By SCOTT MANSCH
(Note: There are many names made famous by championship wrestling in Adrian, and “Bullerman” is among the most significant. According to Guillotine Recordbook online, no less than 13 Bullermans have amassed more than 100 career victories on the mat for the Dragons, including Leon. He is among the top wrestlers of all-time at Adrian, with accomplishments that include a high school state championship (145 pounds), two junior college national championships at Worthington CC, now Minnesota West, and an NAIA national title at Southwest Minnesota State in 1991 (158 pounds). Leon, a 1986 high school graduate, lives with his family near Adrian, where we caught up with him for a “Conversation With Scott.”)
Congratuations on the recent induction into the Southwest Minnesota State Athletic Hall of Fame, Leon.
Bullerman: Thank you. There was a lot of luck behind all my wrestling success.
Q: I’m not sure I believe that.
A: Thank you, Scott. It’s really an honor.
Q: Did you wrestle at Worthington CC in 1987 and 1988?
A: No, I took a year off after high school. I was going to wrestle at Willmar, but I was so drained I decided to take a year off. My parents wanted me to come back closer to home so they could watch me wrestle, so I transferred to Worthington and was there in ‘88 and ‘89.
Q: You had so much success on the wrestling mat. Is there any thrill or memory that ranks above the rest?
A: (pauses) Well, I think I was an underdog in all (of his championship bouts). The one at Marshall (won at the NAIA national championships in Butte, Montana) is probably the best one because I knew it was going to be my last. It was going to be my last hurrah. The kid I had (in the finals) was from his home state of Montana and he was seeded No. 1 and I was No. 3.
Q: Tell you what, Leon, the Bullermans have been so good for so long in Adrian wrestling. That really has to be a source of pride.
A: Oh yes. There was a time when we made it to state (as a team) and I think we had six or seven Bullermans on the squad. (Laughs)
Q: When you were a young kid, did you know the Dorn family and the Wolf family? Those guys kind of set the tone for championship wrestling in Adrian, didn’t they?
A: Yes. In fact, when I was in elementary school, we would go out to Joe and Punky Dorn’s -- that would be Randy, Rick, Pat and Mark’s Mom and Dad -- and they had a wrestling mat down in the basement. The Wolfs were always out there, too. I mean, it was something to do for us and our parents loved it. The parents got together upstairs and all the kids went downstairs and tried to beat the heck out of each other (laughs).
Q: Well Leon, I hope you never had to tangle with Eugene Wolf in those basement battles. I remember the great Eugene.
A: (laughs) He was a little older. But I know in his senior year at Adrian he only had one point scored against him, and I think it was a penalty point. He was an animal.
Q: The Dorns were just great, too. And of course the Bullermans.
A: Oh yes. Those were the fun old days. Honestly, I don’t miss the dieting part of it. But the competition was ... just a ball. Everybody knew we were one of the elite teams around here and they just hated us (laughs).
Q: And it continues to this day, right Leon? I think there will be a few Bullermans on the Adrian High wrestling team this winter.
A: That’s right.
Q: What is it in your family history that seems to translate to great wrestling?
A: (pauses) I don’t know. I mean, we had some good individuals. But we also were on good teams. My junior year, on that high school team there were I think four or five guys who made All-American status in college. It’s not just the Bullermans. The Dorns had a very big part of it. Pat (who won two national championships at South Dakota State) was certainly one of the best who ever came out of Adrian.
Q: Which of your brothers also wrestled at Adrian?
A: Teddy and Raymond.
Q: In high school your record was 123-21-1, and your last two years at SMSU it was 65-5-1. You didn’t lose much at Worthington CC, either. Did you put a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed?
A: I don’t believe I did. I just went out there and did my best. But you know, I did it more for my parents. I mean, they absolutely loved going to wrestling events.
Q: Are your folks doing well these days, Leon?
A: My dad (Ted III) died about four years ago and my mom (Henrietta, or Hank) is in the Fulda nursing home. They just loved the atmosphere around our wrestling teams. My mom really loved hanging around the kids and the parents. It’s really a family commitment. And you make a lot of good friends through wrestling.
Q: It has to make you proud that you brought your folks so much happiness through your wrestling success.
A: Oh, it does. (pauses) You know, I was so tired and worn out between my junior and senior years (in college) that I was going to quit wrestling. And dad talked me out of it. To this day I’m grateful he did that. I wish he was still around, but what can you do?
Q: I’m sorry, Leon. I lost my dad in 1986. I lived in Montana for many years but now I’ve moved back home to Slayton.
A: Why would you ever move back here after living in Montana? It’s just gorgeous out there.
Q: My mom is in Slayton. She’s almost 88.
A: You know, family is more important to me than anything in life. I understand, Scott.
Q: Tell me about your family, Leon.
A: My wife (Susan) teaches fifth grade in Adrian. I’ve got one daughter (Paige) who is a sophomore at Platteville, Wisconsin, and one (Julia) who is a 10th-grader at Adrian High School.
Q: Did your daughters wrestle?
A: No. My youngest one wanted to, but it just wasn’t for me to watch my girls wrestle.
Q: Well, I don’t know who would be the best wrestler in Adrian High history but I think you have to be in the conversation.
A: (long pause) I don’t know. It’s hard to say. (Pauses) We’ve had some great All-Americans come out of Adrian.
Q: That’s for sure. When you were in school, those were some great days for Dragon wrestling.
A: Oh, it was fun. I remember the very first year when we wrestled Worthington (1983). It was standing-room only. I was just a ninth-grader, and I thought ‘Holy,’ I mean there were so many people there. It was just packed.
Q: When I was trying to track you down I talked to your relative Levi Bullerman, who is on the football coaching staff at Southwest Minnesota State. I see where he has the most wrestling victories all-time at Adrian (181). Could Levi have beaten you, Leon?
A: (long pause) That’s another tough question. Levi was a stud, no question about it. You know, anybody can be beaten on a given day. I’ll tell you, Pat Dorn was a stud, too. I hated wrestling him in practice. And that’s probably why everybody on our team was good, because they looked up to him so much.
Q: Are you still in good shape, Leon?
A: Well ... Three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer.
Q: Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that.
A: Thank you. Everything’s fine. It’s some kind of rare cancer. I had surgery. And now I go in every nine months, but everything’s in check.
Q: How old are you now?
A: I’ll be 52 on November 29.
Q: Well, I’m glad to talk to you. And I know you’re a little tougher than the average Joe.
A: Well, I don’t know.
Q: Everything else with you is good, health-wise?
A: A month ago I had a bull take me down, broke five ribs and two vertebrae. But I was back working a week later (laughs).
Q: Were you doing a little bull-fighting or what, Leon?
A: No. I walked by him and unlocked the gate. Then I heard the deepest grunt I’d ever heard and looked over my shoulder and then he had me in the air.
Q: All I’m going to say is it must have been a tough bull to take you down, my friend.
A: Well, we got rid of him (laughs).
Q: It’s sure nice to visit with you, Leon. I wish you and your family all the best. Congrats again on the Hall of Fame induction last year at Southwest Minnesota State and your great career at Adrian High School.
A: Thank you very much, Scott. At Adrian we just celebrated our 50th year wrestling. It’s quite an honor to be a part of the program.
Conversations with Scott is an online feature of the Globe. Produced by Scott Mansch, the Conversations appears about every other week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org