Bret posted a picture of himself from high school wrestling one day on facebook. I posted on the photograph asking if Bret would be willing to talk to me about his, his father's and his brother's accomplishments in amateur wrestling. His daughter, Sabina responded that if I wanted information on how the Hart family did at the high school and university level, that Uncle Ross would be the person to ask.
I sent Ross a message. He soon got back to me and over a two and a half hour phone conversation gave me great insight to the Hart family's involvement in amateur wrestling. Like professional wrestling it was a passion and a love for many of them. An area where they excelled. While every professional title belt ever won by a Hart in every promotion in the world can be easy googled, how they did as amateurs is a bit harder to find. Up until now it has remained a mystery, with few clues and few leads. Today that all changes. May I present to you the Hart Family in amateur wrestling.
Long before he became a household name as a professional wrestler and the promoter of the successful Stampede Wrestling promotion, Stu grew up an extraordinarily rough and challenging childhood.
"He spent the cold Canadian winters in a tent." Ross explained to me. "His father lost custody of him and he soon became a warden of the salvation army. It was sports that saved him."
The young Stu didn't have much to look forward to as he endured the hardships of life, but found solace in sports.
"Dad loved everything." Ross went on. "Hockey, lacrosse, baseball, football, dad played them all, but it was wrestling that he really loved. He loved the one on one competition. The challenge of it."
Stu became so good that before long he was winning city and provincial championships. In 1938 he qualified to compete at the British Empire Games, but was unable to go because of finances. He again proved to be the best Canada had to offer at his weight class as he won the Canadian Nationals securing a spot on the Olympic team. Only tragedy would strike. The 1940 Olympics were canceled. Stu wasn't going to get his shot an Olympic gold medal. 1944 rolled around and those Olympics were canceled too.
By 1948, the Olympic dream had passed Stu by. He had already gotten involved in professional wrestling, having been trained by Toots Mondt, traveling all over performing from New York to Washington. Yet as successful as he was and as he was about to become in the world of professional wrestling, the sting from not getting an opportunity to compete in the Olympics still stung.
"Hard to tell." Ross answered when asked if he thought his Dad could have brought home a medal in 1940. "He was certainly prepared. He was in tip top condition. Strong from lifting weights. Well conditioned from training. He might have."
As much as amateur wrestling had done for Stu, he tried to get all of his sons involved in the sport too. While not all of them took to amateur wrestling, starting at the fifth grade, Stu had all of them at least give it a try.
"Dad loved it when guys came into train that had amateur wrestling backgrounds." Ross answered when asked if his Dad liked training guys that had wrestled at the high school or collegiate level. "If he got a guy in that had wrestled somewhere like Michigan or Minnesota, all the better. Dad liked training guys he knew were legitimately tough. Boxers, football players and amateur wrestlers."
Speaking of amateur wrestlers that Stu worked with in professional wrestling, one of them was the NCAA's first three time champion, Earl McCready of Oklahoma State. While the two never did lock horns to see who was the best on the mat, Stu and McCready were great friends who both had a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for one another for what they accomplished on both the mat and in the ring.
Stu's love for amateur wrestling may not have been as publicized or known as his love for professional wrestling, but it's something that never left him. A supporter of local high school and university wrestling teams, post his death the city of Calgary held a Stu Hart memorial tournament where not only the best teams in Calgary, but also the best teams in all of Canada as well as teams from the United States would come to compete. The tournament was held in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately because of the difficulties and costs of travel, the tournament was soon discontinued but Ross hopes that it will one day reignite.
As to the rest of the Hart family in amateur wrestling...
Although the oldest of Stu's boys would have some success in professional wrestling, amateur wrestling was not for Smith Hart.
"Smith wasn't into sports at all." Ross said. "He was more artistic. Into writing poetry and songs. Very creative type. He was also a rather rebellious, wild kid."
Bruce did amateur wrestling in high school, but it is not where he excelled. His real love was football where he was a starter on the varsity and he did quite well on the gridiron. He later became very successful working for Stampede wrestling, later running it and later training future superstars.
Keith was a very skilled and accomplished amateur wrestler. He did quite well in both city and provincial championships and of all the Hart brothers he excelled the highest at the University level. While competing in both amateur wrestling and professional wrestling simultaneously, Keith was able to capture a bronze medal at the West Division championships in 1974 representing the University of Saskatchewan. For those unfamiliar with university wrestling in Canada, it would be similar to winning a ACC or Southern Conference championship here. It's a qualifying tournament to be able to compete at the University championships, similar to the NCAA championships in the United States.
Keith's son Conor was also an accomplished amateur wrestler himself, as well as a gifted Rugby player. Conor did quite well in both city and provincial competitions. He is now a principal and coach at the high school level in Victoria.
Wayne did wrestle throughout high school, but he was much more of an intellectual than he was an athlete. Extremely intelligent, Wayne spent his time studying politics and getting involved in political protests. In professional wrestling, Wayne excelled as an official.
"Dean didn't have near the size as some of the rest of us," Ross said with a laugh, "but he was all heart. Tough as nails, a real scrapper." Dean was a respectable amateur wrestler in high school, who finished third in the City championships.
Bret did very well in amateur wrestling. He won his first city championship in grade 10, following it up with a provincial title. In grade 12 he would finish second at the city championship, but redeem himself by defeating the opponent who had defeated him, when he won his second provincial title. Bret was so good that during his amateur career he defeated Bob Ecklund who would later win an assortment of medals at the international level. Many felt that Bret was good enough to medal at the Common Wealth Games or even represent Canada in the Olympics. While he did wrestle for a short time at Mount Royal University, Bret was more interested in his studies. A gifted artist, Bret wanted to get into the art of film making. However, like his brothers before him, Bret soon found himself working for his Dad in Stampede as a professional wrestler. Soon there after, Bret went on to become one of the most popular, successful and accomplished professional wrestlers of all time.
Like Dean, Ross wasn't the biggest of the Hart brothers but he held his own on the mat. He finished third at the City championships and would later compete for the University of Calgary. While competing for the Dinos, he was also on the team with his younger brother Owen.
"I didn't do as well at University as I should have." Ross said modestly. "I wasn't in as good of shape as I should have been. I didn't train as hard as I could have. I could have done much better."
Like his brothers before him, Owen excelled on the mat. While he never seemed to win tournaments, he consistently brought home silver and bronze medals from nearly all competitions.
"If I remember correctly," Ross said, "I want to say that Owen took second place at both the cities and the provincials."
Owen then went on to compete for the University of Calgary where he was doing quite well, but ultimately decided to turn to professional wrestling as it was a more rewarding endeavor with greater financial stability.
"A part of Owen always regretted not finishing up at University." Ross explained. "He was planning on going back to finish up his degree at some point."
Unfortunately we would lose Owen in a tragic accident in 1998. Per Ross, Owen was wanting to spend his remaining years teaching school and coaching high school wrestling.
And there you have it. The Hart family and their accomplishments in amateur wrestling.
It should also be noted that Roddy Piper during his life claimed to be a cousin of the Hart family. He claimed that when he was 15 years old he won a provincial championship at 167 lbs. Unable to verify this record, Ross said that while it could be true, it might also be one of the many fabrications that pro wrestlers told back in the day to spice up their characters.