A.J. Kalver, one of the key early figures in the growth of the Bellmont wrestling tradition and a man who has been involved in the sport for 50 years, will get his due Sunday at Greenwood when he will be inducted into the Indiana Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Kalver, who coached 15 years at Bishop Luers and turned that program from mat zero to the dominant team in Fort Wayne, has also been involved in broadcasting wrestling for 30 years and served 10 years as a wrestling official.
However, he's being inducted as a wrestling coach. "That's fine with me. Very fine," said Kalver, who has 26 years of coaching experience, including 10 years at Bellmont.
Kalver was on the mat when Gary Giessler started the Decatur High program in 1961-62. Later, his education at Indiana University in Bloomington proved a great asset to Decatur wrestling, and his innovation and his work to begin the youth program helped Bellmont blossom into the northeastern Indiana's premier program, a spot that the current team still claims.
Kalver assisted Ken Webb for three years starting in 1969-70, and during that time the pair started an elementary wrestling program. Webb went back to Bloomington after three years and Kalver, at age 25, took the reins. Right away he had a tough sophomore group led by Bear DeLong, Victor Beer and Steve Gilbert. They had come up through that youth program.
"We went to conference that year (1972) and won it going away. You could see that our kids had more mat time, more savvy, and expected to win, not hoped to win. That attitude still persists today," said the coach.
That conference win started a string of 18 straight loop titles for Bellmont. In seven years at the helm, Kalver's Bellmont teams went 68-9 with consecutive unbeaten campaigns from 1975 through 1977. His winning percentage is 88.1.
Kalver's final three Bellmont teams finished fifth, third and second in the state. "Had Greg Mankey not defaulted out his senior year, he'd have won that title and Bellmont would have won a championship," said Kalver. Bill Schultz won the heavyweight title that year, 1977, and Chris Mahlan took third at 177.
Two years later, Bellmont was in prime position again and came one takedown away from claiming the state crown. "Steve Carter in the semi-finals had a one-point lead with 10 seconds to go, against a headlocker, and we've been defending that headlock all day, then he catches us. We need to win both finals matches with Chris Mahlan and Gene Grote, and we needed one to win by major decision. Mahlan won his title, but Grote fell to Bassett of Carmel, who is now in the Hall of Fame. Jeff Franze was beaten on a bad call in the morning round against a Tech kid, so we were that close. Ended up losing by 2.5 points," said Kalver, who had planned to go out in a blaze of glory, title trophy in hand.
He later regreted leaving Bellmont and coached 15 years at Bishop Luers, starting in 1991. Before that he started the radio coverage for Bellmont wrestling on WADM and remains as a wrestler broadcaster today with WZBD.
Kalver turned Luers from a dormat into the top SAC wrestling power before he left the program.
Kalver will be inducted Sunday afternoon at the ISWCA annual banquet in Greenwood.