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In the Bullerman family of Adrian, wrestling is just a natural part of life

ADRIAN -- Contrary to what some people might think, there is no rule that every Bullerman boy must become a wrestler. It just so happens that practically all of them do. And have done so in a nearly unbroken line for almost 50 years. On Monday, t...

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Doug Wolter/Daily Globe Doug Bullerman (left) poses with his brother Delbert at Son D Farms south of Adrian, in a storage area where Doug, the town's longtime youth wrestling coach, stores many of the trophies his teams have gathered over the years.

ADRIAN -- Contrary to what some people might think, there is no rule that every Bullerman boy must become a wrestler.

It just so happens that practically all of them do.

And have done so in a nearly unbroken line for almost 50 years.

On Monday, the Daily Globe caught up with two Bullerman men who’ve been there at the beginning. Doug Bullerman, who has led the Adrian youth wrestling program for the past 40 years, and his brother Delbert, sat together in an office of the family business, Son D Farms, just south of the Adrian city limits, and recounted the generations of Bullermans who wrestled for the Adrian High School Dragons.

Doug, who has no children, coached two of his four younger brothers David, Delbert, Dale and Dean. Delbert produced three wrestling sons of his own -- Brandon, Class of 2006, Brock, Class of 2011, and Beau, currently a freshman with the Dragons. The Bullerman wrestling line stretches all the way back to Dean, Class of 1975, who owns the distinction of being the first Bullerman to wrestle in an AHS match.

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So if the Bullerman kids weren’t ordered into wrestling, how come so many of them did it?

“They were all farm boys. They could get out of chores,” said Doug.

And being familiar with hard work on the farm, the hard work of wrestling just came naturally.

“They knew how to do chores. They weren’t afraid of repetition,” Doug summed up. “Nowadays, they’re so darn lazy. They don’t like repetition.”

One must assume Doug isn’t talking here about the later line of Bullermans -- just young people in general. After all, the Bullermans have certainly held up their end of the wrestling bargain.

In the 2016-17 wrestling season, the Dragons are in a bit of a rut. Numbers have been down, leaving a program used to challenging for state tournament berths with not enough wrestlers to fill a lineup. But the Bullermans are doing their part. Beau is a member of the current squad. And Isaac, David’s seventh-grade son, is also a member of the team. A younger son of David’s -- third-grader Jesse -- is coming up in the ranks.

Besides David’s two sons and Delbert’s three sons, Dale had three Bullermans travel through the system -- Travis (Class of 1999), Brad (2000) and Nathan (2004). Dean’s kids Seth and Levi both graduated the program, too.

Other Bullermans fought the good fight. Lane Bullerman produced AHS matmen Cody, Lance and Dusty. Rick Bullerman sent boys Joey, Jordan and Jayden through the program. Theodore moved Leon, Teddy and Raymond. Mark Bullerman offered Cameron. Mike Bullerman had Dallas. Tom had Tyler.

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Leon earned a state high school individual championship in 1986, then went on to win three national college championships at either Worthington Community College or Southwest State University-Marshall. Tyler won state prep titles in 2001 and 2002. Levi won his in 2005.

There have been other impressive wrestling families in Adrian, such as the Dorns, the Wolfs and the Thiers, to name a few. But nothing beats the Bullermans for sheer numbers.

In the 2000 season, there were eight Bullermans taking up space in the Adrian wrestling lineup.

It’s in the genes Delbert, when asked to determine the key ingredient that put so many Bullerman boys on to wrestling, said something about the family’s genetic makeup.

“We were basically all raised by hauling feed by pail. Picking rock. Walking beans. Getting up early and doing chores,” he said. “And when you finish practice early, you went back home and milked the cows.”

The Bullermans’ Son D Farms partnership is a large corn and pig operation that brings together several family members. Doug, Dale, Dean, Delbert, David, Brandon and Brock, plus a son-in-law, have all worked at the business just south of Adrian on State Highway 91.

To be accepted there, a potential employee must first fulfill a minimum two-year college degree, then work somewhere else for a minimum of two years.

“You gotta be well-disciplined and hard-working. Our business model kind of corresponds to wrestling,” said Delbert. “There are no givens in this world.”

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Doug came along too early to be an actual wrestler with the AHS program, but he says he does remember wrestling once in physical education class where he was told he was good at it.

He also recalls when the Dorns brought boxing to Adrian. When the high school wrestling program began in the late 1960s, they switched over.

The Dorns were successful early (a later member, Pat Dorn, won two consecutive state titles in 1984 and 1985), and the Bullerman family followed and was successful in the new sport, too.

Training them right Delbert, who is currently vice president in charge of production at Son D Farms, is one of about 100 workers.

“It’s no different training little kids as training employees,” he said. “You gotta do it over and over again. … Wrestling is a sport that keeps you humble. There’s always somebody better than you.”

There was one Bullerman boy who didn’t always live for wrestling. That would be Travis, who after starting out in the youth wrestling program switched over to basketball in the seventh grade. He returned to wrestling, though, for his junior and senior years.

“We had a winning team. He liked to be on a winning team. Basketball never did much,” said Doug, smiling mischievously.

And what of the Bullerman girls? Well, some of the girls dabbled in wrestling too, at least a little bit. Delbert’s two daughters, Macy and Kayla, became young fill-ins in Doug’s program when there were an uneven number of boys to pair off.

Today, many of the Bullerman girls take to basketball. On the 2016-17 Dragons girls basketball team, four of the five starters are Bullermans or are Bullerman-related.

Doug, whose gravelly sense of humor rubs off as easy as butter on an ear of cooked corn, points out that many Bullerman wrestlers’ offspring were girls.

“All the good wrestlers had girls,” he said.

Parental involvement Looking back on all the memorable Adrian High School wrestling teams, Doug and Delbert consider the fact that in many of the best years, the teams were stocked by large and dedicated wrestling families.

There are not as many wrestling clans left over, they say.

It can be easy to quit wrestling when the sport becomes difficult, but pride can be a big factor in getting young recruits to stay with it. Doug and Delbert say kids are more inclined to stick it out because their older brothers, or their parents, did it before them.

Family pride, in other words.

Doug says the high school team never before had to compete with four open weight classes, as it does now. But the future nevertheless appears promising.

This year, he’s got nine 3-year-olds and eight 4-year-olds coming to practice, and at least four kids up to nine for each of the grades between 1 and 6.

The overall numbers are good, and if they don’t fall away the high school program might be back on top in a few years.

For the youngest ones, parent involvement is crucial.

“You think they want to be in wrestling? They don’t even know what wrestling is,” said Doug. “But their mom wants them to be around wrestling.”

There is a quote, uttered first by Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, that Doug gives to every parent considering signing up a kid for the Adrian youth wrestling program. The quote is this:

“Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults. Let your kids get used to someone being tough on them. It’s life, get over it.”

Related Topics: WRESTLING
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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