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Willmar Notebook: Inspired by Willmar's coaching greats

We all know Jim Anderson, now here's the rest of the story.

Willmar High School's new boys tennis coach may be the best active athlete in his age group in the city, but he was only a student manager in his high-school days.

As every head coach knows, having a conscientious and enthusiastic S.M. on your squad is as valuable as a capable point guard.

Russ Adamson recruited Anderson back in the fall of 1965. Jimmy was an overmatched defensive lineman on the sophomore football team. On a practice play, he'd been hit high-and-low by two starting linemen and hot-shot halfback Pinky Nelson bounded through the gap stepping on the "chunky" kid's right hand.

Adamson, a famous Minneapolis and small-college athlete who had come to Willmar in 1955 as the head basketball coach, gently but firmly suggested Anderson might excel as a coach's helper at the same time saving his hide for another day.

"It was the best thing that happened to me. I lettered three years," he recalls with pride.

Thereafter, his high-school years were spent in the "Front rowwww!"

He was on the varsity sidelines in the fall with Bill Hansen and on the bench in the winter with Adamson. Athletic director Al Lucas dubbed him unofficial equipment manager.

He graduated in the Class of '68. It was quite a class, too, headline by George Nelson, the class president and future astronaut with that quirky nickname.

Anderson went to the college on the hill, was drafted and spent '70-71 in the U.S. Army with a year in Vietnam, mainly DaNang.

He came back, enrolled at St. Cloud State and later the U of M. He's worked 20 years for the Willmar HRA, and the past 10 years for the Stearns County HRA as a rehabilitation specialist administering housing and commercial business projects in small communities.

The varsity opportunity seems right in his wheelhouse.

As a boy, he was a playground junky which is how most Willmar kids grew up a generation ago.

Al Swansson was the city rec director and Orville Baker managed the parks. In summer, Willmar teacher/coaches found employment guiding park programs.

These men were held in high regard throughout the community and especially by the youth.

Anderson imprinted, like a gosling trailing the gander.

He rattled off the names of some of his early mentors: Earl Habben, Bob Lehman, Howard Iverson, Bill Hansen, Russ Adamson. Those were joyful summer days at Lincoln, Northside, Garfield and Miller. When the playground guides had business elsewhere, the older kids took over and made sure activities continued in an organized way.

In his teen years, Swansson deputized Anderson to supervise the tee-ball program and Baker gave him work preparing the ball fields.

Today, Anderson is best-known as a rec hockey coach (since 1975), referee and a very good tennis player. He competes in the open division knowing he won't reach the finals but will thrive on pushing his game to the limit by youthful foes.

At age 60, he's tall, lean and limber and very good on his skates and with the puck.

"I guess you could say I never excelled (in sports) but I've been a late bloomer," said Anderson with that trademark smile and easy disposition.

He replaces Loren Holter, also a non-school employee who retired from coaching after 20 years. Jim worked summers at tennis camps with Holter and his predecessor Hal Miller.

He wants to emphasize those camps again and get a summer tennis league going for varsity boys and girls. He and New London-Spicer coach Chad Schmiesing have discussed an area tennis association, a sort of booster group for the sport.

He speaks of passing on his "passion, excitement and enthusiasm" to student/athletes and creating a new excitement in the community for tennis.

Jim's wife Gale, a native of the New Hope/Crystal area of the Twin Cities, is a program director at the Presbyterian Family Foundation. Their three children were Cardinal athletes: Jolene, 34, and Rosalyn, 27, live in Arizona and Devin, 30, in Yankton, S.D. The couple recently invested in kayaks and a rooftop carrier for exploring the backwaters of Kandiyohi County.

Dunlavy riding for Jackrabbits

Laura Dunlavy is a sophomore at South Dakota State University where she is a member of the equestrian team. It's a women's varsity sport in Brookings with about 50 students on the roster.

This weekend Laura, who lettered in Cardinal basketball her junior year, will compete in the Jackrabbits' season opener at Waco, Texas. This will be her first varsity meet. As a freshman she was voted "most-improved" Western Rider.

The equestrian season runs fall and winter leading to the nationals on April 11, also at Waco. The goal of the Varsity Equestrian National Championships is to gain NCAA status. The two dozen schools listed in Division I range in national stature from Auburn to UM-Crookston.

Laura is a 10-time county 4-H Horse Champion and a state 4-H champion in showmanship (2005) and training (2007).

HOF Banquet

Tickets for the Cardinal Pride HOF banquet Oct. 7 at the American Legion are available through Monday. Retired coaches Hal Miller and Elaine Engle are being inducted. Tickets are $10.75 for adults and $5.95 for children. Contact Patti Johnson at 320-894-2164 or 320-214-7834.

On the fly

n Eric Means, a fifth-grade teacher at Roosevelt and former wide receiver on the college football team, will be following the Air Force Academy at Navy football game starting 11 a.m. Saturday (CBS). A younger brother, Alex Means, is a 6-5, 230-pound junior starting defensive end for the Falcons (2-1). Alex starred for three years at Mankato East High School before becoming the first freshman in 28 seasons to start on defense on opening day at the Academy. He ranks near the top of the tackle chart for the Falcons, who play at Notre Dame Oct. 8. Alex grew up in Montevideo until age 7. His father, Gary Means, who owned Rule Tire in Willmar, now lives in Minneapolis. His mother Sue Meyer lives in Mankato.

n Sara Kallhoff is a freshman soccer player at Northwestern College in St. Paul. She played midfield and forward here but is starting on defense for the Eagles, who are on a five-game win streak and host St. Scholastica of Duluth on Friday.

n Concordia senior quarterback Michael Dunham connected with Chris Gilson for a 78-yard TD to open the scoring at Moorhead on Saturday but St. Thomas would go on to whip the Cobbers 48-30. Dunham added a 16-yard TD run in the fourth period and topped it off with a conversion pass to Todd Bergeson, a senior WR from Montevideo who finished with two catches for 16 yards. Dunham (WHS '08) has thrown for 768 yards in four games (63-110, 4 TD, 4 INT).

n Two Cardinal athletes are Central Lakes Conference Performers of the Week -- Boys cross country: Mowlid Mohamed finished eight in 5k to help team place third ... Volleyball, defense: Casey Marcus had 59 digs in two wins.