On the eve of the Tribune's 50th anniversary of the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award that began with Stan Skjei of Appleton as the first winner, he is quick to point out that it was actually only 49 years ago that he won in 1961.
"Don't make me any older than I am," he laughed.
The Tribune will announce the male and female winners for the award for outstanding high school athletes in the area in Thursday's paper. This marks the 50th time the male award has been presented and there have been 51 previous winners, including ties in 1965 and again last year. The award expanded to a female winner in 1979 when Linda (Richards) Saunders of Buffalo Lake was named the first winner.
Skjei was a four-sport standout at Appleton and his athletic prowess earned him a nearly three-foot trophy.
"It's around somewhere," Said Skjei, who is now retired and living in Lakeville. "It's kind of hard to misplace something that big."
The winners now receive a large plaque with a colored photo and medals of each of their sports attached to the base.
"I still try to follow who the winners are each year," Skjei said. "It's an honor to win something like this. It's a very large area that the award represents."
Skjei was one of 20 nominees for the award in 1961, the same number of male nominees for this year's award. There are 15 female nominees.
When Skjei won the award, then-sports editor Lefty Ranweiler made the trek to Appleton to present the award at the high school banquet. Coaches, teammates and parents of the athletes cheered and applauded the announcement.
"It was one of the biggest honors of my high school career," said Skjei.
Skjei, who was 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds as a senior, lettered four times in football and three times each in basketball, track and baseball for the Aces. He was picked to the WCCO All-State and Tribune's All-Area team in football. He was also All-Area in basketball.
He went on to play for the Minnesota Gophers for three years back when NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from participating on the varsity. He was the team's punter his sophomore year, then was a starting cornerback his junior and senior years, while also punting part of the time. Two of his Gophers teammates during his time there were from the area; Joe Pung of Paynesville and Bob Bruggers of Danube. Bruggers won the Hengstler award the year after Skjei. Another Gophers teammate was future Willmar head football coach Deryl Ramey.
After his athletic career came to a close, Skjei became a coach of several sports. Her taught business for 34 years and also coached in the Bloomington system for many years. He began with Bloomington Lincoln, which closed in 1982. He was head girls basketball and head football coach there for six years before going to Bloomington Jefferson, where he coached football from 1987-99. He was also the girls basketball coach at Jefferson for three years. His football team at Jefferson reached the Class AAA (then the big school) semifinals in 1994, earning him Metro coach of the Year honors.
"I was really influenced by my high school coaches," said Skjei. "Bill Beck was my football coach and he taught me so much on and off the field. 'Bun' Fischer was my track coach who really influenced me. And Ted Grams was my basketball coach my junior and senior year."
Skjei's first basketball coach on varsity as a sophomore at Appleton was Roger "Shorty" Schroeder, who later coached boys and girls varsity basketball in Willmar for many years. And Dave Dorsey, who would later teach in Willmar for many years, helped Skjei with his punting in high school.
"Dave would take me outside during noon hour every day and help me work on my punting technique," said Skjei. "He did it on his own time. He wasn't my coach or anything. He just wanted to help me."
Skjei also coached one year of football as a defensive coordinator for the Bolzano Jets in a professional league in Italy.
He was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005, as well the being inducted into the Bloomington Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Bloomington Jefferson Hall of Fame last year.
Skjei recently moved from New Prague to Lakeville to be closer to his grandchildren.
"They are all playing sports now and I didn't want to travel so much to watch them," he explained. "My wife (Judy) and I enjoy watching them in their sports."
Just like 50 years ago, er, 49 years ago when fans enjoyed watching him play.
50TH ANNIVERSARY OF HENGSTLER-RANWEILER AWARD