entrepreneurial business owners. Carlson never thought about being a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, but his service to wrestling after college was a major factor in his induction.
In 1977, Carlson got a call from Alan Rice, wanting to meet. Alan expressed his sincere disappointment that Steve did not get the opportunity to wrestle off for the USA Team in 1969 due to finances after being crowned the “Outstanding Wrestler” in the 1969 Freestyle tournament.
Alan wanted to team up with Steve to form the “Gopher Wrestling Club”, an organization designed to raise funds to financially support amateur wrestlers in Minnesota and help them to pursue their wrestling dreams.
Alan enlisted Carlson with his CPA experience to form the Corporation, apply for 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit status, do the accounting, tax filings, handle IRS issues, and help with fundraising
Alan Rice, along with Steve Carlson, ran the “Gopher Wrestling Club” for 33 years, raising about $7,000,000 to financially support Minnesota wrestlers and help them pursue their wrestling goals. Others were brought in to carry on the mission in 2010, and Carlson and Rice pulled back. Rice and Carlson continue to be good friends and live about three miles apart in Naples, Florida.
Carlson was never able to coach due to his accounting career, however, once he moved to Naples, he had the opportunity to volunteer for five years with the Lely High School wrestling program. During his time coaching, Carlson financed the opportunity for a number of the Lely wrestlers to attend the J Robinson wrestling camp in Atlanta, GA.