Wrestling enthusiast Joe Kaster joins Hall of Fame

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John Barry
Sunday, April 6, 2014

JANESVILLE--Joe Kaster is a sick man.

The 75-year-old Janesville resident has been battling an affliction for more than 50 years.

Unfortunately for Kaster, there’s no cure. Kaster has wrestling-itis.

“I tell people I have a terminal disease,” Kaster said with a smile. “And once you get it, you can’t get rid of it.”

Kaster is one of the state’s most well-known authorities on wrestling. He spent 20 years as the head coach at Janesville Craig and officiated at the high school and collegiate level for over 25 years.

As the editor and co-owner of The Crossface Newspaper, Kaster produces the state’s must-have publication for high school wrestlers and coaches.

Kaster will be inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame along with a 2014 class that includes Shawn Fredricks, Joe Dye, George Lynch and Eric Burdette at a ceremony at the Janesville Country Club on Saturday, May 10.

Wrestling was foreign to Kaster growing up. The sport wasn’t offered when Kaster attended Cuba City High School or UW-Platteville in the early 1960s. His introduction came during his first season as an assistant coach at Waterford High School in 1963.

“I remember when I took that job, I told them I would lead the team in calisthenics or running laps around the gym because I knew absolutely nothing about wrestling,” Kaster said.

“As it turned out, that was a break, being named assistant. That allowed me to get out there and wrestle. I got the hell beat out of me, but I learned pretty quickly, and that started what you could call my love affair with wrestling.”

Kaster spent three years as an assistant at Waterford before starting the wrestling program at Walworth Big Foot in 1966. He left Big Foot after one year for a teacher/coach position at Craig when Janesville High split into two high schools in 1967.

Besides a 20-year stint as wrestling coach, Kaster taught English at Craig for 28 years. He also served as an assistant coach in football for 30 and in softball for 10.

Kaster’s family includes his wife of 54 years, Pat; their five children, Greg (Kate), Steve (Claudia), Jeff (Lisa), Lisa (Chris) and Dan (Marcia); 12 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

He said the long days of coaching three sports never grew old.

“First and foremost, I considered myself a teacher,” Kaster said. “I taught English, which is something I loved to do, from 8 to 3. Then, for the next two or three hours, I was teaching again, only as a coach.

“And I always felt like if I could instill the philosophy to all the kids I coached to work hard and be disciplined, then I had done my job.”

Kaster coached 33 individual Big Eight Conference champions, 20 WIAA state qualifiers, seven state medalists and three state finalists at Craig. One of those state finalists was Fred Townsend, a 1978 NAIA national champion for UW-Whitewater and a Janesville Sports Hall of Fame member.

In 1986, Kaster retired as Craig’s wrestling coach to concentrate on officiating at the collegiate level. He officiated the 1989 WIAA state tournament, the 1993 NCAA Division III tournament and the 1991 and 1994 NCAA Division I national tournaments.

Bill O’Leary, who was Craig’s head wrestling coach from 1990-2005, said Kaster’s impact on the sport is immeasurable.

“Underappreciated is what comes to mind when I think of Joe,” O’Leary said. “He was more than just that red-haired, red-faced coach that stood behind the bench with his blood pressure boiling because he was so in to each and every match.

“He is as knowledgeable about the sport as anyone I’ve ever met.”

O’Leary said Kaster’s passion and dedication to the sport were evident even in practice. Kaster, who was O’Leary’s assistant for a couple of years, came to practice one day with a large bandage on his head after a skin cancer procedure. O’Leary urged Kaster to stay on the sideline and watch, but 15 minutes into practice, O’Leary found Kaster on the mat with blood seeping through his bandage. Kaster had decided to take the hands-on approach.

“You can’t tell someone a wrestle move. You have to show them,” Kaster said in recalling the incident. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done, but you can’t learn anything in this sport by someone yelling it at you.”

The Crossface Newspaper is the bible of the state wrestling scene. Published eight times a year, the publication features individual and team rankings, scores, highlights, news, schedules and features of Wisconsin wrestling.

University of Wisconsin wrestling coach Barry Davis said Kaster’s impact on the state wrestling scene has helped make Wisconsin a player in the sport on a national scale.

“Wrestling in our state would not have grown like it has without the efforts of Joe,” Davis said. “We had over 28,000 attend the Big Ten Championships in March, and our state high school tournament is one of the biggest in the country. And that’s because Joe gets the word out through Crossface and his constant promotion of the sport.

“He has certainly touched a lot of lives and changed a lot of lives for that matter, through his stories and everything else he does with Crossface and his devotion to wrestling here in the state.”

When it comes to wrestling, his affection just also happens to be his affliction.

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