Casey Johnson has the Willmar Cardinals wrestling program on an upward trajectory but he won't be on board to savor it.
The 29-year-old physical education teacher will be teaching and coaching elsewhere this school year.
"It's bittersweet," he said this week of his departure after three years as head coach.
He's accepted a teaching and coaching position in Albany.
Johnson took over for Tom Beyer, who stepped down in 2007 after 26 years as head coach and is now head coach at Ridgewater College while continuing to teach fifth-grade at Roosevelt.
The Willmar line-up frightened few opponents in Johnson's three seasons. The team's overall record in dual meets was 13-33. But the program is on the rise.
The Cardinals were 4-5 in the Central Lakes last winter with Adam Fagerstrom the only senior. The youth program is beginning to flourish again. It attract Hispanics and other minorities. It won't hurt either that the several of the sons of ex-Gophers and dairy-farming brothers Chad and Carl Carlson (they have three boys each) are now in middle school or getting close.
"I think this next team will among the top two or three in the section," Johnson said. "The program is in good shape. The right people are in place with Justin Brown and Ed Oehlers."
They have been Johnson's assistants and both are potential replacements, if either would apply.
Jamie Thompson, activities director, said the opening is posted and he expects a new head coach will be named by mid- to late-September.
Johnson will be assistant wrestling and ninth-grade baseball coach at the West Central North Conference member while teaching full time.
It's been a summer of change for the native of Chetek, Wis., where he was a 112-pound state champion his 10th-grade year.
On July 24, he married Bridget Coit, a native of Bismarck, N.D., and a Willmar police officer. They will continue to live in the area and he will commute.
This past year, Johnson taught adaptive physical education at the high school, middle school, Roosevelt and Kennedy. He coached three sports all three years here, including cross-country and track. Thompson said Dave Rudie, a teacher at Kennedy, has been hired to assist Jerry Popp in cross-country.
"Casey is a great guy and did a great job for us all three years," said Thompson.
Johnson is sad to leave the school and sports program.
He said as a non-tenured teacher he receive a lay-off notice in March, which is standard procedure. But he never got an interview for the position he had occupied and someone else was hired.
"I was teaching on a special education variance and I guess they didn't think that I would get my certificate," he said.
He said he finished the course work at St. Cloud State this summer and is now certified.
Johnson originally was hired in July 2007 to coach varsity wrestling while working as a full-time coordinator for the community education and recreation office.
On the fly
n Willmar skaters will have two adult hockey leagues this winter to choose from or play in both. The Wednesday night adult league will now be under the supervision of WCER. The new Christian Adult Hockey League will run on Sunday evenings. The latter is a start-up by Judd Duininck, who is responsible for getting the hugely popular Wednesday night league going a year ago.
n Also in the hockey mode, the word is a team from Texas will be part of the make-up of the Willmar/River Lakes Holiday Invitational, which is at the Cardinal Arena this December.
n The Waterdays Tournament at New London at the end of July drew the most individuals of the three biggest area tennis events. Waterdays drew over 110 individuals, while the Rice at Willmar and Watercade at Litchfield were each in the upper 80s.
n At the college on the hill, volleyball holds its first practice at 10 a.m. today. The Lady Warriors have finished in the NJCAA Division III nationals top three five straight years. The Warrior football team stages the Red and White scrimmage at noon Saturday at Hodapp Field. Coach Rob Baumgarn anticipates a roster of 58 players.
n For State Amateur Baseball Tournament volunteers and to those who want to get involved but haven't yet signed-up yet, there will be a gathering at 6 p.m. Sunday at the ballpark to get assignments and time. Hot dogs and beverage will be served.
n The Stingers have two ex-Central Lakes All-Conference baseball players on their roster. Besides former Cardinal Jordan Smith, a two-time selection, catcher Anthony Bemboom, who hit his first homer Wednesday, was an all-CLC pick for the Sauk Rapids Storm in 2008. He will be a junior at Creighton.