John's Journal
Wabbasso Wrestling Coach Calls It A Career4/26/2017
The evening before the 2017 MSHSL state wrestling tournament, wrestlers and coaches were at Xcel Energy Center for weigh-ins and skin checks. The wrestling tournament is like a great big family reunion, because it seems as if almost everybody knows everybody else.

As I walked around the arena I ran into an old friend. Gary Hindt is the only head wrestling coach Wabasso has ever had since the program began in 1968, and we both smiled as we shook hands and chatted. The next time I see Gary, however, he won’t be the coach. He has retired after 49 seasons, the last seven co-coaching with Brett Bartholomaus in a cooperative program involving Wabasso and Red Rock Central.

Gary’s career record is 807-214-6. He ranks second in Minnesota high school wrestling history in career victories. But what he accomplished in nearly half a century goes far beyond winning. He had a tremendous impact on his wrestlers and the entire community.

Four years ago, I spent time in Wabasso while writing about Hindt. The story below was originally posted here on Feb. 1, 2013…

700 Wins And Counting For Wabasso/Red Rock Central’s Hindt

WABASSO – Except for one big banner, the walls inside the wrestling room at Wabasso High School are pretty bare. But that banner speaks volumes about a program and the only coach the team has ever had.

The banner commemorates the 2003-04 Wabasso team, which was the state runner-up in Class 1A. In advancing to that state championship match, the Rabbits recorded the 500th victory in school history. It also was the 500th career victory for coach Gary Hindt, but his name is nowhere to be seen on the banner. And that’s exactly how he wants it.

“I just guide them,” Hindt said. “I didn’t do that. I helped, I had a hand in it.”

Since that 2004 state tournament, he’s had a hand in a couple hundred more victories. The 67-year-old Hindt, who was hired in Wabasso right out of college in 1968 and started the wrestling program, now has 702 career wins, which ranks third all-time in Minnesota and No. 1 among active coaches.

In 45 years of coaching he has had only two losing seasons. Victory No. 700 came Jan. 19 when the Wabasso/Red Rock Central Bobcats (the schools have had a cooperative wrestling team for four years) defeated Luverne. The only Minnesota wrestling coaches with more victories than Hindt are former Owatonna coach Scot Davis with 984 and former Goodhue coach Bill Sutter with 760.

No. 702 for Hindt and Wabasso came Thursday night when the Bobcats defeated visiting Minneota 40-21. Wabasso/Red Rock Central is ranked No. 4 in Class 1A by The Guillotine and Minneota is No. 8.

Before the varsity match began, Hindt was honored with a plaque commemorating his 700th victory and a framed team photo that was autographed by this year’s wrestlers. He made no speech, and school officials knew better than to ask him to make a speech. That’s because it’s never been about him.

He said to me, “You want to know the truth? The last wrestling match that I won by myself was in 1963.”

That was when Hindt was a high school senior in Fulda, another southwest Minnesota town. He played basketball through his sophomore year, but joined Fulda’s new wrestling team as a junior.

“I thought it sure beats getting slivers on my butt, being about the 10th guy on the basketball team,” he said. “I knew nothing about wrestling. I wasn’t sold on it because I didn’t know anything except grab on and hang on.”

He wasn’t sure he would wrestle as a senior, but then he was voted a team captain. “I thought I better stay with it,” he said. “I’m not a quitter.”

It’s safe to say, however, that he didn’t plan to be the Wabasso wrestling coach for nearly half a century. When he was hired to teach, he agreed to take over the school’s new wrestling program with the expectation that he would hand the reins to someone else after a few years. All these years later, he has no plans to retire.

He underwent a knee replacement after the 2005-06 season, but the spark is still there when he enters the wrestling room.

“I can get down, but it’s hard to get back up,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got younger assistant coaches. I still enjoy it. I don’t want to see the program go to pot. I have seen some programs that were very successful get into wrong situations and have no consistency.”

Hindt also coached football at Wabasso for many years but gave that up when his daughter Heather was playing college volleyball at Southwest State in Marshall and his daughter Erika was in high school. (“I got to watch my girls grow up,” he said.) Hindt and his wife Jenni have been married for 43 years.

His co-head coach is Brett Bartholomaus, who teaches at Red Rock Central. The wrestling team splits its practices and meets between Wabasso and Red Rock Central, which is 12 miles away in Lamberton.

“He’s the papa bear,” said Bartholomaus. “If they need a wake-up call he’ll give it to them, and then he’ll explain why.”

Hindt is a coach who will bark at a wrestler, then smile and put his arm around the kid’s shoulder.

“If he gets mad, he’ll say what he has to say and then he’ll sit back down in his chair and he’ll pop a smile right back on,” said senior captain Tanner Rohlik. “He’s an all-around great guy.”

Another senior captain, Blake Altermatt, said, “If you do something wrong, he’ll make you do it again to make sure you do it right and don’t get into any bad habits.”

Before the Bobcats took the mat against Minneota, Hindt talked to the team about always being on the attack. He offered these words of wisdom: “Your feet are made to move forward. If God wanted you to move backwards he would have put toes where your heels are.”

Hindt, who was inducted into the Minnesota Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and is retired from teaching physical education, health and social studies, has coached three teams to state tournaments (the most recent in 2011). Five Wabasso individuals have won state titles: Dan Zimmer in 1976, Johnny Frank in 2004, Cory Schunk in 2004 and A.J. Jenniges and Brandan Schunk in 2005.

“I’ve been pretty blessed to have some kids who have bought in,” Hindt said.

Before and after Thursday’s match, Hindt was approached by many former wrestlers and other friends who offered congratulations on his milestone. After the night’s wrestling had been completed, he joined 42 alumni wrestlers who were on hand and posed for a photo. Some of them are now old-timers and some of them are still fresh-faced. Some of them are fathers and sons who both wrestled for Hindt.

The coach, the link between them all, sat in their midst and wore a big smile.
Class 2A Boys Tennis Rankings4/25/2017
Provided by the tennis coaches association.

1 Minnetonka
2 Rochester Century
3 East Ridge
4 Lakeville South
5 Rochester Mayo
6 Wayzata
7 Edina
8 Mounds View
9 Eastview
10 Orono

1 Ben van der Sman, East Ridge
2 Nikita Snezhko, Armstrong
3 Sebastian Vile, Rochester Mayo
4 Ben Wheaton, Minnetonka
5 Varun Iyer, Century
6 Conner Olsen, Orono
7 Chase Roseth, Lakeville South
8 Gavin Young, Eastview
9 Maxim Zagrebelny, Eagan
10 Sam Hochberger, Maple Grove
Class 1A Boys Tennis Rankings4/25/2017
Provided by the tennis coaches association.

1 Blake
2 Breck
3 Rochester Lourdes
4 St. Paul Academy
5 Litchfield
6 Hibbing
7 Mound Westonka
8 Holy Family Catholic
9 Luverne
10 St. James

1 Ben Ingbar, Blake
2 Jack Barker, Blake
3 Joe Mairs, Blake
4 Peter Erickson, Rochester Lourdes
5 Karthik Papisetty, Breck
6 Thomas Metz, Breck
7 Mathew Metz, Breck
8 Ryan Ortega, Winona Cotter
9 Rafait Solaiman, St. Peter
10 Jose Williamson, Minnehaha
A Monument To A Career Of Service In Shakopee4/25/2017
In 1975, a fresh-faced farm kid from Kiester, Minnesota, graduated from Mankato State and was lucky enough to get a job teaching high school math in the small town of Shakopee. The position was as a long-term substitute teacher, and it wasn’t until his fourth year that the young teacher shed his “sub” status.

In the spring of 1976, the young man – Neil Johnson – was named head coach when Shakopee started a girls softball program. For the first couple years the Sabers played softball on two fields that now are used for physical education classes. The team then moved to Tahpah Park, where the softball fields had baseball-length fences and men’s slow-pitch players grumbled while waiting for the girls to finish practices and games.

The first steps toward a top-notch softball facility came 17 years ago when a piece of land that had included a gravel pit became the home of the Sabers. Over the years, uncountable amounts of sweat equity shaped the complex into what it is today: three of the most pristine fields any softball team will ever see.

What began when Johnson was hired more than four decades ago culminated in a special event Monday before the Sabers hosted Eagan in a South Suburban Conference game. The facility was named the Neil Johnson Softball Complex, complete with a beautiful archway bearing that title and a plaque affixed to it with the coach’s name, likeness and the words “For all the years of dedication and support of softball in the Shakopee community … We thank you.”

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Johnson said. “It’s very humbling and it’s an honor. It’s kind of special. There has been a lot of time spent at these fields.”

Johnson, who remains the only head softball coach in Shakopee history, is in his 42nd year coaching the Sabers. He retired from a 39-year career as a math teacher in 2014. Combine those dual careers working with kids and there is no way to account for all the lives he has positively impacted.

During the dedication ceremony, Shakopee athletic director John Janke called Johnson “a people person and a kid magnet. … He was always at school early to help kids with homework. He always had time for them.”

Johnson is the longest-tenured softball coach in Minnesota high school history, and Monday’s game was the 869th of his career. The only softball coach with more career games is New Ulm Cathedral’s Bob Mertz with 877; Mertz is in his 37th season and is currently the co-head coach along with Jamie Portner.

The Sabers have gone to the state tournament in three different decades – the 1970s, 1980s and most recently in 2011 – and Johnson has been in the Minnesota softball coaches association Hall of Fame since 1995. He was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

Monday’s dedication ceremony, attended by parents, current and former players and community members, was special. The master of ceremonies was Shakopee resident Dick Jonckowski, longtime public-address announcer for University of Minnesota men’s basketball as well as MSHSL state tournaments.

During the ceremony, heads nodded in approval when school board chairman Scott Swanson described Johnson with the words “honor, integrity and class.”

“Our softball alumni, the people they have become, are a living testament to your leadership and dedication,” Swanson said to Johnson.

When Johnson spoke to the crowd, he thanked current and former players, their parents, boosters, school administrators, the volunteers who helped build and maintain the fields, and “everyone who comes to work in the spring and in the fall to make this the best complex in the conference and one of the best complexes in the metro area.”

The coach grew emotional as he thanked his family. He looked upward while mentioning two siblings who were “here in spirit.” His brother Larry and sister Karen died within five days of each other in late February. Larry retired about a decade ago as the longtime head track and cross-country coach at Edina High School, where he was working when Neil came to Shakopee.

In concluding his remarks, Johnson said, “Parents, I want you to remember these thoughts for your daughter. I mentioned it at our preseason meeting: when the game is over walk up to your daughter and say, ‘I enjoyed watching you play today.’

“For the team, remember what we always say, ‘Remember who we are and what we represent.’ Let’s go play softball.”

And for 42 years and counting, that’s just what they did.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 614
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 10,159
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 4A Softball Rankings4/22/2017
Provided by the softball coaches association.

Rank.(prev) School (Section) -(Points)
1.(1) Chanhassen (S2)-(84)
2.(1) Forest Lake (S7)-(57)
3.(1) Anoka (S7)-(44)
3.(1) Farmington (S1)-(44)
3.(1) Park (S3)-(44)
6.(1) Buffalo (S8)-(41)
7.(1) Stillwater Area (S4)-(38)
8.(1) Woodbury (S4)-(27)
9.(1) Blaine (S7)-(26)
10.(1) Bloomington Jefferson (S2)-(25)
Others receiving votes: Rosemount (S3)-(21), Hastings (S3)-(18),New Prague (S1)-(15), Hopkins (S6)-(14), Maple Grove (S5)-(10), Eastview (S3)-(9), Prior Lake (S2)-(9), Spring Lake Park (S5)-(8), Eagan (S3)-(7), North (S4)-(5)