New Hampton native, longtime Vinton resident hopes to be inducted into IHSAA Hall of Fame this fall
VINTON- For anyone that has squared off with an opponent on a wrestling mat, they know just how exhausting that can be. A normal six minute match may result in excruciating pain and/or fatigue, but a wrestler is taught to fight through those mental factors in order to get their hand raised at the end of the match, proving their superiority. Reverting back to 1942, Merle Roths of New Hampton and Bob Hunt of Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson laid it all on the line and then some in what came to be known as one of the longest matches in Iowa wrestling history.
The format has changed since the early 40s, but back then, the two competitors started out on their feet and if a takedown occurred right away, it was a straight seven minutes. However, if it remained a stalemate through two minutes like it did during the 112 pound State championship bout between these two gladiators, then three two minute periods would commence with a minute rest between the second and third period. After eight minutes of a 0-0 draw though, Roths competed in his first and only overtime match of his career, which was structured with him in the top position to start for one minute, followed by Hunt. Two more minutes passed however, and neither could gain the upper hand. Unsure of what to do, the referee sent this all-time classic match into a second overtime and then another when the score remained unchanged. After 14 minutes of no one scoring, something unpredictable happened.
“The referee alone decided the winner. When the match was over, we stood there and up went Hunt’s hand. That’s all there was to it. No discussion on it at all, which I disagreed with, but that’s 76 years ago and I walked off the mat,” said Roths. “My disappointment was how they came to that decision. My coach should have said I’m the defending champion (1941) and I should have got the nod, but my coach and I didn’t fight the decision. Then I had to wrestleback for second place against Mervill Angell from Osage, whom I wrestled all through high school. He always gave me all I wanted, but I would always beat him. That night, he had all day rest and I had an hour. I could hardly get my arms above my head and he beat me, so I got third my senior year.”
As a State runner-up during his sophomore season and a State champion the following year, Roths’ third place finish in his final campaign was not what New Hampton’s first wrestler to place in three different State Tournaments had envisioned. However, his legacy only continues to grow as he also had a big part in starting wrestling right here in Vinton.
“A. J Bredall was the superintendent in New Hampton and he came down to Vinton. Mervill also came down as well from Osage and I’d been down here already. I gave Mervill a call and said we got boys coming up in second and third grade, so let’s try and get wrestling started here. I made an appointment with Bredall, for which Mervill and I met with him. We said how about we start up wrestling and that’s how it got started. I suppose that would have been the late 50s, early 60s. Having Bredall here helped a lot,” stated Roths.
A long-time friend and wrestling stand out himself, Jerry Blank, also remembers how much things have changed over time.
“A lot of towns back then didn’t have wrestling,” said Blank.
While the rules, wrestling techniques, and the wrestlers themselves may have changed since the middle part of the 20th century, one thing remains the same and that is the legacy of Merle Roths, a New Hampton High School Hall of Fame inductee. There are many wrestlers that have been State Champions like Roths, but it’s his overall contributions to the sport of wrestling that sets him apart from the rest. From his amazing high school career, including the infamous 14 minute match with Hunt, to playing a major role in bringing this Iowa renowned sport to Vinton, Roths has, as many believe, earned himself a spot in the IHSAA Hall of Fame. By middle September, the New Hampton and Vinton-Shellsburg communities hope to see Mr. Roths take his rightful place among the state’s elite.