BRAINERD -- Ron Stolski had several messages for the 101 members of the Brainerd High School football team as the first day of practice came to a close late Monday afternoon.
He talked about working hard: “I have never doubted that a Brainerd player will work hard. We really have to work on our conditioning.”
He talked about sticking together: “If we’re going to get it done, we’re going to get it done together.”
Stolski, who is in his 50th season as a head football coach and has won more games than any football coach in Minnesota history, also talked about doing good works for others. He reminded the Warriors that an event called “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” will be held Saturday in town, sponsored by The Women’s Center of Mid-Minnesota and Sexual Assault Services.
“As we’re creating this family for one another,” he said, “we need to be active in our community. We’ll walk in support of this very, very important community function.”
Ron Stolski is known as a football coach, certainly. But as with all fine educators, his teaching goes beyond the subject at hand. Monday was the first day of practice for the 2011 season, but Stolski already knows what the final gathering of the Warriors will be like. Whether they lose in the first round of the postseason or win the Class 5A state championship, the life lessons he teaches will be brought up one final time at season’s end.
“My last message to them is to be good people, be good in your community, care about your family and classmates and do other things,” he said. “I wish them well.”
Numbers as well as deeds define Stolski. His career record is 330-148-5 … his teams have reached the state semifinals in three of the last four seasons … and he celebrated his 72nd birthday last week.
After practice, I asked the Brainerd team captains this questions: How long has Coach Stolski been a head coach? The answers from Jacob Kassulker, Mitch McLain and Logan McAllister went like this: 51, 44 and 52. The correct answer is, of course, 50.
Then I asked the three seniors what words they use to describe Stolski. Their answers were “Awesome,” “Kind-hearted” and “Hardworking.” That’s a pretty strong testament.
Stolski has been in Brainerd since 1975, with previous stops in Kensington, Slayton, Princeton and Park Center. He talked about what has changed and what hasn’t in 50 years.
“I think the kids still pretty much come with their heart in their hands,” he said. “What has changed is that they’re growing up with lots of different pressures. I think the biggest thing, and this was true all those years ago, they want to have fun at the game. Too many experiences that they have don’t always turn out to be fun. What’s also different is the athletes are better.”
No matter what happens this season, the 2012 season will bring a big change to Brainerd. That’s when the new Class 6A will begin play, involving the largest 32 schools in the state. Brainerd is the only non-Twin Cities school that will play 6A football.
“It will be much different,” Stolski said. “Early on there was kind of a surprised reaction, because I was on the task force (that studied football changes) and (32) was not the recommended number. And that’s fine. We’re going to train and coach the best we can, and play the game each Friday night. We’re members of the High School League and we’re team guys, and if that’s what it is, that’s what it is.”
The Warriors will open the season at home against Rocori on Sept. 2, and right now that game is the focus. Stolski doesn’t spend much time worrying about the past, because he’s always focused on helping his players improve and preparing for the next opponent. As for season number 50?
“It feels great,” he said with a smile. “I wish I could say I feel smarter, and certainly I’m not in the physical condition I was in 50 years ago, but it feels great. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than on a football field in August.”
--To see a photo gallery from Monday's practice in Brainerd, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 1
*Miles John has driven: 123
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