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Wisconsin prep coach LaVerne Pieper passes

LaVerne Pieper, long-time coach who led Stoughton High wrestling to seven Wisconsin state team titles -- and coached two future Olympic silver medalists -- and was a major figure in the sport in the Badger State, passed away Sunday, Oct. 1. He was 81.

LaVerne Pieper as Winona State wrestler
Pieper's long coaching career began in Richland Center, Wis. where, in just four years, he took the wrestling program to a third-place finish in the team standings at the Wisconsin state wrestling championships. He then headed south to Stoughton, where, in 33 years at the south-central Wisconsin school, mentored 129 individual state qualifiers, 81 who placed at state ... and 28 who earned state titles. Two of his wrestlers -- Russ Hellickson, and Andy Rein -- went on to earn Olympic silver medals, and later coached at Big Ten schools.

In 1969, Pieper helped start the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation and became its first chairman. He was one of many who helped build USA Wrestling, according to the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune.

LaVerne Milton Pieper was born in Caledonia, Minn. in July 1936, the son of Milton and Lenora Pieper. He attended Winona State University in Minnesota, where he earned letters in football and wrestling, serving as co-captain of the wrestling team his junior and senior seasons. Pieper was a two-time NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) All-American at 177 pounds. A 1958 graduate of Winona State, Pieper was later was inducted into the school's hall of fame in both wrestling and football.

Upon graduation from Winona State, Pieper married Beverly, his wife of 59 years ... then accepted a teacher/coaching position in Richland Center, Wis. from 1958 to 1962 before coming to Stoughton, turning the program into a powerhouse during his 33-year coaching career with the Vikings.

"(Vern) and his wife Bev were both instrumental in making the Stoughton program what it is," said Dan Spilde, one of Pieper's state champs who returned to his high school alma mater as an assistant coach to his mentor. "It is not easy to be a mentor to so many different kids and have such an impact in where they would go in their lives and turning them into young men like he did. He touched a lot of lives."

"It goes without saying that he was one of the pillars in bringing Wisconsin wrestling to what it is today," Spilde continued. "His coaching style and his ambition and his willingness to give all of his time and effort, I think that was just the way he was wired. He gave himself to the sport."

For all his coaching successes, Pieper was welcomed into the Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and earned a National Wrestling Hall of Fame Lifetime Service Award.

Pieper is survived by his wife Bev; three daughters; two sons; numerous grandchildren; and one great grandchild.

Services were held Friday in Stoughton. END

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