By Jeff Bro Olsen
He’s never been small!
Well, maybe as a baby.
Still, his old friends who haven’t seen him for a few years don’t initially recognize him.
“Say it ain’t you, Jinksie?” they are thinking after they bump into retired Grand Rapids wrestling coach Dan Jinks – some as recently as his induction into the Dave Bartelma Wrestling Hall of Fame in Benson on Saturday, October 3.
Look, it’s understandable. He was Minnesota’s coaching version of Man Mountain Campbell – the biggest guy at matside and a bear of a man.
Until more recent times, he looked like Hoss Cartwright.
“About two and a half years ago, I hurt my shoulder in a fall. I couldn’t shake it and hurt all the way down to my left side,” he said, adding that his girlfriend, Lori, took him to the emergency room.
The ER doctor examined him and told Big Jinksie that he might have cracked a couple of ribs.
“I asked what he could do about the pain and he said, ‘Nothing. Take some Ibuprofen and suffer through it,’ and I said, ‘Well, I can go home,’ and he said ‘No, you can’t.'”
What the doctor told Dan next was the beginning of a slimmed down version of probably the biggest guy to coach at the Minnesota HIgh School State Wrestling Tournament.
“The best way for me to put it is you’re a walking obituary,” said the doctor.
“My blood pressure was 239 over 127. and the doctor said they were going to hospitalize me immediately.”
The always colorful Jinksie replied, ‘Bullsh-t, you are. I’m going home, but I’m coming back tomorrow.”
Mr. Jinks returned and was informed that he was dodging a bullet every minute he didn’t do something about his weight.
He went on medications, watched his diet, and hit the wall after losing 60 pounds.
His doctor had recommended he see the hospital dietician.
“I told the doctor that I was an old wrestling coach and knew how to lose weight. It ended up that I didn’t know how to lose weight.”
He saw the dietician and didn’t give her any sass.
“I humbled myself and said that I need some help.”
It’s hard to teach an old heavyweight how to diet correctly.
“She taught me different things I needed to do that I didn’t even think about,” he said, laughing about when she asked him to describe his eating habits, which included snacking on crackers, and various munchies
“She said, ‘You’re a classic grazer!’
“Man, a grazer! That sounds like a herd of cattle,” he replied.
“That’s pretty much what it means,” she said. “As you walk along, you’re eating all the time.”
He cut out his bad eating habits and was informed that within a half hour of getting up every morning, he was to eat so many grams of protein.
“And to make sure that everyday I take in 85 grams of protein totally. That’s harder than hell to do, but I found by increasing my protein intake, I didn’t have to cut out a whole lot of other stuff.”
The retired coach learned that by doing something for 21 days, it became a good habit.
“She cut out things like carbonated beverages and stuff like that. It’s worked and I feel great.”
Two and half years ago, Dan Jinks weighed north of 450 pounds and he’s now a svelte 288 pounds.
Just prior to being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Dan and Lori attended a wake in Mahnomen for the mother of Rick Spaeth, one of their good friends.
Mr. Spaeth told Dan that he wouldn’t be able to attend the next day’s induction ceremony, which meant missing out on his cousin being inducted, too.
“Your cousin, who’d that be?” asked Jinks, and was told his cousin, Buck Lindberg, was across the room.
“You know Buck?” he asked Jinksie.
“I’ve known Buck for years. He’s officiated hundreds of my matches at section tournaments and the state tournament. I know him real well.”
Buck walked over and the two men shook hands.
“We were supposed to wear masks, but everyone had them pulled down. So, I pulled down my mask and said, ‘Hey, Buck, how you doing?'”
They hadn’t seen each other in several years, and Dan hadn’t said his name yet.
“I said congratulations on going into the hall. It’ll be a helluva night. He’s looking at me and he’s turning his head like ‘I should know who this is.’
“And I started laughing. ‘Buck, it’s Jinksie.’ And he dropped my hand and stepped back and said, ‘You’re kidding me! What did you do!’ I told Buck that to get my knees operated on, I needed to lose some weight.”
What he had lost was the equivalent of a 182 pounder! Since then, he’s had both of his knees operated on, the most recent was five weeks before the induction ceremony.
“I was on crutches last night in Benson. It was fantastic. Tuffy Hoard introduced me.”
His real name is Lavern.
Tuffy Hoard had been coaching in the program before Jinksie began his 30-year head coaching reign.
“He coached with me my final 15 years as my first assistant. He was a Rapids wrestler and a three-time state placewinner,” he said, noting that Lavern Hoard had finished third his junior year and second his senior year as a 95 pounder in 1964 when it was just one class.
“He’s a tough sonofagun. There’s a reason why he’s called Tuffy,” said big Jinksie.
Dan Jinks wasn’t one of those kids who started wrestling at 95 or 103.
“I was always a heavyweight,” he said, recalling that his coach, Skip Nalan, was an amazing guy.
“He knew so much about the sport and was just a master motivator. He could motivate you in ways you never thought a man could trip your trigger. He knew the buttons to push.”
Always with Jinksie, there is another story.
“We had a guy who used to take pictures on the side of the mat,” he said, adding that Dick Stram worked for the Herald Review and took photos of the matches.
“One time after I had won a match, Skip must not have liked what he saw. When he reviewed the match from the night before, he said, ‘Jinks, I had Mr. Stram take rapid photographs of you while you were wrestling. I laid all of those out in front of me in a series of 25 pictures, one right after the other. I went from the first one to the last one, and you know something? I didn’t detect any motion whatsoever in your match.’
“I felt that was pretty brutal. I let it go and a couple of days later, we had another dual meet. I was out on the mat and I was doing all right. I thought I was moving faster than the match before. My opponent and I went off the mat, and I heard Skip whistle. He held his hands up in front of his face and pushed down with the index finger on his right hand like he was taking a photo. And I knew right then what he was talking about. I said to myself, ‘It’s time to kick it in another gear, brother!’ I got back on the mat and took care of that guy in about 45 seconds.”
Big Dan Jinks laughed, “I picked up the pace because I ain’t going to go through that abuse again.”
Then came another recollection.
“Bucky (Maughan) and Skip Nalan were two of the best. Bucky came and worked at Skip’s Bluewater Camp.”
Jinksie worked as Skip’s assistant, recalling that the two national champions would always banter back and forth.
“I had met Bucky in high school but got to know him really well through Skip at these camps,” he said.
“Bucky got a kick out of me, I think, because I was a big character. He once referred to me while we were sitting around the table having a couple of beers, slapping me on the back and saying, ‘Jinks, the only way I can describe you is you’re like a poor man’s Chris Taylor.’
“I’m telling you, I had to think for a moment. I’m thinking is that a compliment or is he taken a dig at me? I thought, well, a poor man is probably a bit of dig, but a poor man’s Chris Taylor, that’s not bad. I think it was a little bit of both, but Bucky got a big kick out it.”
The name George Fraik suddenly popped up.
“I didn’t see big Georgie at the ceremony. A great guy! That big brute of a man with that big black beard, and I was a big character myself from northern Minnesota.”
He shared another recollection.
“I brought my team up to International Falls to wrestle one time and George wasn’t at the weigh-ins. His assistant coaches were doing the weigh-ins and I asked where’s Georgie.”
They told Jinksie he’d be there eventually.
“Tell him I’ll be out on the mat and I want to see him before the dual meet starts.”
There was merriment in his voice. He recalled being near the folding chairs and watching the I-Falls kids warming up across the mat.
“All of a sudden the door opens up behind the International Falls bench and out comes Georgie.
“I see him and he looks at me and we start walking towards each other. He gets to the edge of the mat and I get to the edge of the mat and we start walking towards the center and they had that spotlight on the center of the mat,” he said, adding that there’s always a little noise going on in the gym and lots of chatter.
“I didn’t notice it. I was going out to greet my friend and he was going out to greet me. It just so happened that as we were walking to the center of the mat and the closer we got, the quieter it got until we met in the middle. You could hear a pin drop.
“Everybody thought something was going to happen. Are these two sonsofbitches going to go at it or what?
“We got to the middle and Georgie said, ‘Jinksie, how are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Georgie, I’m doing fine.” We gave each other a big hug and then they applauded.”
Big Dan Jinks just roared with laughter.
During the induction ceremony in Benson, Dan and fellow inductee, Dave Droegemueller, both knew they could never hold their speeches to the five-minute requirement.
Jinksie told Mr. Droegemueller who spoke earlier to let it rip and he’d do the same.
“I must have talked for 20 minutes,” said Jinksie, noting that he acknowledged the importance of paying homage to the coaching legends from decades ago.
“It amazes me how we’re sitting in 2020, and these guys who were coaching in the Seventies and Eighties are still viable and important to the guys who are coaching in 2020. We still look back and lean on their knowledge and that heritage to help drive us and keep us going forward.”
Dan talked about how fortunate he was to start coaching with Skip Nalan, a Hall of Fame coach and a two-time NCAA D-1 champion.
“I realized that when he took us out on the road to these different places – Fridley and Aitkin, Anoka and Coon Rapids – that I was walking among giants,” he said.
He remarked that he was able to learn from incredible men who were titans in the sport, and they are still discussed and referred to many years later after their careers ended.
“It was very humbling last night. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be sitting in the same hall with some of the people I met when I was an assistant back in the Seventies and early Eighties like Don Dravis, Joe Frank, Don Meyers, and Noah Bailey,” he said.
Now, at age 65, Dan Jinks joins the legendary wrestling coaches he can never forget.
He’s also unforgettable.
George Fraik, the colorful and spirited retired International Falls head wrestling coach, put it all in perspective on Coach Jinks.
“We always went at it hard,” he said, and then recalled how Jinksie and he would occasionally hug at the center of the mat.
“It’s like being hugged by a grizzly bear. They just don’t come much better than Jinksie. If you were going to go to the state tournament, nine times out of ten you had to go through Rapids, and Jinksie had some extraordinary teams.”
Mr. Fraik, now 71, marveled about the dual meets and the individual tournaments.
“We rarely defeated them, but we’d go after them with everything we had. When you wrestled Rapids, you better have your socks pulled up because you had to go hard.”